Writing

Peer-reviewed journal articles

“How to Promote Order and Property Rights under Weak Rule of Law? An Experiment in Changing Dispute Resolution Behavior through Community Education.” (2014). American Political Science Review 108(1): 100-120. With Christopher Blattman and Robert Blair (PDF)

ABSTRACT: Dispute resolution institutions help reach agreements and preserve the peace whenever property rights are imperfect. In weak states, strengthening formal institutions can take decades, and so state and aid interventions also try to shape informal practices and norms governing disputes. Their goal is to improve bargaining and commitment, thus limiting disputes and violence. Mass education campaigns that promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are common examples. We study short-term impacts of one such campaign in Liberia, where property disputes are endemic. From 246 towns, 86 randomly received training in ADR practices and norms, training 15% of adults. One year later, treated towns have higher resolution of land disputes and lower violence. Impacts spill over to untrained residents. We also see unintended consequences: more extrajudicial punishment and (weakly) more non-violent disagreements. Results imply mass education can change high-stakes behaviors, and improving informal bargaining and enforcement behavior can promote order in weak states.

Working papers

  • “Sacred values and violence: Explaining land dispute escalation”

ABSTRACT: Why do some land disputes escalate into violence and conflict, while others never do? In contrast to existing theories, I argue that the sacred non-material stakes of land disputes shape bargaining outcomes. Using an original database of over 850 land disputes in five Liberian counties from 2006-2011, I find a large and statistically significant relationship between the sacred value of land and intractable disputes. I use a novel measure to causally identify land’s sacred value: the practice of burying umbilical cords and entombing ancestors on the property in dispute. These practices create a sacred bond between individuals and their land that is fixed prior to the Liberian civil war and is exogenous to land disputes dynamics in the post-war period. Detailed information about each dispute, including the material value, the dispute type, disputant demographic characteristics, the sacred value, dyadic data on the ethnic, religious and socioeconomic background of the disputants, and the level of violence and length of the dispute allow me to test the relative explanatory power of competing hypotheses. My analysis shows that controlling for a proxy for local property rights institutions, my findings are stable and robust to a sensitivity analysis. I find support for the theory that property rights regimes and the non-material stakes of the dispute shape the escalation of land disputes into conflict and violence.

  • “Predicting local-level violence.” With Robert Blair and Christopher Blattman (PDFUnder review

ABSTRACT: We use forecasting models and new data from 242 Liberian communities, 2008-12, to investigate whether it is to possible to predict outbreaks of local violence with high sensitivity and accuracy, even with limited data. We first trained our models to predict communal, extrajudicial, and criminal violence in 2010 using risk factors measured in 2008. We then made forecasts of actual violence in 2012, before collecting the 2012 data. Our model predicts up to 88% of all violence in 2012. True positives come at the cost of many false positives, giving overall accuracy between 33% and 50%. From a policy perspective, states, international organizations, and peacekeepers could use such predictions to better prevent and respond to violence. The models also generate new stylized facts for theory to explain. In this instance, ethnic cleavages and minority group power-sharing are both associated with higher risk of violence.

  • “The effect of intergroup conflict on altruism: Evidence from the Ivorian refugee crisis in Liberia.” With Benjamin Morse

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the legacy of intergroup conflict on altruistic behavior after conflict’s end. To do so, we examine support for refugees in 62 communities in eastern Liberia, a region that received over 150,000 refugees during the 2010-2012 Ivorian refugee crisis. The ethnic composition of the refugee population largely maps onto the salient cleavages during the Liberia civil conflict, which lasted form 1990-2003. We combine observational data on hosting behavior with conjoint (choice-based) survey questions that test the influence of empathetic, material, and identity-based motivations in the decision to host refugees. In contrast to conventional logics of enduring outgroup animosities, we find that individuals and communities affected by violence during Liberia’s 1990-2003 war are less biased against outgroup refugees and more responsive to indicators of refugee need. We also find that individuals and communities with high levels of exposure to violence during the Liberian civil war host more refugees, do so for longer, host more outgroup refugees, and have a preference for refugees who are vulnerable or fleeing direct violence. To account for these findings we suggest a theory of empathy driven altruism: the experience of hardship and trauma during conflict increases empathetic capacity; empathy transcends identity boundaries and motivates altruistic behavior toward both ingroup and outgroup others.

  • “Building institutions at the local-level.” With Christopher Blattman and Robert Blair

Policy reports

  • “Land Conflict and Food Security in the Liberian-Ivoirian Border Region.” Oslo: The Norwegian Refugee Council, October 2012. (PDF) (French)
  • “Patterns of Conflict and Cooperation in Rural Liberia (Part 2): Prospects for Conflict Forecasting and Early Warning.” New Haven: Innovations for Poverty Action, February 2012. With Christopher Blattman and Robert Blair (PDF)
  • “Patterns of Conflict and Cooperation in Rural Liberia (Part 1): Results from a Longitudinal Study.” New Haven: Innovations for Poverty Action, October 2011. With Christopher Blattman and Robert Blair (PDF)
  • “Can We Teach Peace and Conflict Resolution? Results from an Evaluation of the Community Empowerment Program in Liberia.” New Haven: Innovations for Poverty Action, August 2011. With Christopher Blattman and Robert Blair (PDF)
  • “Which Side Are We On?: Security Challenges in Liberia’s Border Regions.” Submitted to the Small Arms Survey, January 2011.
  • “A Comparative Analysis of Land Conflict in Liberia: Grand Gedeh, Lofa and Nimba Counties.” Oslo: The Norwegian Refugee Council, July 2010. (PDF)

Copies of working papers available on request.

photo 1