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Research in Progress

Book Project

Civilian Agency & Collective Action in the Colombian Civil War
Refusing to Cooperate with Armed Groups

My book deals with the collective roles that civilians come to play in the context of civil war. Concretely, it documents and analyzes a little-studied pattern of civilian agency: civilian noncooperation with armed groups. It develops a theory that specifies where and when civilians are more likely to organize themselves to refuse non-violently to cooperate with armed organizations.  Where territorial control is shifting, where violence against civilians has recently spiked, and where targeting is perceived as unavoidable, a desire for noncooperation is likely to evolve. However, this desire is not enough for us to observe organized noncooperation. Campaigns of noncooperation are likely to emerge when desire meets capacity for collective action. Localities with a prior history of mobilization and/or with the support of external actors are more likely to count on the leadership and the associational space needed for organizing action.  Civilian noncooperation is proposed both as a strategy of community self-protection and a form of contentious politics. In this sense, I bridge scholarship on the micro-dynamics of civil war, civil resistance, social movements/collective action and civilian protection. The analysis is embedded in a three-stage research design that combines within-case analysis, cross-case structured and focused comparisons, and paired comparisons of positive and control observations. The empirical data, both qualitative and quantitative, was gathered during two separate waves of field research in multiple warzones in the Colombian civil war using different techniques of data collection.  The goal of this book is accomplished to the extent that it succeeds in the art of combining parsimonious theorization of an outcome with the smells and sounds of the complex processes that give life to that outcome. In other words, providing sensitive simplification and empirically falsifiable claims is as important as offering a realistic and fair account of the lives of the communities I lived and worked with over the past years. Ultimately, it is for the reader to judge.

Ongoing Projects

The Political Legacies of Wartime Resistance

How Local Communities in Italy Keep Anti-fascist Sentiments Alive

with Simone Cremaschi, Bocconi University

Partially funded by UNU-WIDER and ERC


Can past wartime experiences affect political behavior beyond those who directly experienced them? We argue that local experiences of armed resistance leave political legacies that can be translated into contemporary political action via a community-based process of intergenerational transmission consisting of three core activities -- memorialization, localization, and mobilization -- and put forward by memory entrepreneurs. We empirically substantiate this argument in Italy, which experienced an intense armed resistance movement against Nazi-Fascist forces in the 1940s. We combine statistical analysis of original data across Italian municipalities and within-case analysis of a purposively selected locality to show how the past impacts the present via the preservation and activation of collective memories. This study improves our understanding of the processes of long-term transmission, emphasizes armed resistance as a critical source of war's long-term political legacies, and explores its political effects beyond electoral and party politics.

Brazil's Fight Against Drug Syndicates
Assessing Support for conditional security policies 

with Davide Morisi, University of Southern Denmark

Partially funded by John Fell Fund; Latin American Center, Oxford University; Leiden University


Since Brazil's transition to democracy in the mid-1980s, drug-related violence has been a central threat to citizens' security, especially in the hundreds of favelas (slums) in the country's main cities. In an effort to fight drug syndicates controlling large portions of these cities, for over 30 years state governments have privileged an "iron-fist" approach based on unconditional crackdowns on criminal organizations. This approach has had dramatic human consequences – e.g., between 2003 and 2017 Rio's military police killed over 13,000 civilians (Magaloni et al. 2018) – and has proved largely unsuccessful in both curbing the drug trade and preventing violence. Contrary to this approach, recent research and policy experiments in US cities, show that conditional policies – i.e., state repression conditional on criminal groups' behavior – are likely to be more effective in bringing citizen security (e.g., Lessing 2018). Yet, despite their potential effectiveness, these policies have been rarely implemented. Allegedly, this is the case because, unlike unconditional repression, conditional policies face strong “acceptability constraints” among the general public, making them politically “toxic” for politicians. By means of fieldwork, surveys, and experiments in various Brazilian cities – including Sāo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country's two major cities –, we empirically examine: (i) whether it is the case that Brazilians are not willing to support conditional policies to combat crime; and, (i) under what conditions Brazilians are more likely to move away from support for “iron first” approaches and give conditionality a chance.

"Putting Yourself in Their Shoes” 
Fostering Positive Attitudes Towards Venezuelan Migrants  in Ecuador

with Diana Davila Gordillo, Lake Forest College;  Leila Demarest, Leiden University; Katharina Natter, Leiden University; Paolo Moncagatta, Universidad San Francisco de Quito

Partially funded by EGAP & Leiden University

Does “putting yourself in the migrant’s shoes” elicit more positive attitudes toward migration? Can perspective-taking – the active consideration of others’ mental states and subjective experiences (Todd and Galinsky 2014) – help undermine negative stereotypes and prejudice against migrants? We explore these questions in Ecuador, the third-largest receiver of Venezuelans in the current migration crisis. Venezuelans in Ecuador, like in most other Latin American countries, have been subject to widespread xenophobia, discrimination, and even criminalization. Through a survey of final-year secondary school students (total sample size 1500), we experimentally assess the effect of a light touch perspective-taking intervention on attitudes towards immigrants and immigration policy.

Forging an Anti-Mafia Culture
Observational and Experimental Evidence from Italy

with Andrea Ruggeri

Partially funded by Leiden University Fund (LUF) grant


Mafia organizations continue to thrive. The estimated 2020 revenue of the ‘Ndrangheta in southern Italy was $55 billion, while the year before Mexican cartels took between $19 and $29 billion from drug sales in the US. The consequences for ordinary civilians are devastating. Hundreds of local shop owners pay large sums of extortion money, youths are regularly recruited and hired as hitmen, and thousands of innocent civilians get killed in mafia wars across the world.


Many factors explain mafia success – social and cultural acceptance is one of them. At its core, the mafia is an institution that exploits the needs of communities that assent and even welcome its presence and activities (Falcone and Padovani 1991; Gambetta 1993). This implies that an anti-mafia culture could profoundly weaken these organizations’ presence and influence. Yet, what ordinary people think of mafia organizations and the impact of anti-mafia campaigns have received scant attention in the scholarly literature.


While scholars have closely researched mafia organizations, much of this work has focused on how they emerge and operate (Betancourt and García 1994; Chu 2015; Gambetta 1993; Hill 2006; Reuter 1983; Varese 2001). Neglecting public attitudes towards the mafia is problematic, as many existing theories on mafia emergence and operation make implicit and explicit assumptions about how the public perceives and responds to these organizations and indirectly suggest that mafia organizations depend on societal support or acquiescence.


What do people think of mafia organizations operating in their territories? How aware are they of its ongoing persistence and nefarious effects? Can awareness of the human and social costs of mafia shape what people think of the mafia? How much do people know about grassroots anti-mafia initiatives? Can these initiatives sway people's attitudes?


This project uses interviews, surveys and experimental methods to systematically explore public attitudes towards the mafia in Italy, a country deeply affected by various mafia organizations since its unification in 1861. Its overarching aim is to identify what works best when it comes to forging an anti-mafia culture.


Institute of Political Science

Leiden University
Turfmarkt 99

2511 DP The Hague
Room  6.06

+31 70 800 3879

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