This Month's Centennial Center Visiting Scholars

This month, the Centennial Center Visiting Scholar Program is pleased to support the following scholars as they pursue their research in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. This program has hosted a diverse array of APSA members from every field of study, and from the United States and abroad. Check back each month to learn more about what our current Visiting Scholars are researching and teaching during their stay with the Centennial Center.

The Centennial Center, its facilities, and research support programs have been made possible since 2003 by the generous donations of APSA friends and members. 

Interested in becoming a Visiting Scholar? Learn more about the Visiting Scholar Program here.

MOHAMED-ALI ADRAOUI, National University of Singapore
Dealing with Islamists and Reframing American National Interest: Studying the United States’ Foreign Policy towards Islamist Movements

Does America need a foreign policy designed to address the challenge posed by Islamist movements? The aim of this project is to contribute to the analysis of American political thought and foreign policy in relation to the changes and events affecting the Arab world since 2010. More precisely, I will conduct a rigorous assessment of the foundations and modalities that underpin both America’s historical policy towards Islamic political movements, as well as it policy as regards the developments of the “Arab Springs”, through the prism of the relation and strategy of the United States vis-à-vis Islamist actors.

This effort requires focusing on three research topics and asking ourselves about the way they interact as a result of the profound changes that have affected the Arab world: the logic of American foreign policy over the long term;  the logic behind American foreign policy with regards to political Islam; and the discourse and the actions of US leaders towards militant Islam. The study of the relations between America and political Islam will allow us to place in perspective an important part of the changes that have characterized US diplomacy towards a region of the world that is vital to its interests.

DEAN CAIVANO, York University
Jefferson against the State: A Politico-Historical Account of Radical Democratic Thought

In a general way, this project aims to invite a new interpretation and reading of Thomas Jefferson. This study strives to illuminate an unknown Jefferson that has been strikingly absent in scholarship, one that not only finds compatibility in a number of registers, but one that is inherently a radical democratic program. To do so, it is important to highlight from the onset, that this project treats Jefferson as a political philosopher. Typically the field of political theory has not treated Jefferson’s thought as a congruent point of interrogation within the canon (Holowchak, 2014:9). Discussions and examinations of his thought have most frequently, even in revisionists approaches, taken place as a plane of thinking that most properly aligns within the discipline of history as a project of a history of ideas, rather than a schema of political philosophy that aims towards the potentiality of an emancipatory politics. Consequently, to present this heterodox reading of Jefferson – one that accentuates Jefferson as a political thinker on the one hand and one that orientates his thinking within the cosmos of a radical democratic politics on the other – this project utilizes an approach that seeks to illuminate the politico-historical discontinuities that are inherent across his works, situated as direct political challenges against the hegemonic system of state power.

NIAMBI CARTER, Howard University
"Back to Africa" Movements

“Back to Africa” movements, popularized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are often treated as some form of black nationalistic ephemera.  Because most Black Americans did not, in fact, repatriate to Africa these calls for Black immigration are often treated as a rhetorical device of black nationalists, a philosophical commitment that never materialized as an actual political strategy.  Such treatment of “back to Africa,” movements obscures the important interventions that dreaming of Africa engendered in the black public sphere.  I argue “back to Africa” movements, if taken literally, are failures, but Africa, in this instance, was a way to envision Black freedom.  

Thus, this project positions Africa as a metaphor for Black freedom as Black Americans used immigration, not to Africa but to Canada, as a strategy for political liberation. For practical, political, and logistical reasons Black American immigrants often sought refuge in Canada, not Africa.  Therefore, it would be more accurate to say that Black American immigrants were more interested in escaping America rather than going back to Africa.  This is not the result of an anti-Africa bias; rather, Canada offered Blacks to be relatively unburdened by white supremacy but not too far to help enslaved Blacks. I argue Canada’s proximity and its position as a primary recipient of Black American immigrants, is significant for understanding Black politics in the United States.  This project has two major aims.  First, this project wants to re-center so-called “back to Africa,” movements in the Black political tradition.  And, second, this project seeks to understand immigration as a viable political strategy for the liberation of Black people in America.  

SHARAN GREWAL, Princeton University
Coup-Proofing and Democratization

Perhaps the most frequented topic in comparative politics has been the study of democratization. Despite this widespread interest, the critical role of the military has been largely neglected. A recent account laments that nearly 25 years after Stepan's (1988) observation that the military has probably been the least studied of the factors involved in new democratic movements," the situation has not changed drastically." The absence of the military is a significant omission in theories of democratization, as empirically the leading cause of collapse of a democratic transition is a military coup (Svolik 2015).

Understanding what drives militaries to thwart democratic transitions could provide an important piece of the puzzle of why some transitions succeed and others fail. This dissertation argues that a military's decision to thwart or accept a democratic transition is shaped by its former autocrat's coup-proofing strategies. It first develops a new typology of coup-proofing strategies, noting that autocrats can manipulate the military's corporate interests (through counterbalancing or cooptation) and its composition (through stacking or favoritism). The dissertation then examines the downstream consequences of these coup-proofing strategies on the prospects for democratization. It finds that counterbalancing and favoritism are particularly conducive to democratization, while cooptation and stacking are more problematic.

OZUM YESILTAS, Texas A&M University, Commerce
Allies or Terrorists? Contradictions in the U.S. Foreign Policy towards the Kurds

The primary goal of this project is to deepen scholarly knowledge about the components of American foreign policy towards the Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria and demonstrate thecontradictions that these policies are producing for the U.S. interests in the Middle East. The study not only seeks to provide an understanding of the evolutionary trajectory of the U.S.’ country-specific policy towards the Kurds, but also aims to elucidate the reasons why this policy no longer serves American interests in the region since the rise of ISIS in 2014. The fundamental argument of the project is that in the absence of a clear U.S. position on the Kurdish-held areas in Iraq and Syria, others will fill the vacuum and the fate of these countries will be left to other outside players, above all Iran and Russia. Having been let down by Washington in their recent push for independence, Iraqi Kurds are now increasingly likely to turn toward Moscow. In Syria, where Russia and Iran are playing the role of primary peace brokers, adhering to the U.S.-Kurdish alliance is the most reliable path to ensure American influence in post-ISIS Syria. Maintaining the alliance with the Syrian Kurds, however, requires the U.S. to have a clear position on the future of Rojava Administration which, in turn, requires opting for a change in bilateral relations with Turkey.