The inner (net-)workings of authoritarian regimes...

17th Central Committee | Social Networks | Chinese Elites | Hu Jintao

My research is situated in the growing subfield of studies on authoritarian regimes. I try to redirect the field's attention from irregular leadership change and formal institutions - like parties, elections, and parliaments - to the role of informal institutions in facilitating stable turnover among the leader's entourage. I propose that social network analysis offers a principled, but nevertheless nuanced, method to conceptualize and measure some informal institutions.


I elaborated on that idea in my dissertation, part of which was published in the Journal of East Asian Studies, and have further explored the more complex effect of having friends in high places in a study on networks formed in the Chinese Communist Party School published in Political Studies.


... and the ties to the outside world...


In other working papers I examine these sources of power and instability outside the elite. In Degrees of Separation, I explore how the elite network is connected to the wider citizenry in Kazakhstan, by asking respondents to forward a message to government representatives through a chain of acquaintances. Individuals with more relatives working in the government express a higher level of vague satisfaction with the state and are more likely to vote – so are respondents closer to the regime along the transmission chains.


Networks among ordinary citizens are also the focus of How to Spot a Successful Revolution in Advance.

It develops an agent-based model of how potentially dangerous protest activity spreads along social ties within a country. Contrary to common expectation, I find that increased segregation and fractionalization can make the emergence of large-scale protests more likely.


Finally, in (Why) Do Revolutions Spread? I create a data base of large-scale popular protests and use a spatial model to examine why and how revolutions spread. In particular citizens in closed regimes appear to take protest in countries with similar regime type as a reason to update their beliefs about the true popularity of their ruler.

Revolution | Simulation | Agent-based Modeling | Protest

... and on the internet

In recent years, I have become interested in hidden disinformation campaigns  (so-called political AstroTurfing) on social media. I argue that we can discover such campaigns by searching for networks of message coordination (i.e. accounts that tweet or retweet the same or similar content within a short time window), which are an almost inherent feature of such campaigns, because principal-agent problems make it difficult or very expensive to hide these tell-tale patterns. I have documented those patterns in the case of one of the most earliest known AstroTurfing campaign in South Korea 2012 (ICWSM and Political Communication) and have shown that they are present also in the most recent campaigns revealed by Twitter .