MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

MPSA Roundtable on Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair

Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin, chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair” with Gregory Koger, University of Miami, Daniel John Palazzolo, University of Richmond, Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, David W. Rohde, Duke University and Matthew N. Green, Catholic University of America. Members of the panel remember the contributions of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair to the field of political science through the sharing of memories and personal reflections and take an early look at congressional leadership in the 115th Congress.

Topics discussed include:

  • Reflections on the lives and careers of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair and their contributions to the study of leadership in a representative body and to the field leadership studies overall.
  • Discussion of Barbara Sinclair’s influence and impact on congressional studies scholarship by women.
  • Recollection of the theoretical insights and perspectives these scholars brought to the study of congressional leadership.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

Intrastate Conflicts: Refocus on the Intractable

By Harold A. Young

The burden and devastation of intrastate conflicts are disproportionally borne by people of color in the developing world. While many people of color in the United States may view these conflicts as distant, they are not. Some may have relatives and friends in these conflict areas; however, it is worth noting that many products we take for granted use raw materials extracted despite of and sometimes even used to fuel the conflicts. One only has to think of “blood diamonds” coming out of Sierra Leone and “conflict minerals” from Democratic Republic of Congo for graphic details. Further, while details are just emerging about the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma), we do know that there has been little or no international response.

Without clear domestic and international leadership, a seemingly paralyzed global community struggles with sporadic attempts at cease-fires, humanitarian aid, and limited peacekeeping intervention. The designation of armed conflict is grounded in three key characteristics: (1) it is a political conflict; (2) it involves armed combat by the armed forces of a state or the forces of one or more armed faction seeking a political end; and (3) at least 1,000 people have been killed directly by the fighting during the conflict and there are at least 25 combat deaths annually (Project Ploughshare). Figure 1 illustrates the continuous decline of interstate conflict and death after World War II. Even with a brief decline in the mid-1990s, the growing trend in intrastate conflict (international conflict/war) is especially significant since the end of the Cold War (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011
Figure 1: Average number of Interstate conflicts per year by decade, 1950-2011

There has also been an increase in the number of non-state armed conflicts resulting in significant casualties. These conflicts may involve groups in armed conflict outside the control of the government. Figure 2 displays comparative data on the numbers of intrastate conflicts (domestic conflict/war) and battle deaths (Human Security Report 2013).

Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011
Figure 2: Global trends in Intrastate conflicts and battle deaths, 1989 to 2011

State sovereignty remains an important concept in international politics. Westphalian “model states” never really existed nor were the geographic and political entities that existed unassailable. Acknowledging those realities would contribute more to peace and stability (Krasner 1995). Further, since the end of the cold war, some states are willing to lead, participate in, and publicly support multilateral humanitarian interventions using force against a state under certain circumstances. As was seen in the 1999 case of Kosovo, states are willing to act without authorization of the United Nations Security Council and without the U.S. expressly basing the intervention on humanitarian grounds. After the Cold War, the most important doctrinal development on humanitarian intervention is probably the U.N. authorization of intervention in Somalia in 1992 (Charron 2006). While the outcome is less than desirable, there are subsequent examples. The rationale may include reputation (U.S. as a champion of human rights), loyalty or history (e.g., colonial power and former colony as was seen with U.K. intervening in Sierra Leone starting in 2000) or to protect some specific national interest (U.S. intervention in Kuwait in 1990). While such interventions may be legitimate, there is a clear question of legality vis-à-vis the U.N. Charter. Nevertheless, the sample of intrastate conflicts in the table below shows that most of the conflicts affects people of color with little action from the international community.

Table 1 presents a sample of intrastate conflicts that have captured the attention of the media and the international community over the last four decades. This sample represents intrastate conflicts in several regions of world involving different groups and varying motives.




International Response

Democratic Republic of Congo,

Conflict over control of vast natural resources

6 million dead; 3.4 million internally displaced and 2 million refugees

No international military response


State persecution
under Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge

1,500,000 dead

Intervention by


Inter-clan and inter-factional

350,000 to 1,000,000 dead

Intervention by US



million dead; 225,000 Kosovar men are believed to be missing. Estimated 5,000
Kosovars executed.

Intervention by NATO


Tribal conflict


Intervention by UN
but did not prevent genocide

Sri Lanka,

Government vs. Tamil

Estimated 80,000-100,000
people killed

No international military


Ethnic cleansing

Estimated 30,000
killed and 1,000,000 displaced

No international military


Government vs.
resistance movement; faction wars

More than 465,000
dead and 145,000 reported missing

No international military

Table 1: Examples of major intrastate conflicts since 1975


There is some agreement that the world community should act in the face of a humanitarian crisis. There is, however, a divergence of opinion on the scope for fear of abuse by more powerful states advancing national interests. Despite the changing scope of state actions and their role in the era globalization, no one takes the issue of state sovereignty lightly. As posited, there is a prima facie presumption of state sovereignty over intervention although that presumption may not hold in certain circumstances (Carey 1997) or may be contingent on the existence of circumstances that warrant a violation of state sovereignty. What is missing is a set of agreed criteria or benchmarks that will trigger an intervention or response by a force recognized by the U.N. and a method for assigning duties and distributing costs.

Undoubtedly the debate about the tension between real state sovereignty and the international community’s obligation to protect people within a state will continue. The framework needed for the world community to act on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) commitment is yet to be developed and agreed to despite the priorities agreed to earlier in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The Responsibility To Protect (ICISS). The report identifies preventing the development of humanitarian crises in the first place thereby avoiding the dilemmas and pitfalls of intervention that will inevitably plague the best-laid plans. Second, it specifies the responsibility of the international community to respond with military intervention as the last resort. Third, the responsibility to help the state rebuild after the intervention. Nanda (2013) reviews the future of R2P and the principles identified in ICISS is the light of the ongoing crises in different part of the world. Nanda expresses doubt that the principles of R2P and consistent international responses will become the norm.

It is unclear how far the current U.S. administration is willing to go in Syria or anywhere else based on the current mixed signals about guiding policies or plans of action. The 59-missile attack on a single Syria target on April 5, 2017 is characterized as a response to the use of chemical weapons as part of the ongoing conflicts and genocide (Rosenfeld, April 7, 2017). Further, despite establishing a commission in 2011 to investigate human right violation in Syria, its efforts have been stymied due to inaccessibility within Syria and the reports that have been produced based on sources escaping Syria have not yet resulted in any prosecutions. Frustration with the international commission peaked with the resignation of an experienced international prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, in August. She states “I am frustrated, I give up……We thought the international community had learned something from Rwanda. But no, they have not learned anything” (Gordts, August 6, 2017).

Meanwhile, intrastate wars smolder and rage in the hotspots around the world precipitating death, destruction of vital infrastructure, internal population displacement, refugee crises, and economic pressure on neighboring states. Those skeptical of the international will to act to prevent or stop intrastate wars have good reason while those who remain hopeful have little basis to do so.

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he was a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Contact Young at

MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

Regardless of your research interests, your academic (or Alt-Ac) role, or your aspirations for the new year, there is something on this list of MPSA’s most popular blog posts from 2016 that is sure to pique your interest:

MPSA would especially like to thank regular contributors Newly Paul, Adnan Rasool, Michael A. Smith, and Harry Young for sharing their research, political perspectives, and pedagogical insights with us this calendar year. We look forward to highlighting even more NSF-Funded research, conference presentations, and MPSA member interviews in the coming months. If you’re interested in sharing your work with MPSA’s members and the discipline, we’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes for a safe and productive 2017!

On the Eve of the 2017 Conference Season

On the Eve of Conference Season 2017

As the Fall semester comes to a close, most academics in our field are readying for the upcoming hectic conference schedule starting with SPSA in New Orleans in January, ISA (February) in Baltimore, MPSA (April) in Chicago, and ending with WPSA (April) in Vancouver. Keeping this in mind, this post discusses some decisions and challenges most of us face during this season. I start with some of the challenges my colleagues and I are facing right now.

First, as much as conferences are awesome, they require a lot of attention and effort on the part of participants and presenters. Attending conferences is an amazing learning experience for all of us, but the work that goes in to it can be overwhelming at times. For instance, I am presenting two pieces of work at SPSA and then I am scheduled to present at MPSA in April as well. That means I am working on finalizing three full-length conference-worthy papers within a space of effectively 3 months. And it is not just me, most of my colleagues are in the same boat. We submitted abstracts of some awesome ideas and now we have to hammer out solid papers to be presented at each of these conferences.

This has led to some interesting conversations I have had with other political scientists regarding how many projects and papers can be worked on simultaneously without forgoing quality. I agree with the conventional wisdom that you can only do so many conferences a year and if you do not have something solid to put out, it is better to sit one out and go back next year with something worthy instead of showing up with a half-baked idea. I feel we have all sat through those presentations where the idea is just not there yet and the presentation just makes the presenter look bad even if it could eventually pan out to be something excellent. The point I am making is – it is totally okay to focus on a few pieces of work and present at one or two conferences rather than try to show up with a not-so-great paper to every conference. That is why most of my colleagues and I are seriously deciding on whether to focus on one or two papers instead of doing quantity. Quality beats quantity every time in academia and it is worthwhile to have that discussion with yourself and your co-author.

Second, it is a worthwhile idea to have internal presentations before heading out to conferences. My grad school has a policy that requires every one who seeks travel funding to do internal presentations of their work before they head out. This helps the presenters hone in on their flaws and prepare for questions related to their research. Additionally, it helps the presenters realize where they stand with their research and whether it is ready to a point where they need to be putting it in front of the world. This is critical as at times because many of us can get too close to our own work to see its true quality.

Instead it is a worthwhile idea to take a step back and let your peers and colleagues judge your work in a grad school setting than a conference setting. Internal presentations have helped me personally pinpoint critical issues I was dwelling with my own research. In particular, I was satisfied with a paper I have been working on for most of the year, but it turns out I was rushing past the theoretical contributions of the research. The internal reviews and presentations helped me realize the mistakes I was making as my professors stepped in to pinpoint the exact issue I had to address. What really helped during these internal presentations was that I presented in front of an audience from different subfields. The benchmark was if an Americanist or a Theory person can fully understand my presentation on comparative authoritarianism, then it has merits. Otherwise I need to simplify and narrow my presentation so that everyone hearing it understands my contribution.

Finally, conference presentations are great but often those papers never seem to materialize in to publications. That is totally okay. Sometimes the first go on a paper sounds amazing but once you spend more time fleshing it out you realize it will never be as good as you want it to be. Instead of being stuck on it, just shelf it for a bit and move on. Sooner rather than later, that work will help you with a future project or paper and will be useful in creating something you can put out there as a publication.

So as Fall semester ends and holidays begin, I hope everyone ends up with great work that we can share in the next year. I will hopefully see y’all at SPSA. If not there, then MPSA for sure! Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! And a Happy New Year!

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate & Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also the recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship for 2017 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC. Adnan is a blogger for the 2017 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil

The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil
Photos from Cooperman’s fieldwork in Ceará, Brazil. Top left: A fleet of water trucks owned by a wealthy local family are parked outside their home. Bottom left: Local water sources, including this former pond, and even state reservoirs are dry after five years of drought. Right: A donkey carries water jugs from the neighborhood well to nearby homes.

Most international attention on Brazilian politics focuses on the president’s recent impeachment and high-level corruption scandals. However, my fieldwork has shown me that “all politics is local” is more apt. Many Brazilian citizens are especially concerned about the politics of two issues salient for their day-to-day lives: Water and drought.

I argue that natural disasters, especially those that are cyclical and occur over longer periods – such as droughts – can provide electoral and economic opportunities for local politicians. Since disasters are seen as ‘exogenous’ and ‘natural,’ it is much easier for politicians to justify emergency and targeted funding to certain populations over others.

Campaigns for the upcoming municipal elections (to be held October 2, 2016) have begun, and in Northeast Brazil, the country’s poorest region suffers through its fifth year of devastating drought. The phenomena of “water for votes” and “the drought industry” are likely to be in full swing this election season. The overlap of electoral budget cycles and natural disasters can have drastic consequences for the distribution of critical and scarce public resources.

My research evaluates the politicization of disaster relief, focusing on drought and access to water resources. Even within the drought-prone region of Northeast Brazil, I find puzzling variation in the distribution of drought relief across states and municipalities. Some appear to follow programmatic policy based on need, while others receive drought relief even during high rainfall periods. Interviews that I conducted with rural farmers in Northeast Brazil highlight the incredible dependence that poor, subsistence farmers have on local leaders and politicians for sending water trucks and distributing drought-related cash transfers.

This study asks: where and when is politically-targeted (vs. need-based) distribution of basic services most likely, and how do politicians benefit from providing targeted relief?

Research Design

I utilize two sources of exogeneity to isolate the effect of non-climatic factors on declarations of drought: the exogenous timing of rainfall and the fixed electoral cycle. Since rainfall shocks are orthogonal to election year timing or other political factors, I am able to identify the relationship between political drivers and drought relief. By controlling for climate and local agricultural conditions, I test political hypotheses using the remaining variation.

I use a generalized difference-in-difference model with municipal and year fixed effects to tease apart political and temporal factors through administrative data, which provide the opportunity to explore systematic patterns and variation across 991 municipalities from 1999-2012. I explore the mechanisms through interviews of rural farmers, community leaders, and local politicians in the drought-prone Brazilian state of Ceará.

Main Findings and Discussion

I find that relief is more likely during mayoral election years, in both drought and high rainfall conditions. Incumbent mayors who provide drought relief in an election year are more likely to be re-elected, and mayors from the PT party are more likely to receive drought relief. These results are robust to the inclusion of controls for precipitation, agriculture and cattle, and municipal and year fixed effects.

Interviews that I conducted during fieldwork in Northeast Brazil in 2014 and 2016 suggest that drought relief is a political tool, especially water trucks and crop insurance cash transfers that can be targeted by neighborhood and household. Farmers sometimes even “pray for drought,” since the drought relief funds actually increase household stability for the vulnerable population relative to non-drought years.

Many local citizens and researchers also describe the pervasive “drought industry” (indústria da seca). Local elites, who sell water from private sources on their land and also own the water trucks contracted by the government, can profit immensely during periods of drought.

Local politicians have perverse incentives to provide drought relief – with its electoral and economic rewards – instead of maintaining existing water resources and reducing local vulnerability to chronic climate shocks.

Further Research

My broader dissertation further explores the local political economy of water resources and drought.

I study the sub-municipal relationships that affect who gets water access, drought relief, and other essential services:

  • What explains variation in access to water and other public services?
  • What are the electoral and economic incentives to receive and distribute disaster relief vs. to create sustainable, resilient water systems?
  • What is the role of local collective action and community associations in improving citizens’ access to basic services?

I am currently conducting a pre-election household survey in rural Northeast Brazil of 500+ households across 9 municipalities to study micro-relationships between water access, drought relief, participation in civil society and community associations, and electoral politics. I will continue my fieldwork throughout 2017.

About the Author: Alicia Cooperman is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Her paper “(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil” was awarded the Westview Press Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference for best paper delivered by a graduate student.


Bias and Women’s Under-Representation in Politics

Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.

The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)

The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.

The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.

The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.

Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.

Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.

In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.


To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.

Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.

Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.

In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.

Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.

About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania,  Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

A Portrait of Politics: The Cultural Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen

Photo by Scott Braam (Unsanctioned Street Art on 16th street in Pilsen, Chicago 2014)The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

Urban space is temporal, contextual and fluid. It is socially and culturally produced, often exhibiting shifting social and interpersonal political power dynamics. In certain contexts, the aesthetics of urban space via public art (murals) can challenge or reinforce entrenched normative spatial hierarchies. These localized urban aesthetics exhibit socioeconomic and political power dynamics that are uniquely relational to the physical and social world they are part of (Harvey, 2005; Lambert, 2013; Lefebvre, 1968). Contentious politics portrayed in the aesthetic of community created murals, can help to induce bottom up sociopolitical processes that alter or disrupt hegemonic political forces. Public art via muralism holds the power to push back against the hyper-individualistic nature of the neoliberal city, often providing a more communal experience for residents and visitors alike.

In Chicago’s Pilsen enclave the spatial dynamics of culture, commerce and political power are publically on display – representing disparate contextual eras and shifting community interests and lifestyles. Pilsen has a long history of community-born politically-symbolic murals that, depending on their origin, particular artist and temporal context, symbolically represent a myriad of interests ranging from the normative interests of the community to the hegemonic interests of the state. Considering the aforementioned, how have murals played a political role as both “promoters of” and “deterrents to” gentrification in Pilsen?

Pilsen has historically been a port of entry for working-class immigrants in Chicago. Beginning in the early 1960s, Pilsen was targeted for urban renewal projects designed to serve the accommodation, accumulation, and consumption desires of artists, students, and young professionals (Betancur, 2005). Over-time, Pilsen changed from a predominantly working-class community to a higher-income community, displacing many of its original residents and economically empowering entrepreneurial newcomers and real estate stakeholders (Betancur, 2005). This unequitable gentrification process has drastically affected the aesthetics of the neighborhood. My research attempts to not only track gentrification in Pilsen through the shifting themes and aesthetics of its murals, but also highlight the public policy disconnect between the community’s aldermanic leadership and the neighborhood’s long-time residents.

Pilsen’s earliest murals were prized and celebrated by the community, often portraying scenes from the Mexican revolution. Murals served as artistic vessels for self-recognition, politics, identity, Mexican cultural, and community pride. Murals were conceptualized and produced within the confines of Pilsen – by Pilsen’s cultural creators. Home grown murals acted as territorial borders that marked and claimed Chicago’s precious urban space for Pilsen’s Mexican residents. Today in Pilsen, murals born from top down processes led by aldermanic privilege and the neoliberal urban growth machine, are often seen as tools to promote and market the neighborhood, at a cost to the community.

The political culture of the Chicano Muralism Movement fostered political activism, self-help institution building, and neighborhood mobilization – themes central to the survival of the community. However, a new wave of muralism has developed – one that reflects the encroaching gentrifiers. New wave murals focus on procuring real estate investors and making college students swoon. Non-Mexican art and artists are commonly commissioned, in fact preferred. Murals, financially backed by the new political and economic steak holders of Pilsen, are designed to attract young hip professionals, with the lure of a culturally rich and gritty urban living experience (Betancur, 2005; Davila, 2004; Zukin, 2009; Lloyd, 2006).

The Art in Public Places (AIPP) initiative, created by Chicago’s 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis has made inroads at successfully rebranding the neighborhood. As Pilsen became more observed by tourists and coveted by investors – as the name “Pilsen” became ingrained in the vernacular of young white hipsters, more pathways of capital accumulation and consumption were established, and rent in Pilsen skyrocketed. This process has displaced many long-time residents including cultural producers, while contributing to the rebranding of Pilsen from a Mexican enclave to a hipster haven.

Those with political power in Pilsen see murals as a conduit toward a wealthier and more financially-competitive neighborhood. Pilsen social justice activist Nicole Marroquin sees Pilsen’s elites as “using art strategically to gentrify” while dumbing down Pilsen’s rich history of Latino art by erasing the activist part of the Chicano Muralist Movement, in favor of “cute decorations” on walls (N. Marroquin, Personal interview, 2013).

Well-planned and initiated neighborhood art-based public policy ought to better integrate community and contain built in structural mechanisms that would supply funding for the upkeep and maintenance of the art. Art initiatives in culturally gifted communities like Pilsen ought to prioritize local artist’s work, therefore propping up a community’s cultural creators rather than out of town artists. Public walls used for murals need to be prepared correctly, curated properly, adequately funded, and maintained by local government via the city.

Gentrification in Pilsen can be viewed through the shifting aesthetics of the neighborhood’s murals. Under the neoliberal umbrella – in an era of federal urban fiscal abandonment – the culturally gifted Pilsen community and its long history of muralism was utilized as an aesthetic marketing tool for Alderman Solis and Pilsen’s business elites. This hijacking of Pilsen’s Mexican culture was framed as “beneficial” to all residents, but clearly the scales were tipped in the direction of the state and its global business partners.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Scott Braam is a 4th year PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and will soon take his comprehensive exams in Urban and American fields. His research “A Portrait of Politics: The Wholesale Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen” was awarded the Best Paper Presented in a Poster Format at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


Betancur, J. J., & Deuben, L. (2005). Gentrification before Gentrification? The Plight of Pilsen in  Chicago. A Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement White Paper.

Castillo, M. (2013, October 13). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Mario Castillo [Personal interview].

Dávila, A. M. (2004). Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gonzalez, J., & Zimmerman, M. (2013, November 20). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Jose Gonzalez [Personal interview].

Harvey, D. (2001). Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. New York: Routledge

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell.

Marroquin, N. (2013, July 25). Community activist Nicole Mannequin [Personal interview].

Pacheco, L. (2014, July 17). Lauren Pacheco head of the A.I.P.P [Personal interview].

Zukin, S. (2009). Changing Landscapes of Power: Opulence and the Urge for AuthenticityInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2).

Studying the Immediate Impact of Racially Traumatic Stressful Events

Following is one in a series of blog posts by MPSA members about their research that has received funding by either the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Here, Principal Investigator, Byron D’Andra Orey of Jackson State University, summarizes his research on “The Impact of Racially Traumatic Stressful Events on African Americans’ Psychological, Physiological and Political Responses.” 

Examples of images used in the Orey’s physiological study.

The many shootings of unarmed African Americans over the last few years prompted me to begin writing a grant proposal in September 2014, one month after an African-American male, Michael Brown, was gunned down by a white male police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. During the month of March 2015, four such deaths occurred in a span of only five days in Aurora, Colorado, Chamblee, Georgia, Los Angeles, California, and Madison, Wisconsin.

In May of 2015, I submitted the proposal to study the impact of what I have termed Racially Traumatic Stressful Events (RTSEs) on voters’ psychological, physiological and political responses which was awarded the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant. RTSEs are defined as race-related incidents that result in trauma and stress for some of those who are directly or indirectly exposed to such events. Such events can yield negative responses, even if individuals were not directly exposed to these events. For example, indirect exposure may occur when Facebook users are forced to watch events as immediately-streaming videos appear in newsfeeds.

In response to two of the most publicized cases, the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, protesters responded violently by killing two police officers in New York and wounding two in Ferguson.

Arguably, such violence was at the hand of individuals who were enraged by RTSEs. These individuals had been pushed to their limits and responded as such. Additionally, after witnessing the uprising across the country (e.g., Black Lives Matter movement), this research became even more important, given the dearth of biopolitics studies that include sizeable numbers of African-American subjects to study their political attitudes and behavior.

Due to my location and proximity to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the Deep South, I had a unique opportunity to pursue research using a large N of African-American subjects. It should be noted that though not all HBCUs are made up exclusively of African Americans or people of color, they were borne of segregation and continue to maintain this designation.

The first experiment was initiated in September 2014, approximately one month following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The data were collected from two convenience samples consisting of African-American undergraduates recruited from a Historically Black University, located in the South. A total of 115 subjects were recruited from online introductory level American Government courses and Introduction to Political Science courses to complete an online survey.

In this analysis, a pre- and post-test were conducted examining subjects’ attitudes one week prior to the grand jury’s decision and one week afterwards. The pre-test served as a control and did not include a stimulus as students were simply asked to complete an online survey. The post-test, on the other hand, included two stimuli that were randomly disseminated to two groups receiving pictures of a group of black police officers wearing riot gear and a group of white officers wearing the exact same gear. Based on these findings, blacks who were exposed to white police officers possessed more anger towards America when compared to the control; whereas, there was no significant difference between subjects who were exposed to black police officers and the control group. The findings here are somewhat predictable given the media coverage of white police officers killing blacks.

In the second analysis, items used to measure American Identity proved to be ineffective in achieving a statistically significant relationship between the stimuli and the control group. A second analysis was run by including only one of the items: “Being an American is important to the way that I think about myself as a person.” Based on these findings, subjects who were exposed to the stimulus with black police officers agreed to the statement that being American is important in the way they think about themselves more than the control group. One explanation here might be that blacks were more trustful of black police when compared to whites. For example, using anecdotal information, the media coverage included a black captain of the Missouri Highway Patrol who informed the public that he could empathize with the protesters because he too had a son. For a brief while, he was able to calm black protesters prior to the grand jury’s decision. This is consistent with evidence that shows community police officers are viewed as more trustworthy by the citizens who live in those communities.

In the physiological study, subjects were exposed to a random set of stimuli that consisted of happy images as well as images of police and protesters behaving violently. Three physiological measures have been used in this study: electrodermal activity (EDA), respiratory measures and electrocardiogram (ECG). At current, however, electrodermal measures have been used the most frequently because of time constraints. In other words, because we wanted to acquire preliminary results before moving forward with the actual study (which required paying the subjects), only one measure was employed and analyzed. I was able to analyze data using 15 subjects with results revealing that subjects who were exposed to both images of the police and protesters responded more when compared to the baseline than those who saw happy images.

Broader Impact and NSFs Rationale for Incorporating the Research

One of the most significant and rewarding outcomes I have experienced related to NSF-funded projects has been seeing the real world benefit of increasing the number of African-Americans in summer research and graduate programs.

Because of this grant, I was able to employ 10 part-time undergraduate and graduate students to assist with the research. Of those 10, five worked with me beyond the initial project. All five of those students received summer internships or fellowships. After receiving multiple offers, one graduate student working on this project has accepted an offer to attend one of the most noted biopolics programs at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Student researchers involved with the project have also been offered summer fellowships by the University of Chicago, Princeton, Michigan State University, and Duke University’s prestigious Bunche Institute. One student received an internship with the ACLU office in Jackson, Mississippi and a Business major working on the project has accepted an internship with a Beverly Hill’s marketing firm.

It should also be noted that following an NSF grant in 2008 which also focused on student research, students from Jackson State University have enrolled in PhD programs at the University of Michigan, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Texas A&M, Purdue University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Texas, San Antonio, and Jackson State University. Students have participated in summer programs at Princeton, Harvard, Duke, the University of California, Irvine, Michigan State University, and the University of Chicago, while others have received multiple internships.

About the Author: Byron D’Andra Orey is a Professor of Political Science at Jackson State University. His research is in the area of race and politics, focusing heavily on racial attitudes and legislative behavior. 

Trendspotting Through the Gradventurist’s Lens

Now that it has been two weeks since MPSA 2016 ended, there are a few trends I observed during the conference that I feel need revisiting especially from a graduate student perspective. The conference weekend was hectic for everyone and there was a lot going on simultaneously, so it is useful to take a look back and absorb it slowly. The trends I am discussing in this post are positive and can be beneficial in the long run for all of us if we are able to take advantage of them the right way.

Co-Authored Work
Co-authored work is not a new phenomenon, but what I am specifically referring to is the trend of graduate students co-authoring with professors and mentors. This is an amazing trend that more graduate students should consider. The challenge is finding the right kind of mentor/professor to work with on a subject you feel passionately about.

For instance, I co-authored a paper with my professor in a field that is not my specialty purely because I wanted to work with them and the topic we came up with was fascinating to both of us. I am a Comparative/IR person while my co-author is an established public law and judicial politics professor. We started discussing topics that would be cool to study and ended up with a topic that explores how religious conservatives react to federal courts on socio-moral case decisions. We had never run experiments, so we both had a chance to work and learn how to set up experiments. I learned a whole new body of literature and approach to research with its roots in American Politics while my professor saw the potential of taking our study scope international.

I learned a lot more from this experience that I would have in a class with the same professor. The co-author relationship benefits the graduate students if your faculty co-author legitimately believes in dividing work. In my case, I wrote one half of the paper while my professor co-author wrote the other. We discussed it and then outlined the presentation together. This process gave me a whole new outlook that I would not have had any other way.

Point is, as a graduate student, go out there and find a professor or a mentor who will work with you to actually guide you through the process. Do not pigeonhole yourself to working within your own field, with the kind of job market we are all facing, it always helps to have expertise across fields.

Cross-Disciplinary Work
As I mentioned in my last point, it helps to work across the fields and specialties. We are all political scientists even though we study very different things. My colleagues in public law struggle with International Relations the exact way I struggle with public law. But together, we actually work really well in tandem. Also working together opens up our research options significantly.

For instance, one of my colleagues is a public law and American politics specialist who focuses on judicial politics. We have had multiple conversations where I tried to make the comparatist’s argument that whatever is studied in American politics is basically an extensive case study and can be easily applied to other countries. After multiple back and forth arguments, we ended up working on a paper together that essentially chalks out the trajectories and processes through which judiciaries across the world define and maintain judicial independence. Most of the literature that we utilized for theory building came from American politics, but most of our case analysis came from comparative and IR. We ended up with a decent paper at the end that raised some interesting arguments which are nowhere to be found in purely American or public law literature.

In simple terms, all I am saying is – mixing and matching your topics and expertise is a good thing. If you are a comparativist who studies East Asia, it might be worthwhile to work with a public opinion person as that can change the dynamics of your work. You both learn in the process, you expand your abilities and knowledge base while ending up with a paper that can potentially be published in regional studies journals as it is new and exciting.

There were other interesting trends like using a lot more data in studies of IR and a slow but steady uptick in good quality qualitative work in American politics. Based on what I witnessed at the MPSA 2016 conference, I am consciously expanding my work areas to include different fields that I find interesting. Remember when the adage that you should work on something that you find interesting? Turns out they really mean it and it does not have to be within your own field. We are academics and we do not need to pigeonhole our work to fit a specific box.


About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures