What explains why pogrom organizers carry out violence against certain groups, but not others? Pogroms begin when the “top-down” organization of the episode converges with “bottom-up” violent mobilization by an informal group. In my dissertation, I find that pogroms follow a symbolic logic because different types of political order determine how organizers of these episodes mark certain groups as objects of social exclusion by engaging in public, targeted violence against them. The interaction between the state’s variable involvement in the organization of group-targeted violence, on the one hand, and organizers’ prior capacity to mobilize violence, on the other, leads to four different types of political order: (1) consolidation; (2) contestation; (3) state-building; and (4) anarchy. In turn, these different types of political order generate four separate patterns of group targeting.
I test different explanations for group targeting and within-case spatial variation in violence during four archetypal pogrom episodes: (1) the antisemitic Kristallnacht pogrom in Nazi Germany in November 1938, which represents a consolidated context; (2) the pogrom against Mexican nationals in Brownsville, TX, in 1915, in a state-building context; (3) the anti-Black pogrom in East St. Louis, IL, in July 1917, where non-state groups contested the state’s capacity for mobilization; and (4) the pogrom against Afro-Caribbean residents of London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, where neither state actors nor non-state groups exercised a significant priority over violence. I use process tracing to explain top-down group targeting by organizers, and spatial regression analysis to analyze how participants spread violence from the bottom-up. These analyses draw on novel applications of archival materials about violence and its determinants, including press accounts, census records, police reports, organizational documents, and municipal records.
My work on pogroms contributes to multiple strands of scholarship in political science, sociology, and history about the origins and dynamics of violence and contention. Theoretically, this research illuminates how symbolic action—collective, public activities that reinforce political order and intergroup relations—patterns of political violence. The project also contributes to the broader constructivist research agenda in comparative politics by elaborating on the mechanisms by which violence emerges from and calcifies boundaries between ethnic groups.
Below is a list of published and in-progress works that make up my ongoing research agenda on these and closely-related topics. If you’re working on these issues as a scholar, policymaker, practitioner, or activist, and want to collaborate, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(with Zachariah Mampilly, Anushani Alagarajah, Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, Nyathon H. Mai, Nissé Mughendi, and Jason Stearns) “Contingent Civilians: Agency and Action in Mass Atrocity Contexts.” In Civilian Protective Agency in Violent Settings: A Comparative Perspective, edited by Jana Krause, Emily Paddon-Rhoads, Juan Masullo, and Jennifer Welsh. Forthcoming from Oxford University Press.
“Pogrom Violence and Visibility during Kristallnacht: Lessons for Social Science Research about the Holocaust.” In Politics, Violence, Memory – The New Social Science of the Holocaust, edited by Jeffrey Kopstein, Jelena Subotic, and Susan Welch. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2023.
(with Laia Balcells) “Violence, Resistance, and Rescue during the Holocaust,” Comparative Politics, vol. 53, no. 1 (2020), 161 – 180 (pdf)
“The Black Freedom Movement and the Politics of the Anti-Genocide Norm in the United States, 1951 – 1967,” Genocide Studies and Prevention, vol. 13, no. 1 (April 2019), 130 – 143 (pdf)
“Finding Our Finches: Paradigmatic-Case Research in Political Science”
(with Robert Braun) “Popular Hatreds and the Spread of Kristallnacht Violence: Evidence from Children’s Stories”
(with Tallan Donine, Kyra Fox, Alexandra Hall, Jessica Moody, Sascha Nanlohy, and Lawrence Woocher) “The Atrocity Prevention Toolbox: A Systematic Review”
(with Kelebogile Zvobgo) “Co-Opting Truth: Explaining Quasi-Judicial Institutions in Authoritarian Regimes” (October 2019 draft)
(with Rachel Van Nostrand and Alex Braithwaite) “The Correlates of Concentrated Cruelty: Government Use of Concentration Camp Systems since 1945”
(with Tranae Hardy and Diana Kapiszewski) “Mapping Methods in Political Science Research: An Analysis of Journal Publications (1998 – 2018)”
“The Symbolic Logic of Pogrom Violence: Evidence from Kristallnacht” (pre-analysis plan)
Finalist, Early Career Researcher Best Paper Prize, Radicalism and Violence Research Network, Council for European Studies 2022
Best Doctoral Paper, Central Europe Section, Association for the Study of Nationalities Convention 2019
(with Zachariah Mampilly, Anushani Alagarajah, Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, Nyathon H. Mai, and Congo Research Group) “The Role of Civilians and Civil Society in Preventing Mass Atrocities,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, July 2020 (pdf)
“Evaluating Counterfactual US Policy Action in Syria, 2011-16: A Review of Empirical Evidence from Related Cases,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, August 2017 (pdf)
(with Otto Saki and Lawrence Woocher) “Scenarios of Repression: Preventing Mass Atrocities in Zimbabwe,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, November 2016 (pdf)
(with Richard Gowan and Lawrence Woocher) “Preventing Mass Atrocities: An Essential Agenda for the Next UN Secretary General,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, September 2016 (pdf)
(with Jewel Tomasula) “Contract Personalis: How Georgetown’s Graduate Workers Organized to Win,” The Forge, October 2020 (link)
“The Country Club,” The New Republic, September 2018 (link)
(with Aliza Luft) “How dangerous is it when Trump calls some immigrants ‘animals’?,” The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, May 2018 (link)
“A Lost Boy in Louisville: One Refugee’s Story,” Dissent, Winter 2016 (link)
“The Many Trials of a Nazi War Criminal,” The New Republic, April 2016 (link)
“No Country for Rich Men,” The New Republic, November 2015 (link)
“Between Israel and Social Democracy: Tony Judt’s Jewishness,” Dissent, August 2014 (link)