Collaborative Research: Sub-national Analysis of Repression Project

Research project


Overview: While levels of state repression and the frequency, severity, and targets of human rights abuses vary spatially within states, most previous studies of these topics have only considered repression in the aggregate. This is problematic because it ignores variation in institutional structures and decision-making processes within countries. We aim to explain this subnational variation of repression within states. In particular, we focus on three major factors: antigovernment activity, government decentralization, and local state capacity. When a threat is posed to the government via organized nonviolent or violent dissent, we argue that the repressive response will be greatest in sub-national units that are both part of highly decentralized and possess low levels of local state capacity. Such threats will have the weakest effect on local repression when local state capacity is rather high, government power is highly centralized, and the sub-national unit itself is located near the national capital. Overall, we believe our theoretical framework provides a reasonable foundation upon which future studies of the subnational occurrence of repression can be built. In order to test this explanation, we propose developing a global dataset that captures violations of physical integrity rights by state agents at the level of the sub-national unit. While cross-national research on state repression has been very useful in developing an understanding of general patterns of global human rights abuse, this high level of spatial aggregation inherent in much of the theory building in this area and explicitly incorporated into most existing datasets overlooks important subnational patterns of human rights violations. For this project, we rely on a mix of expert coding, theoretically informed measurement models, and cutting-edge computational techniques, which are capable of coding and then linking together the diverse information drawn from a rich set of primary source documents. Using this information, we generate standards-based measures for each of several specifics types of physical integrity violations (arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial execution) as well as a combined indicator for these abuses for each subnational administrative unit within a state. This level of analysis brings us closer to the level at which most citizens encounter the governments legal, political, and bureaucratic authority. We present three different coding schemes based on existing cross-national data with which scholars will already be familiar. Intellectual Merit: This dataset will allow researchers to more precisely examine the dynamics of repression and standards of repression than ever before. Particularly, it is critical to know the locations, targets, and tactics of state repression at a given point in time and space. Spatial disaggregation of state repression allows researchers to ask new questions and improve our understanding of the factors that motivate repression as well what policies can effectively ameliorate it. Through this project, we investigate how local variations in anti-government activity, state capacity and governance structures influence spatial patterns in state repression. Recent data innovations permit us to examine these factors in greater detail, but subnational repression data is thus far largely unavailable; our project will provide a useful resource for many researchers interested in understanding these questions. Broader Impact: In addition to allowing theoretical and empirical advances in research on repression, we also aim to provide a public good to the discipline. While our proposal outlines several lines of research for which this data could be useful, there are undoubtedly more. Our data will be publicly available, from three different measures of repression, as well as the information that records the allegations of abuse. This will allow future researchers to generate their own coding schemes based on our raw data in ways that we cannot currently anticipate in order to answer questions that arise in the future. We believe that by focusing on transparency throughout our research endeavor, scholars tackling projects in the future will be able to utilize our research, data and information to generate a better understanding of human rights.
Effective start/end date10/1/169/30/18


human rights
human rights violation
decision-making process