Book jacket design for Tomas Cizek's The Ruse
Supervisor: Lucan Way
Abstract: In recent years, autocrats have learned that repressive methods may have unintended consequences—for example, the radicalization of dissent or the empowerment of security and intelligence forces—, leading many toward co-optation as a preferred strategy of protest management. However, not all autocrats exchange benefits for acquiescence—despite high long-term costs, some continue to rely on repression. Considering this variation, what factors explain an authoritarian leader’s decision to use co-optation when mitigating a domestic, political threat? In this dissertation proposal, I evaluate political threat in a novel way, as determined by the interaction of a state’s international reputation and an individual’s transnational network. I hypothesize that an incumbent which is vulnerable to international pressure will be more likely to co-opt than repress its opposition. The likelihood that an incumbent will co-opt its opposition is increased if said oppositional candidate has robust foreign networks and a high prominence abroad.
In order to study this relationship, I built a dataset of federal-level electoral bids across the fifteen post-Soviet states from 1990 through 2017. In particular, I focus on the oppositional leaders that rescinded their candidacies in exchange for regime benefits. For each of these oppositional candidates, I assess and rank their own transnational networks in relation to the incumbent’s international reputation and pressures, in an effort to pinpoint the threat threshold that a candidate presents to the incumbent.
Versions Workshopped: "Autocrats, Job Security, and Co-optation: Theory and Dataset," Carnegie Russian Politics Workshop at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, October 2017; "Afraid of Graffiti: Soft Protest and Threat Perceptions in Authoritarian States,” American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting, Sept 2015; “Authoritarian Co-optation of Soft Protest: Post-Soviet Graffiti from 2011-2016,” The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of International Relations, January 2017; “Authoritarian Co-optation of Dissent: Theory and Dataset,” The Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations Seminar Series, March 2017.
Data (as of July 2018): Authoritarian Co-optation Dataset
1. Post-Soviet Graffiti
Description: In authoritarian states, opposition movements and members of civil society lack unrestricted and uncensored access to the mainstream media and subsequently to the public sphere. As a result, those wishing to express their political sentiment or influence public discourse are forced to seek out alternative avenues of expression. An anonymous and untraceable art, graffiti freely criticizes everything that the mainstream media does not and perhaps cannot. Graffiti reclaims the corporate-dominated public space as a place for sharing banned information, promoting ignored causes, discussing society’s ills, and even mobilizing the public for a certain aim. An art of satirical discourse, graffiti anonymously communicates the frank narrative of a city, uninhibited by official censors. This research project analyzes contemporary graffiti not only as a popular public aesthetic, but also as a mouthpiece of political sentiment. This paper explores the use of graffiti and street art within the post-Soviet region and post-Communist Europe. In particular it explores and compares the street narrative of politicized or authoritarian Minsk, Budapest, Saint Petersburg, and Moscow, four cities where graffiti and street art offer a voice to the voiceless and a medium for the politically suffocated. This is the first formal comparative study of how graffiti is used as a political tool in the post-Soviet region.
Versions Workshopped: “Representations of Political Sentiment in Post-Soviet Graffiti,” Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) Regional Conference (Central Slavic Conference) in Conjunction with International Studies Association (ISA), November 2011; “Anonymous Mockery and Unabashed Political Critique in Post-Soviet Graffiti,” Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) National Annual Convention, November 2012; “The Spray Can is Mightier Than the Sword: Street Art as a Medium for Political Discourse in Russia,” Georgetown University CERES Capstone Series, April 2013; “Post-Soviet Graffiti: Free Speech in the Streets,” National Centre for Contemporary Art, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, December 2013; “Responsible Citizenship and Free Expression in Russian Street Art,” University of Illinois-Chicago, October 2014.
Publication: Zimberg, Alexis. “The Spray Can is Mightier than the Sword: Street art as a Medium for Political Discourse in the Post-Soviet Region.” Master's Thesis. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, 2012.
2. The Application of Social Scientific Methods to Oral Histories of the Holocaust
Description: What new insights can social scientific methods uncover from material predominantly situated within the humanities—oral histories, in particular—and why might this methodological development be valuable for the greater interdisciplinary field of Holocaust (and Genocide) Studies? In this project, I use the videorecorded testimonies of the Shoah Foundation archive to create a testable and replicable theory about the influence of national rhetoric on memory. In particular, I research how and why the typical Soviet-Jewish Holocaust testimony is likely to differ from a non-Soviet—for example, Polish, French, or Hungarian—narrative of victimhood and oppression. I hypothesize that national rhetoric impacts memory, in particular the memory of child survivors that remained in the Soviet Union until its collapse. The mechanism that links national rhetoric to memory is the socialization, or assimilation, that these young people experienced during their formative postwar years. I suggest that these factors—national rhetoric, socialization, and assimilation—lead child survivors to recall those who helped or harmed them in a particular manner. To operationalize my study, I developed a code to trace the confluence of proper nouns and strong emotional responses in videotaped survivor testimonies. I chose videotaped testimonies, as opposed to written or audio testimonies, as the presence of metadata (namely: silences, facial reactions, and body language) is most observable with this medium. In this preliminary test of my methodology, I began with survivors born in Minsk, who remained there after the war, but intend to expand my analysis to other cities that demonstrate assimilative variation throughout the post-Soviet region. In addition to the empirical portion of this research, I also address the potential ethical problems in quantifying sensitive archival material. By reading oral testimonies as both text and a response to text, I demonstrate patterns in how this group of Soviet-Jewish survivors uniquely remembers their own childhood, wartime experiences. Ideally, this method could not only reinforce, objectively and systematically, our current hypotheses about history and memory, but could also generate new theories that scholars may have overlooked.
Versions Workshopped: The 12th Annual Graduate Conference in Political Science, International Relations, and Public Policy, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dec 2016; The Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, December 2016; “Who is to Blame? Conflicting claims of perpetrator, victor, and victim in Soviet testimony,” Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting, December 2015; University of Toronto Interdisciplinary Working Group on the Holocaust, Fall 2015.
3. Mitigating the Risks of Resource Extraction for Industrial Actors and Northern Indigenous Peoples
Abstract: A collaborative relationship between native peoples and industrial corporations--two actors that value resource-rich land--is of vital importance for both the United States and the Russian Federation. A strong partnership between industrial and indigenous actors can help to ensure not only the stability of extractive projects, but also the protection of indigenous groups from the potentially existential threats associated with territorial loss. Cooperation between these two parties gains urgency as extractive corporations begin to explore the Arctic, a region of the world already home to over two dozen unique indigenous communities. In both the United States and the Russian Federation, there are legal precedents for negotiations regarding indigenous rights, natural resources, and the fuel-energy complex. Even so, parties involved in the extractive process frequently stray from these national and international legal guidelines. Our paper seeks to answer the question: why might rational actors--here, indigenous and industrial communities that are motivated by their preferences--fail to cooperate on extractive projects, even when robust collaborative agreements benefit all sides? We suggest that the explanation is twofold: first, indigenous land rights lack the consistency which may give indigenous communities control over their resources and cultural preservation; and second, a neutral and objective third-party mediator--whether in the form of a state or an international body--is often silent in, or absent from, the negotiation process, thereby undermining its authority to ensure fair and reasonable deliberations. Our findings can offer important insights for community-corporate relations, not only in the Arctic, but worldwide.
Publication: Lerner, Alexis, et al. "Mitigating the Risks of Resource Extraction for Industrial Actors and Northern Indigenous Peoples." Arctic Review on Law and Politics, vol. 8, 2017: 23-51.
4. The Co-optation of Social Movements: The Case of Post-Soviet Graffiti.
Abstract: As the Director of Post-Soviet Graffiti, Alexis Lerner spent 2009-2017 walking the post-Soviet and post-Communist region’s alleys and underpasses, interviewing artists and activists while cataloguing political, public graffiti. In Moscow, she observed a shift in the spring of 2012: political expression that was once critical, satirical, and intertextual became curated, pro-state, and notably nostalgic for Soviet symbols and the Russian military’s historic operations. The platforms for graffiti and public expression also changed from illegal scrawls and anonymous stencils on downtown bus-stops to seven-story murals adorned with governmental seals. In this piece, Lerner explores co-optation as an effective protest management tool used by hybrid states in order to demonstrate state capacity, to neutralize a non-violent protest movement, and to create a façade of political pluralism.
Versions Workshopped: "Post-Soviet Graffiti: Co-optation in Authoritarian States," at Columbia University's Harriman Institute on February 7th 2018. "The Co-optation of Post-Soviet Graffiti: The Case of Moscow," at the Carnegie Corporation of New York's Harriman Institute Workshop on February 23rd 2018.
Publication: "The Co-optation of Dissent in Authoritarian States: Post-Soviet Graffiti in Moscow." Under Review as of April 2018.
Abridged, Moscow-only Dataset (as of February 6th 2018): Data
5. Publications in Jewish Studies