Placement Candidates

Erik Davis

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: American Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Sociology

Dissertation Title: Deindustrial Dealignment: Economic Change and Sub-National Party System Volatility in Appalachia

Committee: Jay McCann (Chair), Eric Waltenburg, Mark Tilton, Patricia Boling

Summary: My research focuses on the effect that economic change has on sub-national party systems. Specifically, I analyze how the loss of coal mining and manufacturing industries and decline of associated labor unions, has affected local party systems in the Appalachian regions of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Using mixed-methods, I find that the decline of these industries has resulted in party system volatility as seen in changing voting behavior, increased independent party affiliation and decreased voter turnout. 


Philip Husom 

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: Comparative Politics, Political Economy

Dissertation Title: Political Shocks and Economic Reform in the Post-Soviet World

Committee: Dwayne Woods, Chair, Giancarol Visconti, Mark Tilton, and Erik Herron

Summary: My research examines economic liberalization in the transformation from Soviet-style economies and addresses critical juncture theories of path dependence. Specifically, I analyze the adoption of neoliberal economic policy in the wake of two political shocks, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Color Revolutions. I look at whether political and economic policy choices in the aftermath of massive political change significantly constrain future economic policy options. Two influential arguments have attempted to explain post-Soviet economic reform. One theory posits that initial elections are largely responsible for subsequent economic reform, whereas another argument suggests that even the results of initial elections were conditioned by a state’s neighbors and its openness to the world. In the first chapter I quantitatively test how these arguments hold up 20 years later, using regression analysis to update and reanalyze early arguments on the determinants of economic reform in post-Soviet Eurasia. My results indicate that initial elections may have been influential in the short term, but their long-term influence is indirect. Instead, the Soviet collapse created an opening for the establishment of patronage dynamics, and it is these dynamics that largely determine the timing of economic reform. I then use three cases to illustrate why early evaluations of post-Soviet economic reforms need revision. Analysis of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan after each shock demonstrates that elites and political institutions are important determinants of reforms, but significant variation and trends are missed when analyzing this region through a path dependence or geographic lens or when relying on quantitative analysis alone. I find that economic policy mirrors political cycles of patronalism in these countries and the effects of shocks on policy are not straightforward. When economic reform does occur, it is often an instrument used to advance other political goals.


Jasmine Jackson 

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: American Politics, Public Policy

Dissertation Title: The Knowledge Within: Conceptualizing African American Political Knowledge

Committee: Nadia E. Brown, Chair, Rosalee Clawson, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, Logan Strother

Summary: I contend that the current conceptualizations of political knowledge as either general and domain-specific categories of knowledge, as well as the measurement of general political knowledge cannot capture knowledge relevant to the African American political experience. This project makes both methodological and theoretical innovations by using focus groups and survey data to develop two new categories of knowledge: Black political knowledge and concurrent knowledge. I center the voices and experiences of African Americans to showcase how the Black public sphere is instrumental in shaping the information that African Americans learn and retain about politics. In turn, this dissertation will show that the current racial “gap” is not due to African Americans’ lack of political knowledge but the parochial knowledge battery that excludes information relevant to the African American experience.


Toby L. Lauterbach, Ph.D.

CVPersonal Webpage

Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Comparative Politics, and Public Policy

Dissertation Title: Strategic Culture and the Iraq War

Committee: Keith Shimko (Chair), Ann Marie Clark, Louis Rene Beres, and Harry Targ

Summary: This work concentrates on how cultural assumptions about the conduct of war among US policy makers influenced the Iraq War. Students of international relations generally use the classic logic of power politics to explain national security choices. However, my study reveals that this kind of thinking was distorted by the beliefs that U.S. policymakers held about America’s unique role in the world. As a result, President Bush’s war advisors believed that it would be fairly easy to remake Iraq into a free market democratic society that would serve as a springboard for transforming the Middle East into the image of America and its Western allies. A faith in the superiority of the American way of life, rooted in the belief that the U.S.’s vision of economic and political freedoms are universally applicable, fueled the premise that Iraq would greet American troops as liberators. My analysis illustrates the role culture plays in international security and its impact on specific foreign policy choices such as the Iraq War.

Amber Lusvardi

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: American politics, Public policy

Dissertation Title: The End of the Child Bride: Social Movements, Strategic Actions, and State Level Policymaking on Underage Marriage

Committee: Rosalee Clawson (chair), Jennifer Hoewe, Eric Waltenburg, S. Laurel Weldon

Summary: Child marriage is internationally recognized as a human rights abuse and yet is still legal under some conditions in 44 U.S. states. Legal loopholes in state policies allow child marriages to continue despite that fact that underage marriage is detrimental to minors, disproportionately girls. Following decades of inaction, between 2016 and 2021 the issue of child marriage rose from obscurity to the agendas of 40 state legislatures in the United States. What accounts for this change? How does a low salience issue break through legislative barriers without professional interest group influence or major funding prospects? How did grassroots social movements frame the issue of child marriage to attract legislators? I use mixed methods to identify the causal mechanisms, namely social movement action and issue framing, that catalyze policy action on this previously overlooked issue. In addition to conducting statistical analyses of policy change in all 50 states, I conduct a structured focused comparison of two cases – Pennsylvania and Massachusetts – that have divergent outcomes: Pennsylvania successfully adopted an underage marriage ban in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, while in progressive Massachusetts, legislation stalled in three different legislative sessions. Data for these findings come from social media campaigns, traditional news media stories, legislative transcripts, constituent communications, and in-depth interviews with policymakers in both states. I use my extensive training in computational social science to analyze both new media and traditional media sources to identify main issue frames and communication strategies. In my dissertation, I demonstrate that social movement actors effectively bypassed an ambivalent public and targeted state legislators by reframing the issue around child protection. I find advocates for ending marriage under age 18 overcame objections to the policy change by leaning on a paternal framing of the need to protect children rather than one calling for the equal rights of women and girls. Movements also leaned on the experiences of child marriage survivors to add first-person narratives to their advocacy efforts. My work is among the first to detail the history of a low salience gender justice policy in the United States and to trace state action on this issue.

John Megson

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: American Politics

Dissertation Title: The Strong American Voter

Committee: Jay McCann (Chair), Eric Waltenburg, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, Tom Mustillio

Summary: The paper seeks to meld the two dominant competing theories of party identification in the US context: the expressive view, where Party ID is seen as a long standing psychological attachment to a political party; and the instrumental view, where Party ID is subject to reevaluation. Using ANES panel data, the paper examines both expressive and instrumental elements of partisanship. In keeping with past research, it finds strong evidence for the expressive understanding of Party ID; partisan groupings tend to be highly stable. However, the strength of identifications varies considerably over time, with perceptions of candidates, presidential approval, policy preferences, and ideological orientations driving these changes. These results are in keeping with an instrumental conceptualization of partisan identities.

Kaitlin Kelly-Thompson

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: Public Policy

Dissertation Title: There is Power in a Plaza: Social Movements, Democracy and Spatial Politics

Committee: S. Laurel Weldon, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman. Rachel Einwohner, and Molly Scudder

Summary: My dissertation uses a mixed-methods approach to interrogate the relationship between the city, as a built and lived environment, and the inclusion of marginalized groups within social movements. Using the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 and the Women’s Marches in Boston, San. Antonio, and Pittsburgh in 2017, I develop a theoretical explanation for why the built environment can encourage inclusion of diverse groups within movements and the potential effects this can have on local democracy. I then test my expectations through a series of statistical analyses of the 2017 Women’s Marches, using an original dataset. Through this project, I find that the space of the city effects movements ability to develop inclusion, not only when activists are making direct claims to space, as in the Gezi case, but also when activists come together for more abstract goals, as in the case of the Women’s Marches.


Jieyeon Kim

CV | Personal Webpage

Fields of Study: International Relations

Dissertation Title: Why Do Countries Participate in UNPKOs? (Working Title)

Committee: Ann Marie Clark (Chair), James A. McCann, Mark Tilton, Kyle Haynes

Summary: Why do middle powers participate in UNPKOs even though there is no clear benefit for them? This is the core question that motivates my research. Bellamy and Williams (2013) provided five reasons for PKOs Participation: political, economic, security, institution, and norm. I will find out the reasons why middle powers, with relatively limited resources, participate in PKOs. Since the existing literature on participation of small and middle sized is very limited, my research on middle powers UNPKOs will be a contribution to the field. Case studies will be conducted to test my hypotheses. Among middle powers, two cases are selected: Canada and Republic of Korea (ROK). Taken together, the combination of qualitative analysis, documentary analyses on PKOs participation, and interviewing of related officials will be able to provide comprehensive findings on Middle powers and UNPKOs.


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