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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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.

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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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.

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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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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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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Henry Cotton

Masters student, International Relations

My research interests lie at the intersection of international relations and democratic politics. My thesis explores the impacts of populism on institutional cooperation in the European Union and investigates the normative challenge of populism to shared liberal democratic values. Previous research of mine has investigated separation of powers issues in British democracy, and Nazi collaboration in Belgium and the Netherlands, all during the World War Two era.

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.

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 Schmidt

Masters student, Public Policy

The “great debate” in development economics is whether good institutions lead to a more economically prosperous society, or if prosperity itself begets good institutions. My research interests at Harris focus on untangling these interwoven questions by measuring the impact of economic development programs in the Global South on the strength of their democratic institutions. Specifically, I look at programs and initiatives targeted towards underserved communities (i.e women and youth).

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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Maggie Ding

Masters student, International Relations

My research interest mainly regards authoritarian regimes which could be detailed in the following three aspects. First, I am eager to explore the intersection between psychology and political institutions, particularly concerning the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ruling elites (notably leaders and their puppets) and its consequential impact on the decision-making process under authoritarian regimes.

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.

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.

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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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.

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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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.

Theodore Leavell

Master’s student, International Relations

My research focuses on how foreign direct investment affects the public’s perceptions of its government(s) and democracy, specifically in East Africa. I am especially interested in how Chinese FDI impacts the Kenyan populace’s perception of its government and the quality of public goods delivery in light of concessions made to multinational corporations and other FDI-dispersing entities.

Thomas Blaubach

Master’s student, International Relations

My research interests focus on the creation, stagnation, and survival of authoritarian regimes in the era of globalization and liberalization. I am particularly interested in finding patterns and measurements in assessing the strength of authoritarianism in a regime and how they interact with the larger international community.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.