Current Research

Articles in progress:

  • Political imprisonment and mass protest: Evidence from the former GDR (with Christoph Dworschak)
  • The straw that broke the camels back: Timing, arrests, and backlashes in cultural identity conflicts (with Felix Schulte)
  • Environment pollution and state repression in the former GDR (with Moritz Marbach & Carlo Horz)
  • The duration of political imprisonment: Evidence from China
  • Domestic surveillance and political imprisonment: Evidence from the former GDR
  • Who are the political prisoners from Xinjiang we know about?

Short Exposé PhD:

Prisons lie at the heart of state’s coercive apparatus, yet, little is known about the causes and consequences of politically motivated imprisonments. Even more, the term ‚political prisoner‘ is used highly inconsistently in the scholarly literature, referring to empirically and theoretically distinct groups of individuals. This dissertation project sets out to account for these shortcomings suggesting a multi-faceted conceptual assessment and empirical analysis of the phenomenon of political imprisonments. I propose four different articles that study political imprisonments from different angles, namely as a theoretical concept, as a strategic accusation, as explanatory factor, and as empirical outcome.

The first article tackles the question „Who is a political prisoner?“, building on a systematic review of all explicit and contextual definitions in the scholarly literature. Based on these insights, I suggest a new conceptualization that defines political prisoners through biased state actions instead of through prisoners‘ political motivations. Further, I disaggregate the concept into five logically distinct subgroups highlighting different entitlements to international support.

The second article investigates the question „Who accuses whom of holding political prisoners?“. The underlying contention is that inter-state accusations about political imprisonments tend to be highly politicized. In a first step, I create transcripts of all general debates of the United Nations Human Rights Council using Automatic Speech Recognition software. In a second step, I systematically collect inter-state accusation dyads related to political imprisonments. I empirically test the hypothesis that ‚tit-for-tat‘ dynamics and political conflicts predict accusations more accurately than empirical incidence of political imprisonment.

The third article analyzes empirical predictors of political imprisonments in the specific context of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). I test the hypothesis of whether high levels of surveillance capacity lead to higher incidence of political imprisonments or more selective targeting of dissidents. I operationalize surveillance capacity with the numbers of secret police members and unofficial collaborators in different regions of the former GDR. I leverage variation across time and across regions and detailed information about prior residences of imprisoned individuals to draw inferences from variation in surveillance capacity on the incidence of political imprisonments.

The fourth article studies the impact of political imprisonments on regime stability. I test the hypothesis that political imprisonments are a self-defeating strategy increasing the likelihood of anti-regime mobilization. I argue that political prisoners develop a shared identity during imprisonment and demonstrate loyalty to their cause raising the propensity resistance movement formation. The argument is illustrated with anecdotal evidence from various historical cases of political imprisonments. It is empirically tested with a quantitative analysis that models systematic underreporting biases in cross-country data on political imprisonments.

Taken together, this dissertation seeks to enrich our systematic understanding of a key instrument of repression that continues to be practiced by various governments across diverse political contexts.