In this set of projects, I leverage spatial event data to explore the microlevel dynamics of political violence. What explains patterns of action and reaction between actors engaged in different types of political violence? What role can violence at the local level serve in advancing broader political ends?
Christian Oswald, Melanie Sauter, Sigrid Weber, and Rob Williams. “Under the Roof of Rebels: Civilian Targeting After Territorial Takeover in Sierra Leone.” Accepted at International Studies Quarterly. [Preprint] [Supplemental Information]
Do rebels target civilians as part of the process of establishing control in their territories? This research note shows that transition periods after rebels gain territorial control are remarkably violent for civilians. Speaking to the civilian victimization and rebel governance literature, we investigate the immediate time period after rebels successfully capture and hold territory. We argue that rebels use violence to gain compliance in newly captured territories until they are able to build up local capacities and institutions for peaceful governance. To test this argument, we draw on methodological advances in integrating event data and combine multiple datasets to study patterns of violence perpetrated by the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone from 1997-2001. The findings of our spatiotemporal analysis show that civilian targeting increases in the period after rebels capture territory from the government compared to areas without territorial takeover, suggesting that life under the roof of rebels is initially more dangerous for civilians.
Navin Bapat, Daniel Gustafson, and Rob Williams. “Terrorism, Stealth Aggression, and Political Opportunism.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Peace Science Society (International), South Bend, IN, November, 2016. [Working Paper]
Why do governments respond to terrorist attacks with repression, given that terrorism typically produces insignificant damage, and repression often increases popular support for terrorists? This study argues that governments use repression in response to terrorist attacks for both strategic and opportunistic reasons. Strategically, attacks may signal that terrorists are destabilizing the government’s control of its territory. Since state power is endogenous to the territory it controls, these losses may precipitously weaken the government and make it vulnerable to internal and external challengers. Governments therefore turn to violence in an effort to maintain territories that are critical to maintaining power. On the other hand, the specter of destabilization allows opportunistic leaders in quasi-democratic regimes to repress political adversaries and retain office indefinitely in the name of fighting terrorism. We find support for these hypotheses using data on African, Asian, and Middle Eastern states from 1992-2010.