Dissertation: The Relational Approach to Conflict-Induced Migration

Abstract: My dissertation uses a relational approach to develop an information-centric explanation for how civilian perceptions and expectations, which may or may not be factually accurate, shape civilian choices regarding the logistics of conflict-induced migration. These logistics include whether, when, where, and how civilians migrate. Civilian perceptions and expectations are most heavily influenced by information about security conditions spreading via word-of-mouth along the lines of strong social ties and ethnic and ideological homophily. Vertical ties provide opportunity to safely share that information. Then, civilians evaluate the information that they hear through the lenses of narratives and evidence. Resultant information diffusion can then motivate migration, while vertical ties provide opportunity to safely migrate. I use over 200 interviews with Syrian refugees and 18 interviews with Somali refugees. These interviews were conducted during fieldwork in Jordan, Turkey, Kenya, and the United States. Findings suggest that explanations for civilian responses to armed conflict, including migration, should focus on the information civilians possess about security conditions instead of externally observed indicators of security conditions.

Published and Forthcoming Work

"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

“Introducing the African Pro-Government Militias Dataset,” with Yehuda Magid, Revise and Resubmit at International Interactions

“Warriors or Entrepreneurs: How Refugee Camp Policies Shape Behavior,” Revise and Resubmit for special issue on forced migration at Small Business Economics

“Displacement Cascades: Disaggregating Cascade Models in Somalia,” under review at International Migration Review

"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 American Political Science Review

Academic Blog Posts

"Another Escalation in Migrant-EU Contention", on Duck of Minerva, October 10, 2016. (http://duckofminerva.com/2016/10/another-escalation-in-migrant-eu-contention.html#more-29361)

"How Violence and Uncertainty Can Deter Displacement", on Political Violence @ a Glance, September 26, 2016. (https://politicalviolenceataglance.org/2016/09/26/how-violence-and-uncertainty-can-deter-displacement/)

“What new evidence from Somalia tells us about when civilians decided to flee war zones”, on The Monkey Cage, February 23, 2016. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/02/23/what-new-evidence-from-somalia-tells-us-about-when-civilians-decided-to-flee-war-zones/)

“The Unintended Consequences of Closing and Restricting Jordan-Syria Border Crossings”, on Syria Comment, August 14, 2014. (http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/unintended-consequences-closing-restricting-jordan-syria-border-crossings-justin-schon/)

“10 Things to Know About Refugees in Jordan”, on Syria Comment, August 10, 2014. (http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/10-things-know-refugees-jordan/)