I focus on using formal theory to parse out different mechanisms through which mass movements and political violence work, with a goal to develop links between theory and empirics. Put differently, I am interested in how social movements and governments achieve their goals when pursuing contentious action or violence.
Signaling and Screening in Contentious Politics (R & R at Journal of Conflict of Resolution)
Literature on contention and repression overwhelmingly assumes that contentious politics is a zero-sum game and the goal of repression is to subdue all protests. This approach ignores that contentious action provides information about grievances which are costly to ignore for the government. I develop a formal model of contentious politics where activists use protests to signal their grievances as well as impose costs on the government. The model shows that repression can have a screening purpose. Governments use coercion to set the terms of contention so that they only have to accommodate sufficiently aggrieved and salient groups, while filtering out the rest. The model also demonstrates that decreased cost of mobilization makes repression indirectly cheaper for governments, leading to more repression. Taken together, these findings provide a theoretical explanation for the inconsistent findings in the empirical literature on contention and repression. Finally, the results provide an explanation for why rational governments would resort to repression only to follow it with accommodation.
How Does Violence Deter? Functional and Informational Effects of Preemptive Repression (R & R at Conflict Management and Peace Science) Latest Version
Research on the relationship between repression and dissent has mostly ignored the mechanisms through which repression affects dissent. I distinguish two distinct channels through which repression can deter dissidents. First, preemptive repression works through a functional channel by reducing the opposition's capabilities. Second, the severity of preemptive repression provides information to its target about the strength of government. I use a formal model to demonstrate how these two distinct channels interact, how they can together change the severity and effect of repression. The model illustrates how the informational and functional channels together modify the aggregate effect of observed repression, and can make it both more or less effective in deterring dissent.
Ignoring or Responding to Protests (Under review) Latest Version
Ignoring is the most common government response to protests across the globe. Yet the literature on contentious politics overwhelmingly assumes that governments must respond to popular mobilizations with repression or accommodation. I model an environment, where activists cannot coerce the government to make concessions. Activists use public mobilization to signal grievances to the government and the general public. The model shows small protests can risk exposing an incumbent government's lack of interest in the citizens' welfare and push them to make concessions in order to retain support. The model also specifies when a government will ignore large number of protesters.
Civil Resistance or Calling on the Big Brother? A Model of Limited Protests in Authoritarian Regimes (In Progress)
The literature overwhelmingly assumes that contentious politics is a zero-sum game between the government and protesters. This approach does a poor job of explaining the high number of successful protests in a strong authoritarian regime like China. I build a formal model to examine why China has more contentious mobilizations than other authoritarian regimes. The model shows that when a government is sufficiently strong, it can use limited concessions to encourage protests with narrow goals such as corruption by local officials. Rather than chipping away at the regime and opening the way to further mobilization, these protests act as pressure valves to limit discontent. Furthermore, because individual communities are incentivized to signal loyalty to achieve concessions and avoid repression, these protests do not lead to revolutionary cascades that brought down authoritarian governments previously.