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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Akbota Karibayeva

Masters student, International Relations

My research interest primarily revolves around “bad” persistent institutions and the ways they can be changed. Particularly, I am interested in examining the effectiveness of exogenous factors in stimulating the improvement of domestic institutions. As my MA thesis topic, I look at whether the foreign-facilitated electoral revolutions in Georgia 2003, Ukraine 2004 and Kyrgyzstan 2005 have in any way affected the development trajectory of the rule of law in those countries.

Alex Betley

Masters student, International Relations

Alex Betley is primarily interested in the contributions of ethical statecraft in forging durable political orders. Though operating from a nominally realist perspective, he sees the guiding ideas and values of a great power as playing a much larger role in international politics than some leading theories suggest. To this end, he is curious how the reemergence of great power politics in the 21st century will shape the future of democratic polities around the globe.

Alexey Isayev

Masters student, Social Sciences

I am broadly interested in the history of democracy in Russia, especially as it connects to protest and opposition movements. The initial democratic institutions in Russia emerged from an opposition movement to the Soviet regime, and yet themselves quickly transformed into a hybrid electoral autocracy. Opposition movements to the new regime were, and are, actively suppressed, presenting an interesting dynamic for a regime that itself emerged from protest. This raises questions about the future of Russia as a democracy, and the place that opposition movements occupy in regime changes.

Allison Whiting

Masters student, International Relations

My research focuses generally on how national identity construction influences the way democratic governments manage diversity within their borders and relate to others in the international system. I am interested in why multiculturalism fails or succeeds, the return to assimilationist policies, right-wing populism, and the erosion of liberal-democratic norms. I explore these issues in the European context, and specifically in France.

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 Doty

Masters student, Public Policy

I am pursuing a masters degree in public policy so I can understand the conditions and factors that drive and sustain democratization and democratic deconsolidation, with an eye toward applying these findings to a US context. I have a particular personal interest in understanding and working to address partisan polarization and low levels of public trust American citizens have in their government. Through gaining and employing practical policy-making tools, I hope to devote my career to ensuring that the liberal democratic values expressed in America’s founding sustain and become increasingly instantiated in the 21st Century.

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.

Arturo Juarez

Master’s student, International Relations

My research interests center on comparative politics, global governance, and the origins of weak states. More specifically, I’m interested in democratic participation and voter suppression efforts in the United States and other prominent democracies. I also interested in responses (or lack thereof) to the sexual exploitation, abuse, or violence of women as a result of the instability created by conflict zones. Relatedly, I will also be taking a look at how failing states create security issues and concerns for the United States and other countries in their immediate or strategic orbit.

Arunima Bhattacharjee

Masters student, International Relations

Freedom of the press is fundamental to maintaining democracy in a nation and the oppression of that freedom is a violation of human rights. My research interest will focus on integrating the protection and promotion of journalists in the context of international human rights law.

Austin Kozlowski

PhD student, Sociology

My research aims to shed light on the structure and dynamics of American political belief systems. Existing research has shown that the common labels of “liberal” and “conservative” are inadequate for describing most Americans’ political belief systems, yet we still lack a better vocabulary and conceptual framework for making sense of how the general public thinks through politics. A goal of my research is not only to better specify and describe the way political beliefs cluster in the general public, but also to deepen our understanding of the cultural logics, heuristics, and modes of reasoning that produce and reproduce these patterns. The contemporary moment of political polarization presents unique challenges to the American democratic process, and ensuring the future health of our democracy requires understanding the structures of public opinion which serve as its foundation.

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Bastian Herre

PhD student, Political Science

I study the political economy of development in democracies and non-democracies. Specifically, I research whether the economic ideology of heads of government and their social support affect economic policy and civil conflict, and whether these effects vary based on the political institutions in place. I further investigate how political regimes condition the effect of mass protests on civil and military coups.

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Blake McGhghy

Masters student, Social Sciences

My research interrogates the relationships among economic and environmental experts and publics in American democracy. More specifically, I study citizens’ decision-making and how they decide what information is credible, trustworthy, and relevant to their lives. My master’s thesis explores these questions in the context of deindustrialized regions in the heartland. Before UChicago, I was a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard with a focus field in “American Civic Epistemology,” which I explored through the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Science, Technology, and Society.

Chetna Kuanr

Masters student, International Relations

My research inspects the political economy under democratically elected Islamists in Middle East and North Africa (Iran, Tunisia and Morocco in particular). With increasing likelihood of Islamists getting elected democratically to power in this region, there is a need to analyse the qualitative transformation of the class structure owing to complexities of religion entwined with democracy. I am studying the consequences of the production of an ‘Islamic Capital’ on election agendas and the working class. With the expansion of Hindutva politics in democratic elections in India, I survey cases from the wider West/South Asia as well. My earlier research included subaltern and postcolonial perspectives on democracy.

David Krosin

Masters student, International Relations

I am interested in how trade impacts prospects for democratization and how authoritarian regimes respond and adjust to pressures from the global economy. In my thesis tentatively titled “Elites, Trade, and Democratization” I contend that trade creates trade-offs for authoritarian regimes that can induce institutional development (i.e. parties, legislatures, and constitutions) within autocracies that can both stabilize the regime and bias policy in favor of elites after democratization should it occur. My research seeks to unpack how trade effects regime change and democratization, which is increasingly relevant given the globalized nature of economic relations.

Evan Zhao

Joint BA/MA student, Sociology/Social Sciences

My research examines the relationship between the state and civil society through frameworks of liberalism, modernity, and political economy. My thesis speaks to this question by focusing on the legal and cultural citizenship of expatriates living in China and their processes of integration and community-formation. I look at how values of modernity are transmitted through discourses of sexuality and how identities are leveraged in narratives of the state and its legitimacy.

Filippo Maria Lancieri

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

I am interested in studying the rise of digital platforms and its impact on different aspects of our modern society – including on the political process. With a focus on political economy and institutional design, my research explores the policy instruments available to different societies so that they can fully absorb the many benefits generated by digital giants while mitigating negative side-effects. Some topics include, for example, competition law, data privacy, hate speech and fake news regulations and others.

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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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Genevieve Bates

PhD student, Political Science

My research lies at the intersection of Comparative Politics and International Relations, seeking to understand the complex dynamics between international human rights institutions (particularly courts) and domestic politics across regime types. My dissertation project focuses more specifically on the strategies domestic political actors use to address the prospect of International Criminal Court investigations in conflict and post-conflict settings, and when/why those strategies succeed or fail. Other projects examine the electoral performance of rebel group-affiliated political parties, as well as how different transitional justice mechanisms affect quality of democracy and human rights indicators around the world.

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Hani Warith

Masters student, International Relations

I am a masters student in political science studying democratic transitions, the persistence of authoritarian institutions and social mobilization in new democracies. Methodologically, I have a strong interest in using multi-methods social science research to garner insights about new democracies across various regional contexts. My current research investigates the ways in which power-sharing institutions incentivize majoritarian mobilization in democracies emerging from civil wars. While I have a focus in the Middle East and South Asia, my research hopes to engage with and build on the literature on consociationalism, power-sharing, and institutional design more broadly.

Helen Ross

Masters student, Social Sciences

My present research concerns the role of women and the domestic sphere within theories of liberal democracy, particularly the potential (or lack thereof) for emancipatory feminist politics within the confines of and using the language of democratic equality and liberty. The majority of my academic work has focused on Alexis de Tocqueville’s democratic thought, particularly on the essential role of a “commons” in democracy and associated environmental, feminist, and sociological thought. I am broadly interested in physical/architectural and theoretical spaces within democracy that allow for deliberation, political participation, and liberty, and my work attempts to bridge historical political thought with contemporary feminist and democratic concerns.

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.

Jingwei Maggie Li

Masters student, International Relations

I am seeking to understand how trade policy is being employed in democracy from an international scale and individual level. Specifically, for global scale, I am interested in the process of trade negotiation between states, and how state behaves for gaining favorable trade agreements. My research further focuses on the incentives that drive the formation of individual trade preferences. My current research project investigates how consumers’ behavior can affect trade policy in a democracy, and even in economic downturns.

Jingyuan Cheng

Masters student, Social Sciences

I am currently interested in how people living in democratic regimes perceive the Chinese regime. To be more specific, to what degree do they deem it democratic, and how do they judge based on their own experiences?

John Gerdes

Masters student, Social Sciences

My research interests are in local government, American federalism and the concept of dual sovereignty. In particular, I am interested in what the institutionalized ramifications of dual sovereignty entail for the relationship between individuals and society, and how such institutionalization promotes or impedes the healthy democratic functioning of a body politic.

Jonathan Deming

PhD student, Political Science

My dissertation aims to explain the fates of authoritarian successor parties in fledgling democracies: Why have political parties representing the interests of former authoritarian ruling coalitions sometimes become enduring competitive players in democracy? In answering this question, my dissertation aims to shed light on the politics of democratic transitions and their aftermath, as well as the formation of fledgling political party systems. My broader research interests center on political regimes, regime transitions, political parties and party systems – with a regional focus on Latin America.

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Joseph Greenbaum

Masters student, International Relations

I study how legacies of rebel administrations and institutions feed into inter/post war regime type. My research concerns how quotidian bottom-up pressures on armed groups during wartime can give way to or block democratic pathways.

Joshua Corona

Masters student, International Relations

Women are significantly more likely to become state leaders in countries classifiable as democracies – and specific kinds of democracies at that. I ask why female leaders are perplexingly absent from autocratic systems, even given historical/familial ties to power like the vast majority of females who have obtained executive roles in democracies. Bolstering this research is preliminary empirical evidence to suggest that domestic democracy and autocracy scores shift under leaders of opposing sexes.

Khalefah Alghanim

Masters student, International Relations

I’m very interested in how elections are “managed” in democracies and how different electoral systems force policies to be either broad based or catering to a smaller group and how such pluralistic policies succeed in catering to specific groups. My current research is related to how military alliances are affected by regime type and how alliances involving democracies exclusively, both democracies and autocracies, and autocracies exclusively each behave differently due to the membership of the alliance.

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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Maddie Hay

Masters student, Social Sciences

I am primarily interested in the way that questions of identity or belonging intersect with democracy. My research therefore deals with questions of how individuals come to see themselves as part of a larger cultural whole and how that plays into the democratic structure. I deal with issues such as multiculturalism, representation/recognition, history and judgment, often invoking the work of Hannah Arendt. As a Canadian, most of my theoretical interests are tied to issues as they appear in Canadian democracy, but those issue are by no means exclusive to it.

Marcos Falcone

Masters student, Social Sciences

My research aims at predicting electoral outcomes by using the theory of retrospective voting. By looking at the way in which different administrations rule and by identifying the priorities of citizens in democratic societies, we can learn about their choices when they go to the polls. This knowledge is useful for parties and politicians, as they can acquire information on what voters prioritize, but also for citizens, as more accountability within the democratic system is fostered.

Mengting Luo

Masters student, Social Sciences

My interests include: 1) The role of democracy in the reconstruction process in post-conflict countries, 2) The concept of “performance legitimacy” and its criticisms of democracy in authoritarian states, and 3) Modernization theory and the relations between democracy and general social welfare.

Michael Ortega

JD student, Law School

I am interested in the intersection between the constitutional underpinnings of American democracy and the procedural mechanisms by which elections occur. The electoral systems of the United States are both hyper-federalized and incredibly concentrated; although each city/county essentially administers its own elections, the Constitution provides a role for Congress (and, therefore, the courts) in dictating national standards for election law. Over the past few decades, the Supreme Court has used traditional constitutional doctrines to undermine democratic safeguards ranging from campaign finance regulations to pre-clearance of voting restrictions. Such principles are often far removed, however, from how elections actually operate.

Muhammad Zuhair Murad Khan

Masters student, International Relations

I am studying the effects of state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan and its implications on the legitimacy of democracy. Furthermore, I want to study how the military establishment affects democratic institutions and popular support for elected officials.

Nandhana Sajeev

Masters student, International Relations

I am studying state-sanctioned violence in India and the United States, and how these governments and their institutions may work together to uphold structures that continue to marginalize historically oppressed peoples. I’m specifically interested in comparing prisons systems and the criminalization of marginalized peoples in the United States and in India, but have more recently become interested in the history of caste violence and resistance in India and abroad, and how both manifest today in our globalizing society. I’m also curious about the many diverse factors of these increasingly violent governments including the role of militarization, borders, restriction of freedom of speech and media outlets, (denial of) citizenship, detention, land ownership and attacks on vulnerable populations. Ironically, both the United States and India are lauded for being the world’s largest and most prominent democracies; I will be studying how these countries not only fail in upholding democratic ideals but enable violence through legislation, rhetoric, and institutional power.

Narrelle Gilchrist

Masters student, International Relations

My research interests include democratization and comparative political institutions, with a regional focus on sub-Saharan Africa. I have done research in Kenya on ethnic politics, conducting a survey to assess the beliefs of current university students regarding pluralistic democracy. Currently, I am writing an MA thesis on the effectiveness of de-centralization as a democratic reform.

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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Nurit Siegal

Masters student, Political Science

My research interests explore the discourse around freedom, pluralism and judgment within progressive political theory. More specifically, I’m interested in the conferring of meaning within progressive thought to certain models of the empowered, autonomous self. What “anti-models” of human empowerment might progressive theorists find problematic? How do polities grapple with, marginalize or monitor illiberal expressions of the self in order to prevent the spread of illiberal cultural norms?

Olivia Carneiro

Masters student, Public Policy

I am interested in the impact of the internet on democracy and social development. I have worked in Brazil with digital political campaigns for candidates and civil mobilization. Although social media has become a powerful instrument to inform, organize and engage civil society on causes and actions, it can also be used to spread false information and impede healthy communication. We are living an exciting moment to study and advocate for democracy using the internet as a key ally.

Onursal Erol

PhD student, Political Science

My research interests broadly encompass the ordinary democratic reflexes in a contemporary Global South of rapidly eroding networks of democracy that recently seem to have become temporarily visible in ephemeral episodes of contentious action from the Middle East, to Eastern Europe, and Latin America – most of which have already been declared failures. Considering the discovery of organic and locally ingrained democratic experiences as an explicit strategy of democratic authentication, my doctoral research focuses on the place of the 2013 Gezi Resistance within the spatio-historically larger politics of Gezi in Turkey, seeking to go beyond the episodic reading of democratic reaction in the form of a protest movement and establish a genealogy of politics of and resistance in urban public space in its place. In doing so, I question the symbolic strategies employed by the democratic forces in contention with the increasingly authoritarian official logics in the Global South, and propose a new set of unarticulated capacities.

Retika Vijay Kumar

Master’s student, International Relations

Scholars have generally recognized and accepted that Indian foreign policy decisions are influenced to a substantial degree by domestic factors, specifically regional ethnicities. The impact of such ethnicities are however, attributed to the presence of regional political parties in coalition governments at the Union level. It is my research interest to see if regional ethnicities can influence policy decisions at the centre without having a regional party in the national coalition government as a power broker. It is my endeavour to study this through a historical comparative analysis of relevant regional political parties.

Rishi Arora

PhD student, Sociology

I’m interested in the relationship between financialization and democracy. An underappreciated aspect, in my view, of the rise of “right populism” is the degree to which national governments around the world have ceded their financial autonomy. Polanyi saw this half a century ago. We need to see it again.

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Rob Mitchell

Masters student, Computational Analysis and Public Policy

I’m interested on how electoral reforms influence political polarization of both the elite and the electorate. Specifically, I’m interested in the effect that multimember districts and alternative voting systems would affect voter participation, satisfaction, and representation.

Sara Corley

Masters student, Social Sciences

Questions of political participation, citizenship, and legitimacy drive my research. I am interested in understanding how and why forms of political engagement evolve over time, and how these evolving forms of political engagement do and do not affect the legitimacy of the governing body. I am fascinated by the individual and communal relationships between citizens and the government structures, and how we can examine those relationships to better understand our democracy. For my MA thesis research, I hope to explore these type of questions specifically through examining social movements and collective behavior through a theoretical framework.

Sarath Pillai

PhD student, History

My doctoral dissertation studies the currency of federalist ideas in indirectly ruled princely states in late colonial South Asia. Specifically, I am interested in the relationship between forms of colonial rule, such as indirect or direct, and the formation of theories on democracy, constitutionalism, and federalism.

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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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Sebastian Leiva

Masters student, International Development and Policy

I strive to understand the determinants of democratization, autoritharian preference, political violence and protest. New threats to democracy are arising and seem to be coming from policy preferences, political behavior and informal institutions rather than power schemes or institutions from regimes. I am interesting on understanding how regimes, rhetoric and institutions shapes preferences of the people. I hold quantitative research experience on the topics of inequality, violence and public finance. I used to teach Public Finance, Economic History and Human Economics at the undergrad level in my country, Nicaragua.

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Shreya Gautam

Master’s student, International Relations

My research is shaped by my interest in developmental projects and neocolonial conflicts in South Asia and the Middle East. I am interested in understanding the tensions arising from democratic regimes in the context of a postcolonial, third-world and developing country. I am interested in understanding the process of universalizing democracy and its possible limitations specific to the region of my interest. Through my research, I question if the concepts of democracy and rights, as upheld by international actors, are highly staunch, western and patronizing. I further wish to analyze how ideas that are a product of a western epistemic order can be provincialized using ideas of cultural hybridity and their implications on social stability.

Tayjas Rajaraman

Master’s student, History

I am mainly interested in the origins of liberalism and democracy, especially in the early-modern European period. My interest also largely lies in critiques of liberalism and democracy, especially the critiques of thinkers like Marx, Nietzsche, and Schmitt, as well as the challenge of Fascism and Nazism towards liberal society. I also am interested in the arguments and logic employed by critics of liberalism and democracy, and what the merits of non-democratic and illiberal states may be, as found in thinkers diverse as Plato to Vilfredo Pareto.

TJ Harper

Master’s student, Social Administration

TJ Harper is interested in researching the intersection between race, class, and the criminal justice system throughout one’s lifespan — investigating whether a correlative relationship exists between an individual’s engagement with socially-inclined institutions and a criminal record. He seeks to discern if social institutions might serve as factors to curb the probability of a person who holds the most vulnerable positionality (in this case, a person who identifies as low-income and a person of color) from becoming incarcerated. The purpose of this research is to challenge institutional roles with regards to the incarceration of those who are low-income and people of color through an evaluative method and then offer potential innovative solutions for social institutions to become more impactful.

Trish Kahle

PhD student, History

My research examines the relationship between energy, labor politics, and democratic governance in the twentieth-century United States. My dissertation, “The Graveyard Shift: Mining Democracy in an Age of Energy Crisis, 1963-1981,” argues that the energy crisis which dominated American politics in the 1970s was driven not only by oil shocks, but by the politics of coalfield democracy. The coalfield social contract had until the mid-1960s stabilized electricity supply and underwritten the growth in consumption of other fuels, particularly oil. When it fractured, fostered the subsequent reconstitution of the nation’s energy regime through new forms of industry restructuring and Federal regulation. I show how the coal mining workplace, as a particularly contested site of democratic politics, can offer new insight into the transformation of American governance in the pivotal decade of the 1970s, and help to explain the persistent figure of the coal miner in American electoral politics even amid the industry’s decline.

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Utsav Gandhi

Masters student, Public Policy

I am specifically interested in political polarization resulting from and exacerbated by online conversations and social media. There are growing concerns about the state of our democracy due to the loss of civility in our online conversations, and the challenges posed by misinformation, disinformation and malinformation in the digital sphere. This, combined with conversations about the changing role of media and technology, a restructuring of the business models of social media companies, increased regulation of social media by government and general best practices of cyber hygiene and cyber awareness, firmly establish digital environments as transformative players in the state of our democracy and societies for years to come.

Viivi Järvi

Masters student, International Relations

I am a Committee on International Relations student interested in studying democratic stability, quality, and legitimacy as a function of the nature of conflicted or non-democratic orders that preceded it, and of the transition from these orders. Current projects include a study on the impacts of amnesties on political polarization, seeking to disaggregate amnesties implemented following dictatorships, following “one-sided” incidences of violence (which may include genocides or violence by domestic terrorist groups, for example), and following two- or multi-sided intrastate wars. Past research projects include a B.A. thesis also written at the University of Chicago, which focused on the impact of Spanish Civil War violence patterns on current Spanish regional political parties’ support for retroactive transitional justice. I hope, through my work, to speak to the ways in which the nature of a democracy and of its institutions are shaped in tangible and measurable ways by its past.

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Yimin Li

Masters student, Computational Social Science

My research interest focuses on public opinion of democracy in authoritarian China. More specifically, I am interested in how Chinese citizens perceive democracy and whether Chinese citizens see a need for democracy. Based on the data collected and manipulated from the field research in China, I also analyzed what shaped Chinese attitude on democracy. Further, I would pay more focus on applying computational and quantitative methods to analyze China’s perception on democracy.

Yuna Blajer de la Garza

PhD student, Political Science

My doctoral research focuses on membership in democratic societies. I am interested in the shortcomings of equal citizenship as a means to guarantee equal inclusion (what I call democratic belonging) in the political community. I work on normative democratic theory but also do ethnographic empirical work.

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