The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Robert Darrow
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, which I will defend in April 2018, charts the progress of wind turbine development in Denmark over four 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 currently a fellow in the National Science Foundation IGERT Offshore Wind Energy Program at UMass. I hold a 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 and interest in teaching across multiple subfields, including political theory, public policy, American politics, research methods, and the philosophy of social science.

Usmaan Farooqui
Curriculum Vitae

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).  

Rebecca Lisi
Curriculum Vitae

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.

Alexandria Nylen
Curriculum Vitae

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
Curriculum Vitae

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.

Tyler Schuenemann
Curriculum Vitae

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.

Eric Sippert
Curriculum Vitae

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 Sumer
Curriculum Vitae

Dissertation: Politicization of the Dead and Invisible Violence: A Comparative Analysis of Turkey and Mexico​
I am a translator, labor organizer and human rights activist fluent in Turkish and Spanish. In 2011, I began to volunteer for the Human Rights Association’s campaign to unveil clandestine burials in Turkey, and my role continued to inform my research interests ever since. My dissertation examines politicization of the dead as a window to see invisible violence, based on research comparing Turkey and Mexico. The politicization of the dead refers to the use of dead bodies and human parts as a way of exerting power and control. This violence has psychosocial impact and is “invisible” in the sense that the effort is symbolic. To study this problem, I have traveled to conduct ethnographic fieldwork with human rights advocates, forensic experts and families looking for activists who have been disappeared by governmental or nongovernmental actors. I analyze state sanctioned killing, forced disappearances, mass graves and clandestine burials and produce maps showing their geographic and historical distribution. Currently, I am an affiliate of the Violence and Conflict Laboratory at UMass Amherst where I was trained in violence theory and forensic anthropology. As a research affiliate I mobilize academic and expertise support for the advocacy work on the ground in Turkey. Since 2016, our laboratory monitors courts processes around two mass graves in Turkey. In June 2017, we submitted an expert witness opinion to guide the courts on the proper exhumation processes and highlighting their responsibility to address invisible violence. My training, research at the laboratory and fieldwork has been supported by various departmental grants and the UMass graduate school.

Kira Tait
Curriculum Vitae

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.