Category Archives: Profile

Studying the Relationship between Islamic States and International Law

Post developed by Yioryos Nardis in coordination with Barbara Koremenos.

bkoremenosBarbara Koremenos,  Center for Political Studies faculty member and Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan has recently begun a Visiting Research Fellowship at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The Kroc Institute is devoted to the study of the causes of violent conflict and strategies for sustainable peace. She was awarded the Fellowship to spend the 2015-2016 year studying the relationship between Islamic states and international law, and to examine how this affects Islamic states’ participation in international agreements and ultimately the peaceful resolution of differences.

Koremenos was inspired by looking at a random sample of international agreements in the issue areas of economics, environment, human rights, and security drawn from the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), which is by far the most popular place to register international agreements. She was struck by the fact that not a single agreement in her sample was composed solely of Islamic states. Within the sample, Egypt participated in the most agreements (25 agreements) while Oman had the lowest participation rate (seven agreements).  With the exception of Malaysia, every other state in the sample participated in at least as many (usually more) human rights agreements than agreements in any of the other three issue areas.  Within the sample, Lebanon participated more than any other Islamic state in environmental agreements at a quite low number of five.

Even more striking, participation in multilateral agreements seemed to far outweigh participation in bilateral agreements, even though bilateral cooperation is more prevalent worldwide when looking at the entire UNTS population. This is also true when looking at the sample featured in Professor Koremenos’ Continent of International Law (COIL) research program.

In the UNTS sample, over half of the Islamic states participated in no bilateral agreements; Egypt was the state that participated in the most bilateral agreements (six agreements) followed by Oman and Indonesia at two bilateral agreements each.

Koremenos will use her fellowship this year to examine whether:

  • Islamic states simply participate in fewer international agreements than non-Islamic states
  • With respect to participation in international agreements, there is variation within Islamic states that can be explained by whether Shari’a is officially adopted in a state’s constitution
  • Islamic states participate in international agreements that are not registered with the UNTS;
  • Islamic states participate in relatively more informal international agreements

Answers to these questions will give a sense of the amount of “failed cooperation” in those states – that is, cooperation that is precluded because certain institutional design tools, that might be key to solving the cooperation problems facing states, are disallowed by Shari’a Law – and, to begin to suggest larger relationships that might impact key factors in the world of peace and conflict like economic growth.

The importance of student research opportunities to Janie Velencia’s career in elections and research

Developed by Lauren Guggenheim in coordination with Janie Velencia.

This is a post in a series about student involvement in research projects in the Center for Political Studies (CPS). Here, we profile Janie Velencia, whose work on the Constituency-Level Elections Archive (CLEA) helped influence her career path in political research.

Velencia_200As an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, Xhensila (Janie) Valencia was interested in participating in the University’s Undergraduate Student Research Opportunity Program (UROP). Through the program, she sought a research project that would allow her to build work experience. “I interviewed for several interesting projects, but CLEA fit best with my majors in political science and international studies and sounded the most promising in terms translating into work skills,” she says.  She could not have guessed at the time how helpful CLEA would be in that regard.

CLEA is a repository of detailed results from lower house elections from around the world. CLEA provides opportunities for students to be involved at all stages of the data collection process, providing valuable experience and training for them. Working on research projects can be an excellent way for students to explore whether they would like to further their career in research and academia. Many of CLEA’s alumni have gone on to attend graduate school and obtain research-oriented jobs.

Janie remembers her most interesting work with CLEA data: “I’m originally from Albania and immigrated to Michigan with my family at the age of 5, so when I saw that there was a data file on Albania, I immediately volunteered for it” she says.  Because she is fluent in Albanian, and is familiar with its political history, she found that file interesting and easier to work with than some of the others, specifically because she could recognize the names of parties in both English and Albanian without having to overcome some of the usual language barriers that sometimes arise when working with the data.

She also found that focusing on the data from specific countries allowed her to learn interesting things about the political history and mood of a country. In particular, Poland stood out to her because they went from having few parties after the fall of communism to many parties, including the Beer Lover’s Party, whose platform was to promote cultural beer drinking in the country.

Janie credits her work with CLEA for helping her land an internship in the U.S. Senate, and later a job at a company called Congressional Quarterly / Roll Call, a subsidiary of the Economist Group that provides congressional research and reporting to subscribers. She was told that it was specifically her work with CLEA that made her uniquely qualified for the researcher position right out of college. She had been working there for about a year and a half when an opportunity arose for a new position that would allow her not only to work with data, but also to broaden her experiences to interpret the data and write about her results.

Currently, she works at Huffington Post as an editor for a team called HuffPost Pollster where she participates in tracking and aggregating political polls in the U.S., including all the races leading to the 2016 election. She writes articles based on poll results and contributes to a weekly polling newsletter. She believes her CLEA training also helped her attain this job.

Janie sees many parallels between her current position and her work with CLEA. “I think it’s vital to provide free accessible information about elections and public opinion for both research purposes and the public good.” She has allowed the notion to carry her into her current job. “Being able to contribute in a way that makes information accessible to the public, is what I do now, and it is also one of the great things about CLEA,” she added. Being cited by news outlets for her research is both exciting for her and satisfying because it means that the public is directly benefiting from data she helped collect and analyze.

CPS Researcher Profile: Ugo Troiano – How can policies improve life of the people?

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Ugo Troiano.

This post is part of a researcher profile series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. Today we profile Ugo Troiano, Faculty Associate in CPS and Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics.

troianoGrowing up in Taranto, Italy, Ugo Troiano became fascinated with debate over the local steel factory. He followed discussions of how dormant policies could influence economics. This opened Troiano to a bigger question: How can policies improve the life of the people?

Troiano already loved the social sciences and math. In economics, he found a fusion of the two and a toolbox to tackle this big question. He studied economics at Bocconi University. During his junior year, Troiano studied abroad at the University of Pennsylvania. This experience opened his eyes to the fruitful research environment of U.S. universities. After graduating from Bocconi, he enrolled in Harvard University’s Department of Economics to pursue a Ph.D.

For his dissertation, Troiano continued to explore the question of how policies can improve lives. In particular he looked at (1) how fiscal restrains can reduce government debt, (2) how a government program to combat tax evasion impacted vote choice, and (3) how maternity leave policies reflect gender equality.

Troiano continues to explore the central question of his research, studying how political incentives shape the implementation and consequences of public policies, using both traditional economic tools and tools from other social sciences, especially psychology, linguistics, sociology and political science. He joined the Department of Economics at the University of Michigan in 2013.  He joined the Center for Political Studies, which he sees as reflecting the political science underpinnings of his work, in the fall of 2014.

Visiting Scholar Profile: Khalil Shikaki

Post developed by Katie Brown.

Growing up in Palestine during a period of political tension, Khalil Shikaki became fascinated with politics. After completing a BA in Political Science at the American University of Beirut, Shikaki pursued these questions with a PhD in Political Science from Columbia University. Two core questions drive his research: What direction is Palestinian society taking? How do Palestinians view the relationship with Israel?

After finishing in 1985, he began teaching at An-Najah National University in the Northern part of the West Bank. Shikaki designed and taught his first course (the same course he is teaching here this semester): Palestinian Politics & Society. At that time, he realized there were no data to support and test theories. Even politicians relied on word of mouth to gauge public opinion.

So Shikaki set out to collect this data with Palestine’s first survey. But he faced a major roadblock. At the time, Palestine was under Israel occupation, and the Israeli military forbid the proposed survey. After the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, things started to calm, which created an opening for data collection. In 1992, Shikaki started training survey administers and opened the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Nablus (PCPSR moved to Ramallah in 2000). And the first survey ran in 1993. Results of the survey, which explored public attitudes toward the Oslo agreement, were published in the same day the agreement was officially signed in Washington DC.

If the first challenge to data collection was Israeli occupation, the second was building trust with Palestinians. In particular, Shikaki and his team had to convince citizens that they could trust the interviewers enough to speak their mind. The initial response rate to a pilot study came in at just 50%. The team underwent additional training over the course of a year to project and inspire confidence and did not enter the field officially until this dropped to 10%. Once out in the field they found the opposite of their initial fear: if anything, people wanted to talk too much.

The surveys rolled out in both the West Bank and Gaza. When Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, the researchers faced some new issues as Hamas now wanted to control the data. But the survey continued. And while some field workers have faced arrest, they are usually released the same day.

Data collection also becomes difficult when battles rage with Israel. This past summer, the survey stopped in areas under bomb and rocket attack. But the day before the ceasefire, interviewers tackled the embattled regions. Aside from timing, the researchers also had to adjust for areas now decimated by war, citizens displaced. This allowed for timely and valuable data on opinions about how the latest fighting impacted Palestinian views.

With more than 20 years experience investigating his driving questions — What direction is Palestinian society taking? How do Palestinians feel about the relationship with Israel? – Shikaki sees a few trends. Over the first ten years, the Palestinian public was moving in a politically moderate direction with greater support for diplomacy and compromise with Israel. The most recent decade, though, has witnessed greater support for Islamists and violence with Israel. The fate embodied in these questions are linked. Shikaki remains hopeful, as a change in either would enact change in the other.

We are extremely pleased to have Khalil Shikaki in residence at the Center for Political Studies (CPS). During his time at CPS, he has also been continuing his collaborations with the Arab Barometer, the Aggression Research Program, and Scott Atran.

Interactions between government, publics, and media – the work of Stuart Soroka

This post is a special edition of our researcher profile series. We’re very pleased to welcome Stuart Soroka to the Center for Political Studies (CPS)!

Post developed by Katie Brown and Stuart Soroka.

soroka_photo_rg_smStuart Soroka’s work has always involved the interactions between mass media, the public, and government. His early work looked at agenda-setting — the power of media content to influence what people think about, simply by presenting stories on certain topics. Instead of focusing on news content, however, Soroka looked at the potential for politically-relevant agenda-setting in feature films. When issues appear in movies, do the public and politicians then become more interested in them? (As an example, think about the release of Jurassic Park as potentially spurring interest and investment in paleontology.) His work in this area led to an interest in agenda-setting more broadly, and a doctoral dissertation on issue attentiveness from his time at the University of British Columbia.

Since then Soroka’s work has focused on a new set of issues related to interactions between government, publics, and media. One stream of research asks: when do politicians agree and act in accordance with public opinion, and how do political institutions and media systems moderate this relationship? Another body of work is focused on the sources of public support for redistributive policy, with a particular interest on the potential tensions between redistribution and ethnic diversity. And most recently, his efforts have examined the sources and consequences of negativity biases in political communication and political behavior.

With this research agenda, Soroka has published four books and more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. He was Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor, and then full Professor of Political Science at McGill University. He recently joined the Center for Political Studies (CPS), department of Communication Studies, and department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, he plans to further extend his work on political representation, negativity biases, and the impact of emotion in both news and entertainment media.

How childhood in Japan led Nahomi Ichino to the study of Africa

Post developed by Katie Brown and Nahomi Ichino.

This post is a special edition of our researcher profile series. We’re very pleased to welcome Nahomi Ichino to the Center for Political Studies (CPS)!

Ethnic politics and voter behavior in developing countries have long fascinated Nahomi Ichino. She partly attributes this to the relative homogeneity of Japan. The idea that people could be divided across many different ethnic groups and that this could be a major impediment for people to work together to make decisions for society as a whole seemed foreign and therefore intriguing to Ichino. News coverage of the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia sparked her interest in developing countries and Africa in particular.

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As an undergraduate at Yale University, Ichino took a class on economic development in Africa with Christopher Udry. The course focused on how individuals in poor societies coped with risk and the lack of information as they made economic decisions like saving, borrowing, and lending money, or investing in the education of male and female children. Even as Ichino went onto study more macro-level political topics like political parties, she kept an interest in how individuals made political decisions in these environments.

After graduation with a degree in political science, Ichino continued to study this topic through graduate school, earning a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University in 2008. She then joined the faculty at Harvard University’s Department of Government. Ichino continued to focus on sub-Saharan Africa during her time at Harvard, where she considered ethnic politics and voter behavior in developing democracies. With support from the National Science Foundation, she conducted research in Ghana, and produced a number of articles. Ichino has also conducted fieldwork in Uganda, Nigeria, Benin, Malawi, and Zambia. She also writes on methodological issues. Her work has been featured in the American Political Science Review and the American Journal of Political Science, among others.

Digital politics – Muzammil Hussain’s research traverses borders and disciplines

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Muzammil Hussain.

HussainPhotoThis post is a special edition of our researcher profile series. We’re very pleased to welcome Muzammil Hussain to the Center for Political Studies (CPS)!

Hussain’s research began in 2005 at University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he completed his Bachelor of Science degree at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Intrigued by political communication research, Hussain sought to take the American orientation of the field into parallel domains. In particular, he turned to Bangalore, India – his hometown. Hussain received a fellowship to study the social contexts and consequences of “new media” in Bangalore internet cafes, covering all types of neighborhoods: slums, religious, separated, and class-based. He also applied a variety of methods to his fieldwork in these diverse contexts.

His research interests intensified at the University of Washington, where he relocated in 2008 to pursue his M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication. Over the last three years, Hussain has shifted his research focus to political systems. In particular, his research asks how technology diffusion is a politicized, transnational project. That is, how the deployment of new internet infrastructure not only shapes the ways people use digital media in political ways, but fundamentally how these new opportunities for participation and mobilization are afforded, structured, and regulated by state powers.

His research has culminated in two book projects. Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring (OUP 2013) compares the Arab Spring in depth in 22 nations. State Power 2.0 (Ashgate 2013) is an edited volume that includes scholars from advanced democratic, authoritarian, and emerging democratic nations.

Through his field research and international stays, Hussain has seen first hand the key role state governments play in the evolution of media systems. In the future, he seeks to bring governmental systems, not just social actors, into the equation of his research. Post-internet democracies, Hussain says, are characterized as increasingly technocratic. Comparative analysis shows both advanced democracies and recalcitrant dictatorships treating public information infrastructure in surprisingly similar ways.

Muzammil Hussain is excited to be a member of both the Department of Communication Studies and the Center for Political Studies. He seeks to root his research in the areas of media studies and political communication, while drawing on the comparative ethos of political studies. These lenses allow a more comprehensive picture of comparative digital politics to emerge. Before relocating to Ann Arbor this January, Hussain completed a fellowship at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (Doha, Qatar) investigating digital activism surrounding the post-Arab Spring electoral politics in Tunisia and Yemen.

Visiting Scholar Profile: Dr. Fatima Ali Hussain Al-Kubaisi from Qatar University

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Fatima Ali Hussain Al-Kubaisi.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

Dr. Fatima Ali Hussain Al-Kubaisi grew up in Qatar. After receiving her B.A. in Sociology from Qatar University, she moved to Egypt. At Cairo University, she pursued her M.A. and then Ph.D. in Sociology.

Upon completion of her doctorate, Al-Kubaisi returned to Qatar as Assistant Professor of Sociology at Qatar University. Her work and teaching focus on considering gender and family from sociological perspectives.

Over her lifetime, Al-Kubaisi has witnessed Qatar transform into an extremely rich and developed state thanks to oil. This societal sea change serves as the backdrop of her research. In particular, she has considered whether issues of gender differ in the age 35 and younger crowd.

Al-Kubaisi also considers the role of women and the meaning of motherhood in Qatar. Further enriching her work, Al-Kubaisi serves in a variety of posts: vice president of the Qatar Foundation for Child & Women Protection, 2010-2013 member of the Arabic Network of NGOs, member of the Woman Affairs Committee in the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, and as social expert in family strategy teamwork for the Supreme Council for Family Affairs.

For the 2013-2014 school year, Al-Kubaisi is a visiting scholar in the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan. She sees this as another way to enrich her scholarship. Al-Kubaisi is especially intent upon elevating her language proficiency and adding quantitative methodology to her qualitatively driven work. She is very excited to be here and expresses her thanks to those making her stay possible, especially Nancy Burns and Dave Howell.

Objectivity without detachment: the academic journey of Mark Tessler

Developed by Katie Brown and Mark Tessler

Mark TesslerIf you ask Mark Tessler about the trajectory of his work, he smiles. His career path was never planned; rather he took advantage of unexpected opportunities along the way.  Among these was the chance to spend part of his undergraduate education as a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and part of his graduate education as a student at the University of Tunis.

Since completing his studies, Tessler has conducted research in Tunisia, Morocco, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt. He has also lived and taught university in several Sub-Saharan African countries.

Not surprisingly, one of Tessler’s areas of research is the Israel-Palestine conflict. Spending time in both Israel and Palestine has enabled him to witness first-hand the legitimate aspirations of both sides and has shaped his perspective on the conflict.  He has published extensively on the subject. His scholarship, which emphasizes rigor as well as political and cultural sensitivity, includes articles in World Politics, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, and a prize-winning 1000-page book, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Tessler describes his approach to the conflict as “objectivity without detachment.”

Tessler’s broader research questions focus on the individual-level of analysis and investigate the normative and behavioral orientations of ordinary citizens in the Middle East and North Africa. In particular, he studies how people sort out who they are, what kind of society they want to live in, and by what kind of political system they want to be governed.  Some of the findings from this research are brought together in his 2011 book, Public Opinion in the Middle East: Survey Research and the Political Orientations of Ordinary Citizens.

Currently, Tessler is working on a new and original public opinion database. With support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the database pulls together data from 44 nationally-representative surveys conducted in 15 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Tessler carried out some of these surveys with support from the National Science Foundation and other foundations and agencies. Other surveys are from the Arab Barometer, which Tessler co-directs, and from the World Values Survey.

Key variables in this unique database include respondent attitudes toward a wide range of political and social issues, particularly those pertaining to governance and to Islam. Also included are major political, economic, and demographic characteristics of the country of which the respondent is a citizen. The database thus permits both separate and integrated individual-level and country-level analyses.

Though not planned, Tessler’s choice to dive into opportunities as they appeared helped to create an illustrious career. He has authored, coauthored, or edited 15 books and published over 125 book chapters and journal articles. Mark Tessler is a Center for Political Studies (CPS) Researcher and Samuel J. Eldersveld Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan.

From Soviet international relations to surveys of Russian elites, a career changes with geopolitics

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with William Zimmerman.

This post is part of a series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work.

William ZimmermanAs an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, William “Bill” Zimmerman studied under Kenneth Waltz, a key figure in the development of the field of International Relations. Zimmerman then went on to complete his Ph.D. at Columbia University.

Professor Zimmerman’s first book Soviet Perspectives on International Relations 1956-1967, based on his dissertation, follows the structure of Waltz’s book Man, the State, and War. But instead of talking about philosophers, Zimmerman’s book considers the emergence of International Relations as a discipline in the U.S.S.R.

With his first book in hand, Zimmerman felt moved to do something different. He especially wanted to journey where he could both do his research and his family could accompany him. In 1970, the U.S.S.R. was not an option. Zimmerman secured a Fulbright Fellowship and ventured to Yugoslavia with his family in tow. Around this time, he also became involved with a research project focused on Jews who migrated from the U.S.S.R. This research project became Zimmerman’s initial foray into survey research.

Then, in the late 1980s, the world changed. Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the U.S.S.R. and ushered in an era of openness with glasnost and perestroika. The U.S.S.R. collapsed. And it was now possible to conduct survey research in Russia. “The impossible,” as Zimmerman puts it, “was now possible.” And so he set out to conduct surveys in Russia. What was originally intended to be a single survey in 1993 was expanded and developed into a six wave panel study of Russian elites and conducted through 2012.

Over his illustrious career, Zimmerman has written or edited eight books and published more than 60 journal articles and book chapters. Zimmerman is now retired, holding the title of Research Professor Emeritus at the Center for Political studies. He jokes that he is “basically doing the same thing now, just without getting paid.” He especially appreciates his wife’s support in this regard, chuckling while stating that “she knew what she was getting into.” Looking back on his career, Zimmerman can see how his career path changed with the times. He started out as “the guy that studied Soviet foreign policy from afar” and then became “the guy doing surveys of Russian elites in Moscow.”