I teach in the fields of comparative politics, ethnic politics/conflict, public policy, health, development, and research methods, at both the undergraduate and Ph.D. levels, through a mix of seminars, lecture courses, and individual supervision of independent research.

If you are an undergraduate student at MIT or Wellesley, and would like to work as a research assistant (UROP) with me, please send me an email describing your interests and research skills.

Courses offered (2020-21)


17.571 Engineering Democratic Development in Africa (undergraduate). In this course, we will examine the varied relationship between democracy and human development in sub-Saharan Africa. Encourages students to apply “engineering thinking” to better understand which institutions, practices, and technologies have helped, and which have hindered, the achievement of health, education, infrastructure, and other outcomes. Addresses many of the challenges and dilemmas of democratic practice in poor, diverse, and unequal societies, while inviting students to propose practical interventions. In this “flipped classroom” course, students will watch lectures in advance of our two-hour seminar meeting, Tuesdays 9-11. Previous SYLLABUS: syllabus17-751spring2017

17.9xx Democracy, Development and Dignity (graduate): In this seminar, we will explore theories and evidence concerning the value of democratic politics, especially in terms of its relationship to development and respect for human dignity. The former has a rich intellectual lineage in political science and related social sciences, while the latter is less fully explored and/or discussed in disparate literatures. We will consider to what extent a focus on dignity and “indignities” enriches the study of a field otherwise known as the “Political-Economy of Development.” While the focus is largely on countries in the Global South, we will also discuss the American case in comparative perspective.


17.511 Critical Perspectives on the Data of Identity (undergraduate): This course, taught jointly with Prof. Fotini Christia, will examine the different ways in which personal and group identities are recorded as “data” in different domains, and the effects of data collection on the formation of identities and a range of other outcomes around the world. For example, we will review different approaches to recording personal information in the context of census-taking, household surveys, passport/national identity documents, college admissions forms, loan documents, and social media profiles. We will also consider how automated systems (AI) record individual traits – for example, skin color, language, and religion – and aggregate these into group categories used for predictive modeling. In our critical examination of how data are collected, we will explore the politics of category construction and how seemingly “neutral” decisions are often the product of deliberate efforts to privilege some groups over others – for example in apartheid South Africa. We also explore the consequences of identity-, and group-based data collection efforts, which have ranged from progressive redistribution in the United States to genocide in Europe and Rwanda. The course will consider a wide variety of primary materials, and scholarly works from the fields of political science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and economics. 


17.571x Democracy and Development: Perspectives from Africa (introductory).

In Fall 2017, I released my first “MOOC” on the EDx platform, “Democracy and Development: Perspectives from Africa,” and you can enroll in the archived version now:

And here’s what it looked like… behind the scenes!

MIT News Profile on MITx/EDx course

Other courses (not currently offered)

17.506: Ethnic Politics (graduate). This course (co-taught with Volha Charnysh) explores the political implications of the ethnic differences embedded within states and societies. We will be seeking to understand the nature of collective identities, the driving forces underlying their persistence and change, their mobilization, and their intersection with and effect on the nation-state system, which remains the basis for political organization around the world today. Our discussions will be comparative and theoretical, while also engaging concrete examples. The study of identity politics intersects with all of the fields of political science, and the theory and literature learned in this seminar will have relevance for anyone working on identity-related issues in any part of the discipline.

17.special: State-Building (graduate). This doctoral seminar is taught jointly with Daniel Ziblatt at Harvard. We will investigate the politics of state-building in comparative perspective. The course is intended primarily for Ph.D. students in political science/government, particularly for those with research interests in comparative politics. Throughout the semester, we will try to tackle the following questions: How should we conceptualize the state? What are the best empirical strategies for measuring state “strength” or power? What is the range of theoretical explanations that account for variation in state power, and what is the quality of the evidence in support of such propositions? Can we improve upon the existing state of theory and/or the quality of empirical research?

17.572 African Politics and Democratic Governance (graduate). What are our best theoretical expectations for how democracies should work? Does reality (or at least our data to measure reality) fit such models? Which institutions and practices are likely to produce critical public goods and services? Do ordinary citizens enjoy real opportunities to influence government action, and to what extent are such powers mediated by ascriptive and other identities? What do citizens want and how do they express their preferences? These are general questions, relevant across world regions, but in this seminar, we will pose them in the context of the relatively young democracies of sub-Saharan Africa, which generally have emerged under conditions of weak statehood and widespread poverty.

Doctoral training in political science

Phil Martin successfully defends his dissertation, June 2019.
Yang-Yang Zhou successfully defends her dissertation, May 2019.

I am very proud of the various doctoral students I have advised, who have completed outstanding doctoral dissertations in Political Science, addressing major questions in comparative politics, and international relations. Their work has spanned all world regions, on topics relating to development, human rights, violent conflict, ethnic politics, and democratic governance. Several of these students have won prestigious dissertation awards. Most have gone on to tenure-track academic jobs, including at Brown University, the College of New Jersey, George Mason, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Olin College of Engineering, St. Andrews University, Syracuse University, University of British Columbia, University of Missouri, University of California Los Angeles, University of California Riverside, University of California Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto.

If you are interested in working with me for your doctoral studies, please apply to the MIT Ph.D. program in political science.


*indicates chair of dissertation committee

Current (ABD)

  • Paige Bollen* (MIT)
  • Jeremy Bowles (Harvard)
  • Carla Garcia* (MIT)
  • Rorisang Lekalake*(MIT)
  • Gabriel Nahmias* (MIT)
  • Blair Read* (MIT)
  • Stuart Russell* (MIT)
  • Nicole Wilson (MIT)

Previous (PhD received)

  • Lamis Abdelaaty (Princeton)                                                     
  • William Barndt  (Princeton)
  • Graeme Blair*  (Princeton)
  • Jaquilyn Waddell Boie*  (Princeton)
  • Sarah Chartock  (Princeton)
  • Eun Kyong Choi (Princeton)
  • Chris Danrton (Prineton)
  • J. Tyler Dickovick (Princeton)
  • Kim Dionne (UCLA)
  • Daniel de Kadt  (MIT)
  • Jonathan Garcia (Mailman School of Public Health)
  • Yanilda Gonzales  (Princeton)
  • Ehrhardt Graeff (MIT Media Lab)
  • Kristen Harkness  (Princeton)
  • Aram Hur  (Princeton)
  • Philip Martin (MIT)
  • Gwyneth McClendon*  (Princeton)
  • Nina McMurry (MIT)
  • Andrew Miller (MIT)
  • Benjamin Morse (MIT)
  • Kanta Murali  (Princeton)
  • Rachel Riedl*  (Princeton)
  • Leah Rosenzweig (MIT)
  • Anna Schrimpf  (Princeton)
  • Prerna Singh  (Princeton)
  • Yang-Yang Zhou  (Princeton)
End-of-year bowling and beer (2019)
End-of-year Senegalese dinner for associated graduate students