Book project- Surviving War: How people protect themselves during conflict

My book project examines civilian self-protection strategies during conflict, with a focus on non-engagement strategies. I argue that many non-engagement strategies are politically contentious during conflict. Civilians thereby need motivation and opportunity to select them. Evidence for this argument comes from interviews with over 200 Syrian refugees, Somali refugees, and secondary source materials.

Published and Forthcoming Work

Motivation and opportunity for conflict-induced migration: An analysis of Syrian migration timing,” Forthcoming at Journal of Peace Research.

Abstract: How do civilians decide when to leave their homes during conflict? Existing research emphasizes the role of violence in driving civilian migration decisions. Yet, migration timing often does not correspond with the timing of violence. To explain this discrepancy, I argue that violence fits within broader considerations of motivation and opportunity to migrate. Witnessing violence triggers posttraumatic growth that delays narrative ruptures and the subsequent migration that they motivate. Civilians who have wasta—an advantaged social position resulting from some combination of money and connections—have the opportunity to migrate safely. Civilians who possess both motivation and opportunity migrate earlier. I use over 170 structured interviews with Syrian refugees in Turkey to test this argument. Descriptively, respondents who did not witness violence (early motivation) left their homes seven months earlier, on average. Respondents with wasta (opportunity) left their homes one full year earlier, on average. Respondents who both did not witness violence (early motivation) and had wasta (opportunity) left their homes approximately one and a half years earlier, on average. Cox proportional hazard models reveal that respondents only migrated earlier in the conflict if they had both early motivation and opportunity. Open-ended responses from the interviews support the quantitative results and help explain their causal mechanisms. These findings contribute to understandings of conflict-induced migration, civil war, and the Syrian conflict.

"Using ERGMs to Disaggregate Displacement Cascades," 2019, Journal of Social Structure, 19(1).

Abstract: How do civilians select internal displacement destinations during conflict? Existing research emphasizes the value of cascades as a guide to making these difficult decisions. Cascades may involve civilians following people in their social networks (community cascades), people with similar characteristics (co-ethnic cascades), or the crowd in general (herd cascades). Analyses relying upon interview or regression-based methodological approaches face substantial challenges in identifying the prevalence of and relationship between each type of cascade. While interview-based approaches can incorporate location characteristics and movement patterns, they struggle with assessing aggregate trends. Meanwhile, regression-based approaches can assess aggregate trends, but they struggle with incorporating location characteristics and movement patterns. Exponential Random Graph Models (ERGMs) that conceive of locations as nodes in a network and movements between those locations as ties can overcome these challenges and assess aggregate trends while incorporating location characteristics and movement patterns. This paper demonstrates the utility of this approach using data from UNHCR on internal displacement in Somalia from 2007-2013. Results reveal that herd cascades only form at high displacement levels, co-ethnic cascades form at medium and high displacement levels, and community cascades form at all displacement levels. Therefore, cascades provide stronger guides for displacement-related decisions as civilians switch from following the crowd in general to following those with similar characteristics to following social ties.

Introducing the African Relational Pro-Government Militias Dataset (RPGMD),” with Yehuda Magid, April 2018, International Interactions, 44(4), 801-832.



Abstract: This paper introduces the African Relational Pro-Government Militia Dataset (RPGMD). Recent research has improved our understandings of how pro-government forces form, under what conditions they are most likely to act, and how they affect the risk of internal conflict, repression, and state fragility. In this paper, we give an overview of our dataset that identifies African pro-government militias (PGMs) from 1997 to 2014. The dataset shows the wide proliferation and diffusion of these groups on the African continent. We identify 149 active PGMs, 104 of which are unique to our dataset. In addition to descriptive information about these PGMs, we contribute measures of PGM alliance relationships, ethnic relationships, and context. We use these variables to examine the determinants of the presence and level of abusive behavior perpetrated by individual PGMs. Results highlight the need to consider nuances in PGM-government relationships in addition to PGM characteristics.

"The Centrality of Checkpoints for Civilians during Conflict," September 2016, Civil Wars, 18(3), 281-310.

Abstract: Analyses of the violence-displacement relationship motivate a disaggregation of violence into violence in residential areas (home violence) and violence along migration routes (road violence). These two forms of violence have opposite effects upon displacement, with home violence increasing displacement and road violence decreasing displacement. Yet, conflict scholarship would benefit from additional consideration of the specific activities that constitute road violence. This consideration reveals that road violence primarily involves displacement-deterring violence at checkpoints. This motivates the question: How does checkpoint violence deter displacement? Using interviews with Syrian and Somali refugees, as well as daily data on violence and displacement in Somalia, this paper argues that state and non-state armed groups create and foster uncertainty at checkpoints. Then, they use dramatic violence that is tangible to civilians through their ability to physically see, hear, and smell evidence of it as propaganda. As propaganda, the deterrent effect of checkpoint violence is amplified beyond isolated violent events. More broadly, results from quantitative analysis of the daily data on violence and displacement in Somalia indicate that uncertainty about road violence (road uncertainty) and uncertainty about home violence (home uncertainty) amplify the effects of road violence and home violence respectively.

“Focus on the Forest, Not the Trees: A Changepoint Model of Forced Displacement,” December 2015, Journal of Refugee Studies, 28(4), 437-467.

Abstract: What causes forced displacement flows, defined as refugee or internally displaced person (IDP) flows, to vary over time within conflict? While scholars, analysts, and policy makers increasingly recognize the importance of forced displacement on conflict dynamics, little is known about what actually causes forced displacement to vary during a conflict and when that variation is likely to occur. This paper explores whether fluctuations in daily violence levels, structural aspects of conflict, or both cause variation in forced displacement within conflict. Daily displacement data from UNHCR is combined with violent events data for the analysis. I find that structural aspects, in particular changes in the balance of power between conflict actors and the magnitude of the conflict’s geographical scope, drive increases or decreases in forced displacement. There are two main contributions. First, I illustrate the complexity of the relationship between violence and displacement. Second, this paper demonstrates the importance of considering structural aspects of conflict even as data and methodological advancements have allowed scholars to zoom in on the details of conflict.

Working Papers

"The Multiple Logics of Distributive Politics: Spatial Analysis of Voter Mobilization and Need in a Developing Democracy," with Lauren M. MacLean, Jennifer N. Brass, and Elizabeth Baldwin, under review at British Journal of Political Science.

“Believing rumors for protection: How narratives and evidence influence rumor adoption inconflict zones.”

"Clearing up the 'Fog of War': An Examination of the Distinct Roles of News, Rumor, Conspiracy Theory, Propaganda, and Myth in Armed Conflict"

"Border walls and migration," with David Leblang, in progress.

Academic Blog Posts

"Another Escalation in Migrant-EU Contention", on Duck of Minerva, October 10, 2016. (

"How Violence and Uncertainty Can Deter Displacement", on Political Violence @ a Glance, September 26, 2016. (

“What new evidence from Somalia tells us about when civilians decided to flee war zones”, on The Monkey Cage, February 23, 2016. (

“The Unintended Consequences of Closing and Restricting Jordan-Syria Border Crossings”, on Syria Comment, August 14, 2014. (

“10 Things to Know About Refugees in Jordan”, on Syria Comment, August 10, 2014. (