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Recent Graduates

In December 2019, the SIS PhD program celebrated the graduation of five students. In May 2020, four more received their PhDs. 

Meet our new PhDs

Dr. Koul’s dissertation is titled “Civil Resistance in Kashmir: Understanding Youth Mobilization from 2008-2013.” The summers of 2008 to 2013 were watersheds in recent history of Indian-administered-Kashmir—the world’s most militarized zone—which witnessed a tactical shift from armed resistance to a new phase of nonviolent mass upsurge, locally known as Kashmir’s intifada or second uprising in support of Azaadi (“freedom”) or the right to self-determination. Spurred by various triggering events, the new phase of contentious politics was mainly led by a new generation, which engaged in various kinds of nonviolent action in opposition to the Indian state outside the realm of conventional institutional political channels. Yet the Indian state employed brutal repression to inhibit popular mobilization. Given the youth mobilization, with little or no experience of activism, occurred on an unprecedented scale under repressive conditions, one could be forgiven for assuming that this was a spontaneous eruption of pent up anger and frustration. To understand the emergence, dynamics, and limitations to widespread mobilization during the second uprising, Dr. Kaul’s study focuses on various determining factors, which underlie the strategic shift to nonviolent resistance. Using the lens of social movement framework, this study demonstrates that Kashmir’s youth mobilization was informed by the interplay of external political opportunity structure, mobilization resources, cultural framing and identity processes, and participant’s agency that is determined by distinct motives underlying participation. With a history of armed struggle and widespread state repression, Kashmir is an important case study for understanding the potential of unarmed resistance as an alternative pathway in the modern, deep-rooted political conflicts beyond Western settings. This is especially true in the context of the global revival of interest in the phenomenon of nonviolent struggle since the 2011 Arab Spring.

Dr. Friend’s dissertation explored the relationship between civilian and military preferences in the United States. A standard measure of the health of the civil-military relationship is whether civilian preferences prevail over military preferences in times of disagreement. Contests between civilians and the military must, on average, result in civilians’ favor to assure researchers that the civil-military relationship will not undermine democratic regimes. Generally, the civil-military relations literature focuses on civilian efforts to impose their preferences on the military. But is it possible that the military is able to impose its preferences on civilians as well? This study asks and answers the questions: Does the military shape civilian preferences, and to what extent? If the military does shape civilian preferences, under what conditions does it do so? If civilians are adopting military preferences frequently or basing their preferences largely on standards set by military actors, civilians are not controlling the military so much as endorsing it. In this world, civilians may have a veto on military action, but they exercise it much less often than they might if their values, knowledge, and perceptions were not so heavily influenced by military institutions. Dr. Friend contends that both purposeful actions by the military and factors natural to the civil-military relationship, each centered on the distribution of information resources, shape civilian preferences. The less information civilians possess relative to the military, the more civilian preferences are based on military preferences. In three cases of emerging military capabilities, her research finds support for this argument. Using comparative historical methods and process tracing, the dissertation examines the congruence of civilian and military preferences across time and find that military actors frequently framed and constrained civilian thinking about, and in some contexts dictated the purposes of, special operations forces, unmanned aerial vehicles, and cyber capabilities.

Dr. Friend is currently a Senior Fellow at the International Security Program in the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading Washington DC think tank. She is an expert on defense strategy and capabilities, international secueirty and geopolitics, and US security policy in Africa.

Dr. Litanga graduated AU in Spring 2020. His dissertation was titled Congolese Intellectuals and State Power: The Case of “Les Combattants.” As an examination of how Congolese intellectuals resist political power, the dissertation studies Les Combattants, a Congolese diaspora network operating primarily in Europe and North America. Vehemently opposed to Joseph Kabila’s administration, Les Combattants launched a series of post-electoral protests in 2011. Though African diasporas have increased their political activism since the end of the Cold War, their strategies and political motivations have not been sufficiently studied. Likewise, research has not thoroughly studied the role of Congolese diaspora and intellectuals in Congolese politics. This is why, in an effort toward a social theory of Congolese intellectuals and as a means for studying Les Combattants, this dissertation proposes four categories by which Congolese intellectuals interact with political power: 1) entrists seek to control political power, 2) attentists wait for favorable prerequisites to participate in politics, 3) escapists focus on international distribution of power, and 4) pragmatists address polities’ concerns from the bottom-up. Litanga used interviews, online resources, and literature review to conduct a discourse analysis of Les Combattants’ 2011 post-electoral protests. He found that: 1) Les Combattants’ articulation of grievances against Joseph Kabila, Rwanda, and the international community contains considerable instabilities; 2) their discourse could not significantly mobilize international and domestic support, largely because it conceived political change as the result of top-down international processes; and 3) the political categories Les Combattants proposed are primarily denunciative, unable to convincingly prescribe political transformation. Furthermore, this dissertation concludes that, due to the history of political socialization, Congolese intellectuals who pursue top-down reforms tend to reproduce the status quo rather than challenge established power. Nevertheless, Litanga argues that Congolese intellectuals, at home and abroad, have an opportunity to transform Congolese politics if they directly invest in local grassroots movements and if they help concerned polities address concrete issues from the bottom-up.

Dr. Fischer-Mackey’s dissertation was titled “Three Papers on Development Practitioners’ Engagement with Research Narratives and Products. Since 2000, international development institutions in the U.S. and U.K. have become more focused on evidence of effectiveness. Donors have embraced the narrative promoted by a group of elite development economists that randomized control trials (RCTs) produce the most rigorous evidence of “what works” and have funded thousands of experimental and quasi-experimental studies. Dr. Fischer-Maackey asks what these new studies and narratives about research mean for two groups of practitioners—one in Washington, DC, and one in Kampala, Uganda. Do they find these studies or other types of research relevant, credible and useful to their work designing and managing programs? How do they perceive the narrative that RCTs constitute the most important type of development research? Practitioners she interviewed see several potential uses of research in their work, but they face numerous challenges pursuing those uses. They question the recent emphasis on RCTs and see research agendas driven by northern academics and donors as unresponsive to their most pressing needs and questions. These findings suggest that research could be more useful to practitioners if research agendas were broader and agenda-setting were more democratic.

Dr. Fischer-Mackey is currently a Scholar-in-Residence at the Accountability Research Center at American University where she conducts research, working to increase government accountability in the global South, and leads an organizational effectiveness grant to improve the action-research center’s core learning processes and communications efforts to influence key audiences and debates about how funders and can best support accountability in the global South. She is also a Professorial Lecturer in the MA in International Development Program at the School of International Service, teaching Micropolitics of Development. Dr. Fischer-Mackey's expertise lies in development research, policy analysis, and reform efforts to make aid more effective and locally controlled.

Dr. Babicz’s dissertation was titled, “A Moral Nudge? The Role of Religious Advocacy

in US Foreign Policy Decision Making.” The global resurgence of religion suggests that religious actors may increasingly be relevant to the decisions states make as they navigate their relations with other states, nonstate actors, and international organizations. This dissertation adds to our understanding of religious actors by answering the question: Is religious advocacy effective at changing US foreign policy, and, if so, under what conditions? The Kingdon three streams model was used to examine three cases in which religious actors advocated for US foreign policy change. Policy change did occur in two cases (the 1996-1997 North Korean famine and the Vatican’s involvement in the US-Cuba 2014 normalization of relations) and did not occur in a third (the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the elimination of torture and indefinite detention). The findings showed that religious actors did effect policy change in the North Korean famine and US-Cuba cases, could not effect change to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, and were not a factor in outlawing torture.

Within-case and cross-case comparisons revealed three conditions that affected the potential success of religious advocacy. The first condition, appealing to an individual with the authority and opportunity to act, was necessary for religious advocacy to be successful. The likelihood of success increased if the religious actors were able to personally engage the decision makers either through interpersonal or values-based connections. Targeting broad entities such as Congress or the public appeared to be much less effective. A second condition necessary for success was agreement on what constituted moral action. Competing definitions of what was moral decreased the effectiveness of religious actors’ moral arguments. The third condition for success was a lack of competition between moral and national security arguments. When pitted against potentially significant national security concerns, the moral argument lost. Chances of failure increased the greater the disagreement about what constituted moral action and the more significant a national security threat was perceived to be. These findings extend our knowledge beyond whether religion matters to how religious actors and their moral arguments may potentially influence US foreign policy decision making.

Dr. Babicz is currently an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the School of Professional and Extended Studies and the School of International Service at American University. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California and Georgetown University.

Dr. Rogers’ dissertation is titled Gender equality norms and mainstreaming: meaning-in-use among public servants in Cambodia and Rwanda. Many scholars and practitioners have criticized gender mainstreaming without considering how public servants in developing countries engage with it or the specific ways they understand gender equality, which is the goal of gender mainstreaming. This dissertation addresses this gap through critical frame analysis of structured, open-ended interviews with 145 mid- and upper-level public servants in the Cambodian and Rwandan agriculture and local government sectors. Drawing on the international norm contestation literature and feminist theory, this approach illuminates the dynamics of localizing international gender equality norms and offers a complement to structural explanations for the challenges of institutionalizing commitments to gender equality. In both countries, competition between gender equality and neoliberal growth and governance norms has resulted in dominant conceptions of gender equality as sameness and inclusion, which public servants understood primarily as increasing women’s participation and leadership in the economy and governance. It includes limited, inconsistent consideration of women’s rights, gender-based violence, inequality in the “private sphere,” and men’s roles in maintaining gender (in)equality. Although Cambodian and Rwandan understandings of gender equality reflects distinct national gender policy mandates, governance styles, and patriarchal norms, there are few differences between men and the two countries or between sectors. Yet, although these normative processes have contributed to policy evaporation – the narrowing of formal policy mandates as they are enacted -- gender mainstreaming has nonetheless become institutionalized in both governments in ways that go beyond “tick the box” exercises. Strikingly, when considering gender equality in ordinary people’s lives, interviewees’ visions emphasized women’s empowerment in both “public” and “private” domains, as well as the need for changes in men’s mindsets. These findings suggest that placing gender equality at the service of economic growth and organizational efficiency, rather than public servants’ narrow understandings of gender equality, is a goal constraint to gender policy implementation. Given more explicitly rights-based policy mandates connecting “public” and “private” spheres, public servants in Cambodia and Rwanda and similar countries could be more effective allies in establishing equitable gender norms, rather than roadblocks, as may have been presumed.

Dr. Rogers is Director, Gender and Social Inclusion, at the Millennium Challenge Cooperation.

Student Awards

2020 SIS Student Award Winners - Doctorate

  • Ozan Cetin and Ian Reynolds: the Samuel L. Sharp Memorial Prize for creative work in international relations at the graduate level for their paper titled “Cyber Power and Demand for International Cyber Cooperation.” 

  • Christina Harris: the William C. Olson Award for outstanding teaching by a PHD student, for her role as a Head TA for the World Politics class. 

  • Frieder Denglerthe Excellence in Research Assistantship award for his RA work with Prof. Jim Mittelman.  

Select External Awards

  • Veronica LimeberryFord Dissertation Fellowship from the foundation’ Fellowship Office of Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, for her work, “Fast Violence, Slow Resistance: Territoriality, Land Rights, and Collective Identity for Agrobiodiversity Governance in the Americas.” 

  • Kimberly Tower: Fulbright Award for research, “Campaigning for Kebabs: Measuring the Effect of Imagery and Symbols in the International System.”

Select Student Publications

Brandon Sims

Brandon is the author of a 2019 article, “Constituting Self-Violent Resistance: Materiality, Embodiment, and Speech Acts,” in the Journal of Resistance Studies. 

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Veronica Limeberry and Jaclyn Fox

Veronica and Jaclyn are the authors of a 2020 article, “Co-opting the rural: Regionalization as narrative in international populist authoritarian movement organizing in the United States and France,” in the Journal of Rural Studies. 


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Hatem Zayed

Hatem is the author on a book chapter in the forthcoming (2021) Routledge Handbook on Contemporary Egypt. Hatem’s chapter (with Nadine Sika and Ibrahim Elnur, is titled “Activism and Contentious Politics in Egypt: The Case of the Student Movement.” 

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PhD Placements

University Faculty Placements

  • Brandeis University
  • Brigham Young University
  • College of Charleston
  • Eastern Mennonite University
  • Florida International University
  • Franklin & Marshall College
  • Fudan University (China) 
  • Gallaudet University
  • George Mason University
  • Georgetown University
  • George Washington University
  • Goucher College
  • The Graduate Institute, Geneva
  • Kent State University
  • Kennesaw State University (Georgia)
  • Marietta College (Ohio)
  • Marine Corps University
  • Maquarie Univeristy (Australia)
  • Ohio University
  • Panteion University (Greece)
  • San Francisco State University
  • Syracuse University
  • Thunderbird: The American Graduate School of International Management
  • Towson University
  • U.S. Naval Academy
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Costa Rica
  • University of Denver 
  • University of London
  • University of Miami
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of North Carolina (Charlotte)
  • University of Public Service (Hungary) 
  • University of Warwick
  • Virginia Tech
  • Waterloo University (Canada)

Government and non-governmental positions

  • Brookings Institution
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 
  • Foreign Ministry, Hungary 
  • Indonesian Ministry of Information
  • Inter-American Defense College
  • Inter-American Development Bank
  • International Relations Institute, Pakistan
  • International Research and Exchange Board
  • National Institute of Justice
  • Oxfam
  • Singapore Business Times
  • US Department of the Air Force 
  • US Department of Commerce
  • US Intelligence Community 
  • US Department of the Interior
  • US Department of State
  • World Bank