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Featured Faculty

Our faculty members are on the cutting edge of research in all of the sub-fields of political science. Their publications drive understandings of theory, define historical context, and set the stage for research done around the world. Here is a sample of our featured faculty members and the work and research they do.

American Politics​

Tim Johnson

When the U.S. Supreme Court makes decisions, almost all of its process takes place in secret. Most secretive are the conference discussions where the justices privately deliberate about cases and cast initial votes. Unfortunately, the only records kept during these meetings are the justices' personal handwritten notes not available to the public until they leave the Court and grant public access open to their archives. Professor Tim Johnson's latest project, SCOTUSNotes, asks volunteers to transcribe these notes in an effort to better understand how law and legal policy are made by the U.S. Supreme Court.

With support from the National Science Foundation Johnson has endeavored to provide unprecedented access to historical Supreme Court conference discussions. Specifically, we have gathered justices’ notes to provide a systematic account of what transpires during the Court’s conference. Beginning February 13, 2018 we will begin the process of transcribing notes taken by Justices Harry A. Blackmun and William J. Brennan. These papers include more than 12,000 pages of conference notes spanning the 1959 to the 1993 terms and they include an estimated 3 million words of text.

Fully transcribed notes will allow us to answer a variety of questions including, but not limited to, how conference discussion frames majority, dissenting, or concurring opinions, the extent to which justices discuss precedent, whether they discuss separation of powers issues, and the degree to which justices may switch votes during the discussions.

Listen to Professor Johnson discuss his project!

International Relations

Tanisha Fazal

Professor Tanisha Fazal has a widely anticipated forthcoming book due to be published in May 2018. Published by Cornell University Press Wars of Law: Unintended Consequences in the Regulation of Armed Conflict, assesses the unintended consequences of the proliferation of the laws of war. In the mid-19th century there was one codified law of war. In 2018, there are over 70 such laws, and they place increasing constraints on belligerents. I argue that this increase has generated significant consequences for the commencement, conduct, and conclusion of both interstate and civil wars. States fighting interstate wars today prefer not to step over any bright lines where the laws of war would apply unequivocally. Thus, these states have stopped declaring war and concluding peace treaties. Rebel groups – particularly, secessionists that seek their own independent state – by contrast, have increasingly engaged with the laws of war. Secessionists are relatively unlikely to target civilians, and there is an increasing rate of peace treaty usage in civil wars that contrasts with the decline in interstate war. This research is based on two major original datasets as well as a series of case studies, and is particularly unusual in combining analysis of interstate and civil wars.

Comparative Politics

David Samuels

After winning major awards for his last book, Democratization: An Elite Competition Approach, Professor David Samuels' new book is headed to press. The new Cambridge University Press title, Partisans, Anti-Partisans, and Non-Partisans: Voting Behavior in Brazilhas received an immense amount of advanced praise. Timothy Power of Oxford University says, "Few works on Brazilian politics have been as theoretically and comparatively informed, or have rivalled the rigourous methodological standards of this study."

Conventional wisdom suggests that partisanship has little impact on voter behavior in Brazil; what matters most is pork-barreling, incumbent performance, and candidates’ charisma. This book shows that soon after redemocratization in the 1980s, more than half of Brazilian voters expressed either a strong affinity or antipathy for or against a particular political party, in particular, that the contours of positive and negative partisanship in Brazil have been shaped mainly by how people feel about one party – the Workers’ Party (PT). Voter behavior in Brazil has largely been structured around sentiment for or against this one party, and not any of Brazil’s many others. We show how the PT managed to successfully cultivate widespread partisanship in a difficult
environment, and also explain the emergence of anti-PT attitudes. We then reveal how positive and negative forms of partisanship shape voters’ attitudes about politics and policy, and how they shape their choices in the ballot booth.

Lisa Hilbink

This past August, Professor Lisa Hilbink and two Political Science graduate students, Bridget Marchesi and Valentina Salas, traveled to Colombia and Chile to conduct research for the project, “Equal Rights & Unequal Remedies: Understanding Citizen Perceptions of and Engagement with the Judicial System,” funded by the UMN Human Rights Initiative. International human rights instruments obligate states to provide citizens with effective judicial remedies for rights violations. The right to justice is both a foundational human rights concern in and of itself, and access to effective legal remedies is a pre-condition for citizens to claim their fundamental human rights. Without access to effective judicial institutions, people will find it difficult to protect their person and property, challenge discrimination, or claim their right to education and health care. In many countries, however, the state’s de facto presence and capacity across its territory vary dramatically, and even in places where state institutions are well-established and well-functioning, the rule of law is often poorly distributed across social categories. Hilbink’s project explores how, why, and with what consequences citizens perceive the legal remedies available to them when they experience rights violations. Surveys show that in many developing democracies, including Colombia and Chile, citizens express little confidence in judicial institutions, despite massive expenditures on judicial reform projects in recent decades. However, it remains unclear where popular perceptions of judicial institutions come from, how these perceptions are affected by inequalities, and how such perceptions impact rights-claiming behavior.

To address these questions, Hilbink and her team conducted sixteen focus groups in Chile and Colombia in regions with robust judicial institutions and high degrees of inequality (Santiago, Chile and Medellín, Colombia). They applied an instrument designed toanalyze participants’ reasons for their views of the judicial system and to explore whether and under what circumstances these beliefs translate into choices about engagement with state judicial institutions. By convening focus groups across salient social cleavages (gender, class and race), they probed how uniform or contested these beliefs and actions are within these groups.

In the preparatory phase of the research, during Spring 2017, Hilbink’s team also worked with Political Science Distinguished Undergraduate Research Intern, Monica Delgado, who helped with the literature review and research design. The project received additional funding from Rutgers University at Newark, where Hilbink has a key collaborator, Professor Janice Gallagher. This fall, the team will analyze the focus group transcriptions and draft a report on their findings. They plan to seek funding to extend the project both within Chile and Colombia as well as to other jurisdictions in the Americas.

Political Theory

Nancy Luxon & Robert Nichols

Professor Nancy Luxon and Professor Robert Nichols, along with Jean O'Briend of history and American Indian Studies, have received funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a transdisciplinary Sawyer Seminar called The Politics of Land: Colony, Property, Ecology.   

In the seminar proposal, Nichols and Luxon state, “Land is one of the most emotionally charged objects of contestation and concern.” A large number of critical global struggles today are linked to the relationship between humans and land. Many of these conflicts are related to questions of land management, food and fuel production, property rights, extractive industries, Indigenous title and treaty rights, and agricultural development.

The seminar will be held throughout the 2017–18 academic year. The framing theme of fall semester is colony, where the distinct genealogies of colonialism will be traced. The goal, as Nichols and Luxon put it, is to answer the question; how has the history of colonization in the Anglo-American world left its mark on key concepts of legal and political thought, such as sovereignty, territory, jurisdiction, and land?

It is a unique collaboration between people from different cultural, intellectual, and racial backgrounds. In addition to bringing together scholars from anthropology, geography, law, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology, the seminar will also draw on the intellectual and political work of indigenous thinkers. Itself a land grant institution–and thus funded by the Morill Act of 1862, which permitted the use and sale of land taken from Native Americans by the federal government–the U is an unusually poignant site for this investigation.

Full details of the seminar can be found here.

Professor Luxon's interests include contemporary political and social theory, French political thought, and questions of power, authority, and truth-telling. Luxon is the author of Crisis of Authority and is currently editing a translation of Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault's Le Désordre des Familles, along with a companion scholarly volume. 

Professor Nichol's interests contemporary European philosophy, Critical Theory, Marxism, and the contemporary politics of settler colonialism. Nichols is the author of The World of Freedom and is working on a book that reconstructs the concept of 'dispossession' across several traditions of critical theory.