I am Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Division of Social Science, and a Faculty Associate at its Institute for Emerging Market Studies, specializing in Comparative Politics and Social Network Analysis (SNA). Applying SNA to informal institutions in authoritarian regimes, I explain why some elites become part of the inner circle while others get purged, how leaders can rule without holding official positions, and why being well-connected is sometimes less important than having well-connected friends. More recently, I have become interested in examining political astroturfing (hidden propaganda campaigns) on social media. My research has appeared in Political Communication, the Journal of East Asian Studies, in the Proceedings of ICWSM, in Political Studies and the Journal of Intercultural Studies. I've also co-authored a textbook on SNA and contributed to the Palgrave Handbook of Political Elites.

In my research I show that it is possible to construct political elite networks in closed regimes using publicly available data, and evaluate different approaches to do so. I have develop an agent-based model of coalition formation on networks to demonstrate that the network position of an elite actor (1) influences his or her popularity as coalition partner and thereby the chances of entering a regime's inner circle, and (2) identifies grey eminences, who are difficult to challenge or exclude from a ruling coalition.


I test these hypotheses on a network constructed from the career paths and promotion patterns of the top Chinese political elites here. While direct connections to alleged patrons raise the chance of entering the inner circle (the Politburo), so do ties to other elites. But central network positions predict appointments up to a decade ahead – without having to rely on insiders identifying powerful figures first.


An article with my research's main empirical findings has been awarded the John Sprague Award of APSA's Political Networks Section.


I have conducted field research in Kazakhstan and China, funded by NYU's Global Research Initiative, the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia, the University of Chicago's Center in Beijing, and the Center on U.S.-China Relations. I was also a graduate research associate at the Social Media and Political Participation lab and have co-founded the Comparative Political Networks working group.


I have received my PhD from New York University's Department of Politics in 2015, was a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University's Harriman Institute in 2015/2016 and a visiting scholar at UCSD's School of Global Policy & Strategy.

© 2019 Franziska Keller