Graduate Student Affiliates of the Chicago Center on Democracy

The Chicago Center on Democracy’s Graduate Student Affiliates network is a group of graduate students at the Masters and PhD levels at the University of Chicago who share research interests in topics related to democracy. They meet regularly to discuss and refine ideas on relevant topics. If you are interested in becoming a Graduate Student Affiliate, please click the button below.

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Addis Goldman

Masters student, International Relations

My research interest is in ‘new Cold War’ discourse and conceptions of world order that turn on the ideological distinction between “techno-democracy” and “techno-autocracy.” More broadly, my interest is in international legal theory, the political economy of liberty and security, and the status of firm-state relations in the context of inter-state strategic competition.

Amala Karri

Masters student, International Relations

I’m interested in how notions of citizenship and political membership influence the treatment of immigrants and refugees in democracies. I have pursued this interest through graduate coursework on democratic theory and immigration and as a research assistant for Professor Kasimis, exploring citizenship, inequality, and democratic erosion in Greek political thought. Following an internship with a voting rights organization, I also became interested in studying current threats to democracy worldwide. I researched threats to election security in the 2020 US elections as a research assistant with the Harris School and am currently helping with a seminar on the decline of Indian democracy at the Institute of Politics.

Andres Uribe

PhD student, Political Science

My research seeks to understand the political behavior of citizens of conflict-torn democracies. In particular, it focuses on how ordinary people respond to grievances through political participation – whether they express their demands through the formal democratic system or outside of it, in support of political elites or in favor of non-state armed groups. Other projects examine the electoral performance of rebel group-affiliated political parties and processes of competitive governance during civil war.

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Andrew Konstant

Doctoral student, Law School

My dissertation aims to explain the growth of control over the bureaucracy by the executive arm of government. Across democracies, presidents and prime ministers have developed institutional mechanisms and powers to gain greater control over the administrative state. Such consistent growth across constitutional democracies challenges conventional beliefs about the efficacy of constraints that make up much of constitutional design. A goal of my research is to explain the mechanism of control and how they are created across regime types. Broadly, my research interests lie in comparative constitutional law, public law and constitutional theory.

Arian Zand

Masters student, International Relations

My research is at the intersection of international political economy and democratic institutions. Previously focused on the function of electoral institutions and constitutional designs on regime durability, I have extended my empirical research to investigate the impact of global economic trends on citizens’ attitudes toward democratic institutions across various regime types. The key puzzle in my research is whether liberal democratic institutions coupled with free-market mechanisms will lose traction in an increasingly multipolar world where non-democracies challenge the post-Cold War order.

Bryant Cong

Masters student, Public Policy

I am broadly interested in the interaction between democracy and economic development, particularly in transitional, post-conflict, and young democracies. At the University of Chicago, I’ve explored this interest as a research assistant for Dr. Monika Nalepa at the Transitional Justice and Democratic Stability Lab. Currently, I am exploring the link between different forms of autocracy and economic development as a research assistant for Dr. Chris Blattman at the Harris School.

Caitlin Grant

Masters student, International Relations

The notion of defending democracy has always been fascinating to me, the factors that give democratic institutions a common identity and even a self-perceived prestige. I am interested in exploring the ways in which the democratic backbone of the United States both forms and influences its national security policies especially in the post-9/11 world. More specifically, I aim to investigate the specific standards and norms in the security policy that embodies the democratic nature of the state, and further, that identifies perceived threats in correlation to non-democratic actors.

David Crabtree

Masters student, Social Sciences

Why do some countries democratize under conditions of economic growth while others remain authoritarian? I hope to contribute to research on this topic by exploring the unique case of China, where the Chinese Communist Party has maintained a tight grip on power despite spiking economic growth since entering its reform era. I hope to explore the systematic factors and strategies – e.g. co-opting the middle class, repressing political dissent, and maintaining high economic inequality – that have allowed for authoritarianism to persist despite economic growth. I am also interested in these topics cross-nationally.

Derek Buyan

Doctoral student, Religious Ethics

My research explores religious and ethical pluralism in democratic societies. It interrogates the theoretical, practical, and historical relation between democratic politics and fundamental religious-ethical orientations: humans’ most deeply held understandings of “the good life” and answers to the question: “What does it mean to be human?” In doing so, it places particular emphasis on religious actors, institutions and traditions of thought as well as democratic movements for social change.

Egemen Pamukcu

Masters student, Computational Social Science

Egemen’s research interests include the emergence of democracy, and long-term societal implications of the strength of democratic institutions. Egemen is particularly interested in applying computational and quantitative methods to understand how robust democratic institutions can affect the physical wellbeing and economic prospects of developing countries.

Galen Tsongas

Masters student, International Relations

Mass mobilization is a key strategy of Indigenous groups and has made Ecuador’s previously fragmented political party system more competitive with specific regards to the Indigenous Pachakutik party. But while Indigenous groups were successful in the early years of Ecuador’s nascent democracy at mobilizing to enact political change and recognition of constitutional rights, under Rafael Correa (2006-2017) Pachakutik faltered. Subsequently, Indigenous-led mass mobilization was virtually nonexistent until 2019’s massive protests against neoliberal reforms and Pachakutik’s electoral success in 2021 elections. My thesis will ask when are Indigenous Ecuadorian political parties and civil society groups successful in engaging in contentious politics in order to effect democratic recognition of rights enshrined in the 2008 Ecuadorian constitution, and what explains the discrepancy in temporal political action?

Geneva Cole

PhD student, Political Science

I am broadly interested in the ideological foundations of political attitudes in multiethnic democracies. More specifically, my research focuses on intergroup attitudes in the United States and what increasingly racialized nationalisms mean for democratic citizenship and participation.

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Hera Shakil

PhD student, Comparative Human Development

My research seeks to understand why growth in the middle-classes is correlated with a political culture of democratic backsliding in postcolonial global-south. Focusing on the case of present day India, I use a person centered, qualitative and bottom-up approach to understand how the Indian middle-classes develop and maintain their political cultures? What kind of political identities do they espouse and to what extent can these cultures be characterized anti-democratic? A secondary focus also aims to understand how individuals form political and ideological beliefs and how their relationship with nationalism, nationhood and geographical identity is shaped over time and what we can understand about individual political identity formation at the micro-level through these macro-level shifts in Indian politics.

Ipek Cinar

PhD student, Political Science

I am a PhD student in political science. My research interests include democratic backsliding, comparative democratization, quantitative political methodology and their computational applications to research in comparative politics. In my MA thesis, I constructed a game-theoretic model to analyze various forms of democratic erosion with a focus on the contemporary cases: Turkey, Hungary and Poland. My current research falls into two categories. The first one investigates the extant datasets and indexes used for evaluating quality of democracy, and aims to develop a finer method of aggregation at the indicator level. The second part analyzes the way in which different transitional justice mechanisms affect as well as interacts with quality of democracy.

Jack Wippell

Masters student, International Relations

I am primarily interested in the intersection of the study of democracy with that of conflict and political violence. Importantly, I am interested both in how different forms of democratic institutions can draw diverse groups together and, conversely, push them apart. These interests span across political theory and science, from the feasibility of deliberative ideals such as consensus and rationality in the age of social media to the capacity for consociational democracy to foster peace in post-conflict zones.

Joshua Davis

Masters student, Public Policy

After working in government affairs for a civil rights group, I developed a research interest in understanding how the structure of political institutions, legislative rules, and informal power mechanisms can promote or inhibit the democratic process. I am interested in how we can apply this understanding to political reforms and make the legislative process more transparent, efficient, and inclusive so that we can produce better policy outcomes.

Kevin Angell

PhD student, Political Economy (Political Science and Harris School)

My research focusses on studying American political institutions at the national and subnational level, determining the impact of ordinary, non-political interactions on political processes, and seeking to develop new ways to measure and gather data on democratic activity. My current work examines the role in how government capacity impacts the success of democratic government in US states.

Krithika Ashok

JSD student (Doctor of the Science of Laws), Law School

I am interested in studying the manner in which religious groups, particularly majoritarian groups, employ the judicial system to incorporate their religious preferences into secular law. The concern here is of its implication for secularism, separation of powers, and democratic decision-making; and I will be focusing on India.

Larry Svabek

PhD student, Political Science

My research explores the political thought of the Reconstruction Era with a focus on the transformation of slaves into citizens. I follow the “paths not taken” by political actors and institutions of the period in order to assess democratic imaginaries around questions of citizenship, land reform, and education.

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Lucie Vermersch

Masters student, International Relations

As a student in International Relations, the topic of democracy, its ascent and its partial exhaustion are central to my research interests. The rise of populism and nationalism, first in the 20th century and taking more scope nowadays put great shade on the piedestal position democracy has succeeded in gaining in the past decades. Environmental emergencies, economic insecurity and the assertion of titanic worlpower leaders proning other forms of state organisations have so far shared a common target: the stability of democracy’s development in the 21st unstable world. I am convinced that studying democracy, its pros and cons and understand how and why it can be comprehensively implemented is necessary to face the greatest challenges of our century.

Nicolás Torres-Echeverry

PhD student, Sociology

I am interested in political sociology and, in particular, in the way the Internet and big data are changing political processes and the organizations behind such changes. Technology has reshaped social life several times, and it is doing it now in a way that is immensely relevant for democratic systems. I want to have the opportunity to reflect on this topic with UChicago’s academic community. Before coming to Chicago, I was at Stanford thinking on these issues as a JSD fellow and a research assistant at FSI’s Global Digital Policy Incubator. My previous research was on political sociology, in particular on state-building challenges in post-conflict settings, with a focus on Colombia.

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Nishita Karun

Masters student, Public Policy

The pandemic gave us a glimpse of unprecedented digital evolution. It highlighted the need for a technological ecosystem that is more adaptive to complex humane behaviors. Through a MPP with a focus on tech policy, I’m working towards the possibilities of such humane technology to increase the role of citizens in a democracy. My focus is on bionic governments that inculcate a sense of self-reliance while reducing the importance of physical voter turnouts and majoritarianism.

Sania Shahid

Masters student, International Relations

My research interests are broadly in investigating the challenges posed to democratic institutions by dynastic politics, frequent party reaffiliation by prominent political leaders, and the use of religious terminology as a primary tactic to sway voters. I want to understand these cases in the context of South Asia specifically. Additionally, I want to understand the impact that changes in political leadership have on minority groups and internal political dynamics, with a special focus on Pakistan.

Scott Cooley

PhD student, Political Science

My research interests focus on the link between political participation and economic inequality. After beginning to read some of the literature on democratic reversions, I have become convinced that Americanists need to pay more attention to this important topic. As we see top US political leaders attack important institutions (the press, judges, the Congressional Budget Office, etc.), it seems that many of them are following the playbook for democratic reversion, even if they do not realize that they are doing so. As a side note, I am a co-coordinator of the American Politics Workshop and am working to help plan a conference, funded by Democracy Fund, that is related to democratic backsliding. Last year, I helped plan a conference on political polarization.

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Shih-An Wang

Doctoral student, Law School

I am interested in the intersection between authoritarianism and democracy in the domain of constitutional law. My research project will examine how constitutional democracy should deal with foreign authoritarian interference. While democracy requires a certain extent of self-preservation from potential external threats, regulations on the justifications of national security or democratic integrity may impose further challenges to maintain the free and open premises of Iiberal democracy. To strike the balance between these two conflicting considerations, I plan to observe and evaluate the constitutional and legal responses adopted by Taiwan, the US, and other countries.

Silvia Fedi

PhD student, Political Science

Broadly, my research uses ancient Greek political throught to offer an alternative way to understand and theorize regime and regime types. I am particularly interested in how gynocracy – or rule by women – serves as the foil to ancient conceptions of democracy, and how theorizing through the ‘oddity’ of women ruling makes visible certain ways in which power operates within a state which we might take for granted or overlook when analyzing more familiar regime types.

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TaNiya Bellamy

Masters student, Public Policy

Most of my non-partisan work encompasses finding and ensuring that everyone has equal access to democracy. In a broader scope of things, my interests lie in public law and comparative constitutional law.

Tyler McBrien

Masters student, International Relations

I first developed a fascination with the smoke-filled rooms where policies are made during my junior year at Claremont McKenna College, where I joined a research team analyzing recently declassified documents on the 1973 Arab-Israeli War for the CIA Historical Collections Division and the Nixon Presidential Library. While writing my contribution, a paper focused on the role of Henry Kissinger and bureaucratic politics, I was shocked to learn the extent to which so much power was consolidated into the hands of so few. The experience exposed me to meaningful archival research and demanded scrutiny when comparing declassified memos to personal memoirs and contemporaneous news stories. I continued to explore these questions while writing my senior thesis on the post-9/11 wars. Through this research process, I discovered just how much foreign policy decisions were still guarded by those precious few. Through my MA thesis and other research opportunities at CIR, I hope to explore how this foreign policy democracy deficit came to be and what democratizing defense would look like.

Wenting Xu

Masters student, Center for Middle Eastern Studies

I focus on democratic transitions of authoritarian regimes and development of existing democracies in the Middle East and North Africa. I currently work on the participation of Islamist political parties in democratic elections and its prospective.  On the other hand, I also concern myself with the perseverance of authoritarian institutions in this region. My previous researches dive in rentier politics in Gulf monarchies. I embrace both qualitative and quantitative research methods in social sciences.

Xueqi Chen

Masters student, Social Sciences

I’m interested in the image of democracy presented by authoritarian states, how the constructed democracy represents the interests of certain groups while shadowing the others, and how people living in the authoritarian states perceive the form of democracy they have. When conflicts can no longer be appeased by current policies, what actions would a group of people undertake in striving for the political environment they desire, and what responses would they receive from the government and their fellow citizens?

Yang Xiang

Doctoral student, Sociology

My interest is in democratic backsliding in a decentered globalism. My research focuses not only on the institutional, structural and cultural origin of de-democratization, but also studies how the crisis-talk of liberal democracy makes sense and shifts in sequences of events, from the beginning of the third wave to today. My overarching goal is processualizing and historicizing democratization.

Zackariah Crahen

Masters student, Public Policy

Chief among my areas of interest are ways in which we can address policy shortfalls related to veteran issues and the urban-rural divide. From growing up in a small Ohio farm town, to joining the Army, and now living in my third major metro, I think many of the entrenched partisan beliefs among Americans stem from the paradox of ubiquitous social media actually creating increasingly insular communities. Consequently, I’m focusing my time at Harris on the future of cities and becoming active in state/municipal politics specifically for this reason, as well as ways in which veterans can become more active in politics and removing barriers to pursuing higher education.