The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Alexandria Nylen Successfully Defends Dissertation

Human Security Lab doctoral researcher Alexandria Nylen successfully defended her PhD dissertation, Targeting Drones, last week, completing the final requirement for her doctoral degree in Political Science and Legal Studies from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Dr. Nylen had been pursuing the PhD in Political Science and Legal Studies since 2014 with a specialization in international relations and international law, and research interests in human rights, humanitarian affairs, critical security studies and humanitarian disarmament. She was also a co-founder of the Conflict, Violence and Security Working Group, is skilled in an array of methods and qualitative data analysis packages, and has held research positions on multiple NSF-funded projects during her time at UMass-Amherst. Even before she defended her dissertation, Dr. Nylen was a prolific published author with a sole-authored piece on targeted killings in the prestigious European Journal of International Relations, and co-authored pieces on torture, targeted killings, nuclear use and the politics of national security public opinion research in European Journal of International Security and Perspectives on Politics. Dr. Nylen’s dissertation explores the nature, extent and obstacles to anti-drone advocacy in the US, on the global scene and in the global south, addressing the puzzle as to why the transnational anti-drone network failed to coalesce into a single coherent campaign between 2010-2020. Drawing on an original text and picture dataset of 300 anti-drone advocacy documents, multi-sited fieldwork, and 38 in-depth interviews with key informants in the US, Pakistan and the transnational humanitarian disarmament network, Nylen argued that distinct exertions of power by specific, geographically disparate actors affected the overall issue network’s ability to cohere around a unifying frame. Moreover, contrary to much of the literature on advocacy networks, Nylen’s work focuses on the ways in which marginalized or peripheral organizations functioned as veto players in this emerging coalition. In short, Targeting Drones shows that actors who are traditionally considered the least enfranchised members of a network are capable of affecting the overall coherency of an advocacy campaign by making their voices and interests heard. Dr. Nylen’s research is extremely timely, as a new coalition of anti-drone activists has recently formed, taking aim at the Biden administrations’ review of the US targeted killing program through a drastically expanded frame. This new development showcases the power of her argument, even as financial resources for anti-drone advocacy has been waning in recent years. During the period of Nylen’s research, anti-drone activists were stymied by the inability to agree upon a frame. The new coalition may have finally solved this problem, creating a master frame more inclusive of marginalized groups and hewing anti-drone advocacy to campaign frames around racism and militarism as well as simply human rights and humanitarian law. If Nylen’s analysis is correct, this could represent a big leap forward for anti-drone advocacy.

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