National Humiliation and International Conflict: Origins, Microfoundations, and Effects

My dissertation examines how humiliation becomes politically relevant and spreads socially. It further examines humiliation’s influence on international conflict. My dissertation investigate these topics in three parts.

The first theorizes that humiliation gains political relevance and spreads through narratives of national humiliation. Political groups use these narratives when they can avoid responsibility for the event they are framing as humiliating and can tie their political opponents to this event. This portion analyses the narratives political groups propagated in China and India over the course of the 20th century using both Chinese and English language sources. I find support for my theory, and the cases yield further insights that the narratives are most likely to resonate with their audience when the central government does not repress the narratives, when the audience is living above the subsistence level, and when there are dense communication networks between the audience and the party spreading the narratives.

The second part examines the microfoundations of humiliation's influence on conflict preferences. I draw from experimental psychology and neuroscience to construct and experimentally test the theory that humiliation increases individual preferences for conflict by decreasing sensitivity to the cost of conflict. I conduct a survey experiment that manipulates individual emotions with autobiographical essay tasks in order to isolate the carry over effect of the emotion of humiliation on foreign policy questions. I further examine the cost mechanism in a laboratory experiment where participants face real monetary costs to choosing to initiate conflict. Both experiments support the theory that the emotion of humiliation increases individual preferences for conflict by decreasing their sensitivity to the cost of conflict

The third part uses the theory from the microfoundations section to derive empirical implications to test using machine based text analysis of Chinese state propaganda as well as Chinese social media posts. I examine whether expressions of national humiliation correlate with advocacy of conflictual foreign policy. I also examine whether references to national humiliation in Chinese state media correspond with higher military spending.


Journal Article

Using Word Order in Political Text Classification with Long Short-term Memory Models (with Charles Chang). Forthcoming in Political Analysis, 2019. Download.

Peer Reviewed Book Chapter

Power, Institutions, and Issues as Causes of Conflict (with Jessica L. P. Weeks). In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Empirical International Relations Theories. Oxford University Press, New York, September 2017.

Book Review

The East Asian Challenges for Democracy: Political Meritocracy in Comparative Perspective ed. by Daniel A. Bell, Chenyang Li (review). Philosophy East and West, 65(3):973–976, 2015.

Working Papers

Humiliation and International Conflict Preferences. Presented at the Peace Science Society International North American Meeting, 2018. URL: Download.
  • 2019 Winner of Peace Science/Pacific International Politics Conference Travel Grant Award for best graduate student paper
National Humiliation Narratives: Origins and Political Success. Presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference, 2018. Download.
International Conflict and Democratic Breakdown in New Democracies. (in review), 2018. Download.