My dissertation and book project, 'Condemning Autocracy: How International Human Rights Pressure Influences State-Society Relations in China' draws on theories of social identity and authoritarian politics to address the impacts of international human rights pressure within authoritarian states. Using experimental data, surveys, interviews, and statistical analysis of Chinese media I present a theory for how authoritarian leaders deal with foreign pressure over human rights, and the different ways in which this pressure may affect their citizens' political and social preferences. I show that some foreign efforts to put pressure on regimes like the Chinese Communist Party over their human rights violations may make it easier for those regimes to retain their public's support for authoritarian policies, and propose ways in which the international community can mitigate or even reverse this backlash.
Peer Reviewed Publications
Governments with strict control over the information that their citizens hear from foreign sources are regular targets of human rights pressure, but we know little about how this information matters in the domestic realm. I argue that authoritarian regimes strategically pass on certain types of external pressure to their public in order to ‘geopoliticise’ human rights violations, making citizens view human rights in terms of defending their nation internationally rather than in terms of individual violations, and more likely to be satisfied with their government’s behaviour. I find strong support for this model through statistical analysis of Chinese state media reports of external human rights pressure and a survey experiment on Chinese citizens’ responses to pressure on women’s rights. This analysis demonstrates that authoritarian regimes may be able to manipulate international human rights diplomacy to help them retain the support of their population while suppressing their human rights.
Does an upsurge in nationalism make interstate conflict more likely? This article gives evidence to suggest that spikes in nationalism do have a direct impact on the likelihood of disputes between states. In it, I use national days or anniversaries as occasions that increase the salience of a national identity and its historical wars. I show that in the two months following national days, conflict is markedly higher than would be expected—almost 30 percent more likely than the rest of the year—and particularly likely for states who initiate conflict or who have revisionist intentions. I demonstrate further how nationalist sentiment can increase international tensions with a case study of national anniversaries in China and Japan. Together, this evidence suggests that the increase in nationalism around national days provides both risks and opportunities to regimes and shapes when they choose conflict over cooperation in international relations.
How does the international human rights community affect the likelihood of democratization? Scholarship on Chinese citizens’ preferences about their political system has not explored the importance of the external environment, perhaps surprising given the extensive foreign pressure on China’s authoritarian system over the last 30 years. I use a quasi-natural experiment around the meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama in 2011 to examine the impact of foreign pressure on citizens’ perceptions of democracy in China in real time. I show that the meeting significantly increased the Chinese public’s belief that their country is democratic, with those of above average patriotism over 11 percentage points more likely to believe China is democratic in the five days following the meeting than before. The findings suggest that some kinds of external pressure may help to increase satisfaction with authoritarian rule, ultimately boosting autocrats’ ability to hold on to power.
"How Monday's England-Slovakia soccer match might just influence Brexit". The Washington Post - Monkey Cage (2016)
When does international pressure lead to a backlash? A cross-national analysis (w/ Rochelle Terman)
The party and the state: Reversing the authoritarian backlash
Confrontation, engagement, and treatment of dissidents in authoritarian states