Dissertation: Alternative Power: The evolution of wind technology in Denmark and the politics of energy transitions.
The need for industrial societies to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels is urgent, but the growing recognition of and response to this imminent global challenge from many sectors—including across the academy—are raising the prospects of achieving a renewable energy revolution. The main goals of my research are to contribute to these efforts to build more sustainable societies, and, in the process, to advance understanding of the social and political dynamics of technological change. It is widely acknowledged that making the transition to renewable energy is technically and economically feasible; the obstacles are primarily political. My research asks how these obstacles can be overcome in practice, and with what consequences for broader dimensions of sustainability, and for the organization and exercise of political power. To address these questions, I conducted six months of fieldwork in Denmark, where a renewable energy transition is reaching a tipping point. My dissertation project charts the progress of wind turbine development in Denmark over five decades, as the Danes became world leaders in the production of renewable electricity. My mixed-methods study draws on dozens of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders and a new quantitative dataset of Danish wind turbines to analyze how the country's electricity system has evolved, and the consequences of these changes for democratic politics. I identify several important recent shifts in the character of Danish wind development—including the increasing centralization of the industry—and argue that engaging a greater diversity of actors may lead to a system that is more stable, resilient and sustainable. I work mainly in the subfields of comparative politics and political theory, but my research is informed by and engages with a broadly interdisciplinary community of scholars. I am a fellow in the National Science Foundation IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program at UMass, and I am currently a visiting faculty member at Mount Holyoke College, where I teach courses in comparative politics and political theory. I hold Master's Degrees in political science, philosophy, and science and technology studies from Virginia Tech. In the past, I have conducted research on mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia, and participated in an NSF-funded study comparing renewable energy policies at the state and local levels around the United States. I have also worked in the electric utility industry on nuclear power issues. I am prepared to teach courses at the undergraduate or graduate levels in my areas of specialty—energy, environment, science and technology policy—but I also have experience teaching across multiple subfields, including American politics, global politics, public policy, research methods, and the philosophy of social science.
Dissertation: Precarious Pipes: Governance, Informality, and the Politics of Access in Karachi.
Scholars of environmental security argue that water scarcity causes violent conflict in weak state contexts – particularly in urban areas. Using the case of Karachi, my dissertation instead studies the causes and consequences of unequal public service access in one of South Asia’s largest, most conflict-prone cities. Precarious Pipes: Governance, Informality, and the Politics of Access in Karachi thus uses water as a lens to study wider processes of urban stasis and transformation in a Third World megacity. I argue that Karachi’s water provision and politics need to be understood in the context of urban planning practices emerging in the 1980s that aimed to legalize, and hence “improve” the city’s burgeoning unplanned areas. My dissertation makes three empirically-grounded claims in this vein. First, I argue that improvement policies have led to the de-facto privatization of water in Karachi’s unplanned areas. Second, despite making access to water extremely expensive, I argue this informal privatization of water nevertheless prevents disorder and instability in parts of Karachi where scarcity would otherwise cause violence. Third, I argue that the urban poor are contesting these political economies of service access through new, religiously-grounded electoral subjectivities in the context of Pakistan’s fledgling return to democracy. I demonstrate these arguments through original field and archival research. I draw on seven months of field research in Karachi, including 48 semi-structured and ordinary language with 78 informants as well as participant and direct observation of daily water access. I also draw on two original datasets; a Planning Archive (PA) of official state planning documents from 1952-2019 (N=25) and a Discourse Archive (DA) of newspaper articles, third party reports, and policy documents from 2001 – present (N>500).
Dissertation: Latino Race Cards? Demographic Change, Negative Campaign Advertisements, and White Mobilization.
I am a doctoral candidate (Ph.D. expected May 2018) concentrating within the fields of American Politics and Public Policy. My research is focused in the field of American politics and examines the impact of changing racial demographics on the public opinion, political behavior, and public policy. I am currently writing my dissertation in which I explore the impact that negative campaign ads featuring Latinos have on white vote choice and public opinion. This is a multi-method research project for which I was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (DDRIG). I am also a five-term incumbent City Councilor at Large in Holyoke, MA. I identify as a scholar-practitioner and have found that being able to articulate a theoretical phenomenon with local actors or anecdotes is really rewarding because it demonstrates that politics is not something that happens “out there,” but instead is something that we are all engaged in and shaping to a greater or lesser extent.
Dissertation: Targeting Drones: Framing and Connectivity in Transnational Issue Networks.
I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science, with an expected completion date of May 2020. I am trained in international relations, specializing in the area of international security. My research examines the legal and normative implications of remote warfare, such as the use of armed drones in counterterrorism operations, as well as civil society’s response to post-9/11 national security policies. My dissertation, Targeting Drones: Framing and Connectivity in Transnational Issue Networks uses a bottom-up approach to explore how actors with differing levels of geopolitical power navigate a transnational advocacy network. Using the armed drone advocacy issue as a case study, this dissertation draws on interviews with key informants, fieldwork in Islamabad, and an original text and picture dataset of over 100 advocacy documents. My research is published in the European Journal of International Securityand forthcoming at the European Journal of International Relations. I am trained in rigorous qualitative analysis and can teach a variety of methods courses. I have taught introductory level international relations and comparative politics classes, as well as special topic courses like American Foreign Policy and Globalization, Governance and World Order. I was nominated for the campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award in Fall 2018, and co-founded the department’s Conflict, Violence and Security Working Group. I hold an MA in Peace and Justice Studies from the University of San Diego.
Ana Maria Ospina Pedraza
Dissertation: Grammars of Identity: Languages of Activism in Argentina and the United States.
My dissertation is motivated by two questions: how do political culture and intellectual traditions shape the implementation of global ideas about collective action? Do local conventions of activism produce unique political subjects despite shared political principles? I address these questions in a paired study of two cases of broad social mobilization where popular assemblies reached international significance: the neighborhood assemblies of Buenos Aires in 2002 and the New York General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street in 2011. These movements were connected by transnational networks of activism and shared a commitment to internal democracy, but their operationalization of the principle differed as a result of distinct political histories and cultures of activism. My research is a qualitative study of original material produced by each movement such as pamphlets, minutes and serial publications. A Pre-Dissertation Research Award and a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant by the University of Massachusetts Amherst allowed me to conduct extensive archival research in Buenos Aires. Dominant scholarship on Argentine assemblies overlooks struggle and depicts a unified front on the adoption of internal democracy. Original data I collected demonstrates that through everyday conflict and debate, participants colored the practice as radical equality and independence from the political class. When ‘independent’ neighbors enacted radical equality at the assemblies, they discovered a mechanism of empathy that transformed neoliberal subjectivities and awoke democratic virtues. Alternatively, in Occupy a tradition of activism that revendicates internal democracy overlapped with feminist legal rhetoric and the intellectual primacy of intersectionality. In this case, I show that a uniquely North American activist tradition infused the movement with an investment in language-use, making democratic spaces designed to support inclusion unintentionally drawn towards the management of speech-acts. My findings show that despite embracing almost identical principles, Occupy demanded a virtuous subject able to recognize their role in the reproduction of power relations and cater their language accordingly, whereas assembly participants in Buenos Aires demanded an ‘independent’ subject untarnished by previous party politics and who could embrace post-neoliberal practices.
Dissertation: The Public Life of Hurricanes: Asserting State Power in a Warming Globe.
I am a Ph.D. candidate in comparative politics and political theory. My dissertation, “The Public Life of Hurricanes: Asserting State Power in a Warming Globe,” examines the political effects of global climate change by focusing on the power struggles which attend tropical cyclones in Oman and the United States. Employing ethnography, interviews, and archival research, I document how natural disasters challenge state power materially, by removing the capacity to govern specific territory, and symbolically, by focusing popular attention on the inability of modern states to control the vicissitudes nature. A Fulbright Research Award funded my year-long field work in Oman. My teaching focuses on comparative politics and political theory, and I have acted as the primary instructor for “Politics and Government of the Middle East” for two semesters, and “Interpretation and Analysis” for two semesters. My department's honors students awarded me the Recognition for Excellence in Teaching Award, and I was twice nominated for the university-wide Distinguished Teaching Award. I have presented my research at several conferences, including twice at the Annual Meeting of Middle Eastern Studies Association (2016 and 2018), as well as “Vision(s) of Politics: the Thought of Sheldon Wolin,” at York University, “On Protest: a Research Symposium,” at UMass Amherst, and “A Cultural Approach to Human Security” at the University of Toronto. I hold an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in Philosophy and History from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Dissertation: Globalization from the Grassroots: Power and Transnational Linkages in Guatemala.
I am a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as well as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Michigan’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. I study how marginalized actors use transnational connections to engage in political action and what form that action takes. In my dissertation I ethnographically study an organization of returned migrants and their network through 8 months of fieldwork and 5 years of contact. This network includes foreign NGOs, small-scale producers, Spanish schools, and other grassroots organizations. My dissertation shows that transnational linkages, often facilitated by migration, engender new forms of socio-political organization that provide disadvantaged local actors leverage vis-à-vis outside actors albeit under the constant threat of both structural and interpersonal violence. My dissertation contributes to literature on social movements and resistance, transnational studies, and grassroots development. I have presented my research at the New England Political Science Association, Midwest Political Science Association, and the Latin American Studies Association. My teaching experience includes both online and in-person courses at UMass and Eastern Michigan University. As the sole instructor, I am currently teaching or have taught courses on Global Politics, Introduction to Comparative Politics, Introduction to International Politics, and Latin American Politics. I have also TA’d for courses in Comparative Political Economy and Political Theory.
Bilgesu Sümer received his BA and MA from Bogazici University in Istanbul. He is currently a PhD candidate at the department of Political Science in University of Massachusetts Amherst. He will defend his dissertation thesis titled The Politicization of the Dead and Invisible Violence: A Comparative Analysis of Turkey and Mexico in April 2022.
Sümer defended his MA thesis titled Kurdish Urban Politics in the Neoliberal Era: Cases of Diyarbakir and Van Municipalities Mobilized under BDP in 2012. He translated Activists in Office: Kurdish Politics and Protest in Turkey in Turkish in 2013. He conducted this research while working for the Yüzüncü Yil University, the Turkish state university established in Van province bordering Iran and predominantly settled by Kurdish communities. His first journal article was coauthored with his MA advisor, where they compared municipal politics in a Turkish city with another city mobilized by Kurdish movement in Turkey. His research areas fall under the interdisciplinary studies of global violence, human rights, and comparative politics.
Sümer's doctoral research examines state sponsored forms of cultural violence—by which he means the intentional politics of depriving proper burial and memorialization to victims of political conflict— in Mexico and Turkey. It is an interdisciplinary and comparative exploration of state role in failing to protect human rights, which he conceptualizes as the averted medicolegal gaze in a book chapter. Sümer's work take issue with the conventional focus of conflict on the casualties of conflict because it makes us blind to the everyday violence that surviving communities experience. Thus, he analyzes the evidence around state sponsored killings, forced disappearances, clandestine burials, and mass graves. Following the logic of multi-sited ethnography, he travels to specific field sites and conducts research. His research in Mexico center on the experience of indigenous communities in the south in the context of the epidemic of violence in the country. Whereas in Turkey, his research builds on his own work in documenting mass graves and participating in advocacy work. Sümer's research is a mode of advocacy that takes the form of embodied participatory ethnography. Through ethnographic methods, he documents the abuse of state power and forms of injustice made “invisible” by powerful actors. He uses his position as a researcher to inform debates on atrocity prevention by forming research alliances and coalitions with civic stakeholders. He works with families looking for their disappeared relatives and together they strive to see an end to the politicization of the dead (i.e., mass graves, clandestine burials and forced disappearances). His scholarship thus surfaces the invisible (i.e., structural, symbolic, and institutional) violence that surrounds these atrocities as an effort towards this goal. His analysis demonstrates how the authorities get away with abuse of power because their governments do not implement international medicolegal
principles that establish normative guidelines for documenting the cause and manner of death, torture, sexual abuse, and other forms of cruel treatment. His research heavily influenced his decision to become a conscientious objector to military service.Sümer has been awarded various grants for training, research and writing purposes. In 2016, he was awarded a summer training grant by UMass Amherst Political Science department to learn forensic anthropology and bioarchaeology. He attended an intensive 6-weeks summer course that set a foundation for his dissertation research. In 2018 and 2019, he was awarded research grants from his department to work on mapping clandestine burials and forced disappearances in Mexico and Turkey. In 2020, he was awarded a writing grant from his department towards publishing this research. Sümer also received a fieldwork grant from The UMass Amherst Graduate School in 2018 and he travelled to Canada, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden in 2019 to complete this research. For this research, he obtained a research protocol that allows him to submit his data to human rights courts. Accordingly, he conducted video interviews with a select group of families whose members have been forcibly disappeared and placed in the same mass grave.
Dissertation: Roadblocks to Access: Perceptions of Law and Socioeconomic Problems in South Africa.
I am a PhD candidate in Political Science with a focus on Comparative Politics and Public Law. In my dissertation, I explore ordinary Black South Africans' perceptions of the law and how these perceptions impact their views of the desirability and appropriateness of appealing to courts when they have problems accessing constitutionally guaranteed services. Specifically, I study why people choose not to use courts to secure access to water, healthcare, education, and housing when it is both legal and possible to do so. My research relies on 12-months of fieldwork, completed in three separate trips, funded by Fulbright, the National Science Foundation, and the UMass Graduate School. I conducted in-depth interviews in English and Zulu with over 140 everyday people, including teachers, shack dwellers, street vendors, civil society organizers, and litigators in the rural areas of Northern KwaZulu-Natal province, townships outside of the city of Durban, and the inner city of Johannesburg. Despite the central place of rights in post-apartheid democracy, my dissertation shows that ordinary Black South Africans have developed doubts about the utility of rights and the law as meaningful institutions. And even though South Africa is globally recognized as the poster child for social rights litigation, my interviewees rarely expressed willingness to use courts to lay claims to these rights––even when they were in dire need. I argue that an individual's choice to litigate depends on how they interpret the lack of access, the alternative solutions they believe are possible, and the perceived risks of turning to courts given South Africa's political and legal corruption. My findings help move scholarship away from the assumption that litigation is a desirable, feasible, and even thinkable way to solve rights problems and towards a focus on how perceptions of the legal and political system's inner workings can impact legal mobilization.
Dissertation: The Violence of Nostalgia: Conspiracy Theorism, White Nationalism, and Restoring American Exceptionalism
I am a PhD Candidate (expected May 2022) in Political Theory who studies white nationalism and conspiracy theory in American Politics. My work analyzes the language and behavior of political actors in groups like the Proud Boys, interpreting their words and lending it both historical and political context. I show that groups like the Proud Boys rely on a framework of loss and nostalgia to situate their claims for restoring ‘a spirit of Western chauvinism’ in the United States. I also show how conspiratorial thinking animates violent right-wing groups, binds them together in loose coalitions, and draws in an ever-greater number of supporters who might not otherwise openly express white nationalist, violent, and/or racist right-wing beliefs. In part, I display - through the language of believers - how the phenomenon of QAnon adherence reflects the power of conspiratorial thinking. Such power is revealed in the violent political effects QAnon has had when it has escaped beyond the internet imageboards on which it was born.
In addition to my research, I have served as an instructor in the Department of Political Science over the past 3 years, teaching courses such as Conspiracy Theory & the American Imagination, Modern Political Thought, Interpretation & Analysis, and a First Year Seminar on Power & Politics in the University. I also teach general Social & Behavioral Science (SBS) First Year Seminars, and am currently the Program Assistant for First Year Seminars in SBS.