My research investigates the causes of ethnic conflict, political violence and individual participation in high-risk collective action, with an emphasis on field methods, survey design and implementation, and a regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Explaining participation in violence often requires the researcher to collect data on highly sensitive topics in data-poor environments. My research agenda suggests that these need not be insurmountable obstacles, however, and that we should not shy away from asking difficult questions about participation in violence.

Book Project

My book project asks two questions about the causes of ethnic violence in diverse societies. First, who are the people who take to the streets and commit acts of violence during the chaotic chains of events we know as ethnic riots? Second, why does this set of people ultimately decide to riot? Most contemporary studies of ethnic conflict overlook these questions and focus instead on the conditions and incentives driving political elites to attempt to instigate violence. This literature struggles to explain why ordinary people choose to accept the risks and costs involved in carrying out violence on a local scale.

The empirical strategy used in this project draws on qualitative and quantitative evidence to help isolate the reasons why people participated in two large-scale violent Christian-Muslim riots that took place in northern Nigeria since 2000. Working with a team of outstanding Nigerian research assistants over the course of six months in the field, I conducted about 40 in-depth interviews with riot organizers and participants and implemented an original survey of over 800 individuals who chose to (or chose not to) participate in riots in the cities of Kaduna and Jos. The survey contains direct measures of past participation in violent events, makes use of new methods to protect respondent anonymity, and relies on a novel sampling strategy in order to locate rioters and elicit honest responses from them.

This micro-level data is used to test an original argument about the joint influence of poverty and individual centrality in local social networks to explain why some individuals take to the streets during times of crisis, and others stay on the sidelines. My book project argues that, given poverty, important opportunities for violence arise from day-to-day interactions during participation in neighborhood-level social networks.

Read the manuscript's introduction here.


"What the Numbers Say: A Digit-Based Test for Election Fraud" (with Bernd Beber), 2012, Political Analysis 20:2, 235-247.

We make use of psychological biases to detect election fraud by analyzing digit patterns on return sheets: People favor small numbers and avoid repetition when manipulating numbers. The project was linked on Freakonomics, by way of Chris Blattman's blog.

Click here to see an op-ed using the same methodology, "The Devil is in the Digits," (co-authored with Bernd Beber) about election fraud in Iran. The article appeared in the online version of the Washington Post on June 20, 2009. An annotated version of the article, containing more detailed information about methods used, is available here. You can download the analysis code and the data we used from the presidential election in Iran.

"The Curse of Oil? Natural Resources, Ethnic Diversity and Nigerian Political Development", 2012, Country Studies in Comparative Politics, David Samuels, editor, Pearson & Longman Co. (Publication date: February 18, 2012)

"Who Supports Partition? Violence and Political Attitudes in a Dividing Sudan" (with Bernd Beber and Philip Roessler), revise and resubmit, Journal of Politics.

This paper explores variation in the support for the 2011 partition of Sudan using the first wave of an original panel survey of nearly 1400 respondents from greater Khartoum. We investigate the extent to which respondents' past exposure to violence shapes their political views. We highlight a spontaneous surge of intense rioting that struck large parts of Khartoum after the accidental death of Southern Sudanese leader John Garang in July 2005 as a reasonably exogenous source of relevant variation. We find that Northerners who experienced rioting by Southerners in Khartoum in 2005 are more likely to support secession of the South, even if they are concerned about the economic costs of partition, and to oppose citizenship for Southerners remaining in the North. Considered together, these results suggest that experiences of intergroup violence harden attitudes toward out-group members, allow personal security concerns to overcome economic considerations, and make those exposed less willing to live together within a multiethnic state.

"A Snowball's Chance in Nigeria: Finding Rioters using Respondent-Driven Sampling." I tackle the problem of how to correctly analyze a snowball sample with two general characteristics: (1) the number of randomly sampled seeds is high and each referral chain is short, and (2) respondents cannot be recruited only from the target population. The solution I propose is to collect a random sample alongside the snowball sample, and use the random sample to construct a set of weights to correct for possible biases in the snowball sample.