Book Project


Laws in Conflict: Legacies of War and Legal Pluralism in Chechnya 

My dissertation and book project examines how social and political legacies of conflict shape state-society relations. I study state-society relations through the prism of legal pluralism – the co-existence of state law with alternative legal orders rooted in religion and custom. I study this question in post-war Chechnya, where Russian state law coexists with Sharia and customary law.

Legal pluralism has been recognized as an important topic in legal anthropology, sociology, history, and economics. However political science has paid far less attention to the topic. I argue that this is an important omission, primarily because legal pluralism provides a useful analytical framework for understanding crucial questions in political science concerning state-building, legitimacy, and the rule of law. Most importantly, the reformulation of the classic question “why people obey the law?” into “which law to obey?” provides a novel perspective on durable states come into existence. The existing literature on state-building focuses mostly on the coercive and extractive dimensions of state capacity, or to put it simply, on taxation. I shift attention to the regulatory dimension, i.e. the use of state law vis-à-vis alternative forms of social control.

The central question of my dissertation is how exposure to conflict affects individual choices among multiple alternative legal orders and government policies towards the non-state legal orders. I focus on the effects of conflict-induced disruption of gender hierarchies. The first reason is that the conflicts have the highly gendered nature. Second, state law assumes gender equality, while non-state legal orders are explicitly discriminatory against women. The main finding of my dissertation is that the cumulative effect of wartime experiences with earning money, living without men, and engaging in collective action heightened a sense of agency and spurred awareness of their rights among Chechen women. Furthermore, the war led to community fragmentation which decreased the power of families and traditional powerholders to pressure women to rely on custom and Sharia. As a result, women in post-war Chechnya become much more likely than men to choose state law, and this gap in legal preferences and behavior is significantly greater in more victimized communities.

At the same time, my research also highlights that this conflict-induced change faces a strong backlash from the government that attempts to reinstate patriarchal order by promoting rigid interpretations of customary law and Sharia. My interviews highlight that the government does so in order to win the support of men. As a result, state authorities that are supposed to be in charge of state law are actively undermining it and prefer to rely on custom and religion.

Evidence to support my argument comes from both qualitative and quantitative data gathered during seven months of fieldwork in Chechnya. The data include observations of dispute resolution practices, over one hundred semi-structured interviews with legal authorities, religious and traditional leaders, an original survey of Chechnya’s population, and a novel dataset of all civil and criminal cases heard in state courts in Chechnya in the post-war period. I also conduct a comparative analysis of Chechnya and neighboring Ingushetia, a republic that has a very similar constellation of three legal orders but did not suffer from armed conflict, and therefore serves as a useful comparison.



Trial by Fire: a Natural Disaster’s Impact on Support for the Authorities in Rural Russia,” World Politics, 2014, volume 66, issue 04, pp. 641-668 (with Anton Sobolev, Irina Soboleva and Boris Sokolov).

Abstract: We explore the microfoundations of political support under a nondemocratic regime by investigating the impact of a natural disaster on attitudes toward the government. The research exploits the enormous wildfires that occurred in rural Russia during the summer of 2010 as a natural experiment. We test the effects of fires with a survey of almost eight hundred respondents in seventy randomly selected villages. The study finds that in the burned villages there is higher support for the government at all levels. Most counterintuitively, the rise of support for authorities cannot be fully explained by the generous governmental aid. We interpret the results by the demonstration effect of the government’s performance.

Brother or Burden? An Experiment on Reducing Prejudice Toward Syrian Refugees in Turkey ,” Political Science Research and Methods, 2017, volume 5, issue 2, pp. 201-219  (with Kunaal Sharma).

Abstract: Can the emphasis on shared religion reduce out-group prejudice? To explore this question, we conducted a survey experiment on the effect of religious primes on Turkish citizens’ attitudes and behavior toward Syrian refugees in Istanbul and Gaziantep. We used a factorial design to compare the independent and interactive effects of primes emphasizing refugees’ Sunni or Muslim identity and a factual statement on the economic cost of the refugees. We find that religious primes increase respondents’ level of donations to a charity supporting Syrian refugees and certain attitudinal measures of support for the refugees. We also uncovered a differential impact among the Sunni and Muslim primes and found that the statement of economic cost removed the pro-refugee effect of religious primes.

The Economic Consequences of Political Alienation: Ethnic Minority Status and Investment Behavior in a Post-Conflict Society (with Vera Mironova).” World Development, Volume 106, June 2018, Pages 27-39

Abstract: How does minority status influence individual investment and savings decisions in a post-conflict society? We argue that minority status is associated with lower trust in third-party institutions controlled by an ethnic out-group, and, as a result, leads to a preference for certain earnings over potentially risky investments. We test this hypothesis with multiple sources of evidence from Bosnia and Herzegovina. First, we experimentally elicit investment behavior among members of the same ethnic group on two sides of the boundary that makes some individuals majorities and others minorities. Second, we induce minority status in the lab. Analyses across the studies show that both natural and induced minority statuses lead to lower levels of investment. We provide ecological validity to the experimental results with the analysis of a large, representative household survey and an original survey of businessmen. The results have large implications for understanding of inter-ethnic relations and the sense of security in development.


In Progress


Surveying in Insecure Environments: A Case Study of Using Local Interviewers in Chechnya 

R&R at Journal of Survey Statistics and Methodology 

Abstract: How can one conduct survey research in authoritarian countries and conflict-ridden societies? In this article, I discuss possible effects from using local interviewers to survey their own communities. This article is informed by a study of legal preferences in post-war Chechnya. The use of local interviewers ensured higher respondent participation but raised an issue regarding the impact of personal relationships between interviewers and respondents on survey results. I investigate how the presence of a personal relationship between an interviewer and a respondent influences response rate, answers to the sensitive questions, and legal preferences (the substantive outcomes of the prior study). I find that the presence of a personal relationship with the interviewer increased the likelihood of participation in the survey and decreased ideological response style for the legal vignettes. However, it increased non-response to sensitive questions related to wartime experiences. I explore the advantages and drawbacks of using local interviewers by combining quantitative analysis of the survey results and qualitative analysis of interviewers’ field notes.


Inter-Ethnic Cartels: How Ethnic Diversity May Decrease Electoral Competition in the Shadow of Violence 

Abstract: How does ethnic diversity affect electoral competition? In contrast to conventional scholarly wisdom, I argue that diversity might reduce electoral competitiveness. I build a theory of inter-ethnic cartels that explains how ethnic diversity can facilitate collusion among elites. The theory suggests that elites avoid competition in ethnically mixed constituencies because they are afraid that such competition will turn into inter-ethnic violence. I support my argument with the quantitative analysis of original village-level data from Dagestan, one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world. I further explore the mechanisms that link ethnic diversity with lower electoral competition using qualitative analysis based on semi-structured interviews and case studies.


Disaggregating Formal and Informal Institutions: Experimental Evidence from Chechnya 

Abstract: How do people choose among multiple alternative legal orders? When is state law preferred to orders rooted in tradition and religion? This study contrasts two approaches towards legal choice – ideological and instrumental – and tests them in Chechnya, where Russian state law co-exists with Sharia and customary law. The study is based on semi-structured interviews and a survey of Chechnya’s population with an experiment embedded in it. The study finds that when respondents were asked to choose among legal orders in the abstract, ideological choices and support for Sharia prevail. In contrast, when respondents were provided with particular dispute resolution outcomes and when legal orders were personified in legal authorities, choices become less ideological. Focus on resolution outcomes decreased support for state law, and focus on authorities increased it. The latter result is explained by the state’s advantage in enforcement and the adoption of religious and customary norms by state officials.