What are the determinants of political order in weakly institutionalized contexts?

I examine this question via four subtopics:

  1. The determinants of intercommunal order and violence
  2. The organization of mafias and their regulation by political actors
  3. The provision of public goods in ethnically diverse contexts
  4. The sustainability of political order in postwar societies

I explore these topics in Southeast Asia, primarily in Indonesia and the Philippines, through both qualitative and quantitative methods.


The Institutional Origins of Communal Violence: Indonesia’s Transition from Authoritarian Rule

My first book project examined the determinants of communal violence during transitions from authoritarian rule. This project resulted in the publication of my book entitled The Institutional Origins of Communal Violence: Indonesia’s Transition from Authoritarian Rule (Cambridge University Press 2014) and a number of related articles.

Based on insights from my fieldwork in Indonesia, I propose a novel theory that intercommunal order obtains when either the state has the capacity to ensure local security or communities develop informal institutions of security in response to weak formal institutions. I argue that repressive intervention by security forces during the authoritarian periods render some communities dependent on the state to maintain intercommunal security, whereas communities with a more tenuous exposure to the state develop their own informal institutions to maintain security. Transitions from authoritarian rule are prone to spikes in communal violence because communities that are accustomed to the state providing intercommunal security are suddenly confronted with a more constrained state but without the informal security institutions that allow them to manage security in the absence of the state. Order is reestablished as local communities with these mismatches in formal and informal institutions adapt their informal institutions to the more constrained state. I test the theory using data from approximately 50,000 villages from the Indonesian Village Census (PODES) and 200 million individuals from the Indonesian Population Census.

Political Order after War: Postwar Governance and Violence in Aceh, Indonesia and the Southern Philippines

In my second ongoing book project, I ask: Why do some peace agreements between insurgencies and governments put an end to violence, while others do not? From 1975 to 2011, 196 peace agreements have been concluded (UCDP 2012). Of these, roughly one third have eventually led to the resumption of fighting by either the original warring parties or disgruntled splinter groups. The stability of peace agreements is thought to be contingent on the credibility of such commitments, either via the support of external actors or internally in which the conditions for sustained peace are self-enforcing. Building on the latter tradition, I examine the effect of organizational cohesion on the sustainability of peace agreements, arguing that more cohesive organizations are more effective in distributing postwar rents, while deterring splinter groups.

I have developed this argument through the study of the Free Aceh Movement (known as GAM or Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), which I have followed through intensive fieldwork since 2006 in the months following the August 2005 peace agreement that ended three decades of war. Through over twelve months of fieldwork, I have examined GAM’s wartime and postwar organization. In addition, with Paddy Barron (Asia Foundation), Macartan Humphreys (Columbia University), Laura Paler (University of Pittsburg), and Jeremy Weinstein (Stanford University), I have fielded a representative survey (known as the Aceh Reintegration and Livelihoods Survey or ARLS) of 1,075 ex-combatants and 3,802 civilians. Using the ARLS survey, I have examined how organizational cohesion is associated with a range of postwar outcomes including rent distribution and security. In addition, I have conducted fieldwork in the Southern Philippines to understand why the peace agreements of the Moro movements of the Southern Philippines (MNLF and MILF, among others) have been more fraught than in Aceh.

Ethnic Segregation and Public Goods in Indonesia

In this project, Krislert Samphantharak, Kai Ostwald, and I examine the relationship between the spatial distribution of ethnic groups and public goods provision. We propose a novel theory that claims that ethnic segregation can work to increase the provision of public goods because it allows communities to use disparities in the level of public goods in other communities in the same administrative area as leverage points with which to advocate for more public goods for themselves. We find evidence for the theory using a dataset of 50,576 villages in Indonesia, which is the largest empirical analysis of ethnicity and public goods (to our knowledge).

The Organization and Regulation of Protection Gangs by Political Actors

How do gangs organize themselves and what relations emerge between gangs and political actors in weakly institutionalized settings? Through interviews with gang bosses and rank-and-file members, I characterize the industrial organization of protection gangs in Indonesia. I show that a mercantilistic relationship between politicians and mafiosi emerge in which politicians selectively relax law enforcement in exchange for rents or in-kind services. During democratization, the number of gangs proliferates as the number of parties and politicians with influence over law enforcement increases.

In related work, Diana Kim (Georgetown University) and I examine how differences in regulatory regimes across borders in various contexts of Southeast Asia cause state agents and criminal organizations to vie for rents in the production or transportation of illegal or semi-illegal commodities. We seek to characterize the conditions under which state actors alternately collude or compete with criminal organizations.

Security Sector Reform: Reintegration of Former Insurgents of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Philippines

In this project, Ben Oppenheim (UC Berkeley), Cyrus Samii (NYU), Peter Vining (NYU), and I examine whether the integration of former insurgents into the military attenuates their commitment to separatist beliefs and has impacts on the organizational cohesion of units into which they have integrated. We collected survey data of both former MNLF and non-MNLF soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Funded by Asian Development Bank, Innovations for Poverty Action, and Folke Bernadotte Academy (Government of Sweden).


Google Scholar Profile


The Institutional Origins of Communal Violence: Indonesia’s Transition from Authoritarian Rule. Cambridge University Press 2014

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“Political Development and the Fragmentation of Protection Markets: Politically Affiliated Gangs in Indonesia” Journal of Conflict Resolution. Online First (2016).

“The Motivations and Outcomes of Indonesia’s Decentralization Experiment.” (with Kai Ostwald and Krislert Samphantharak) Journal of Southeast Asian Economies 2016.

“The Institutional Basis of Intercommunal Order: Evidence from Indonesia’s Democratic Transition.” American Journal of Political Science 2013. Replication data here.

“Explaining Ethnic Violence in Indonesia: Demilitarizing Domestic Security.” Journal of East Asian Studies 8 (2008), 451-472.

Republished as “Explaining Ethnic Violence in Indonesia: Demilitarizing Domestic Security” in Varshney, Ashutosh (ed.), Collective Violence in Indonesia, New York: Lynne Rienner Publishers (2010), 99-118.

Working Papers

Article Manuscript (With Krislert Samphantharak and Kai Ostwald) : “How Ethnic Segregation Affects Public Goods Provision: Evidence from Indonesia.” (Revise and Resubmit at American Political Science Review). Available at:

Article Manuscript, “When do Communities Provide Assistance to Ex-Combatants? Wartime Violence and Postwar Support in Aceh, Indonesia” (Preparing for submission)

Article Manuscript, “Ex-Combatant Networks and Peacetime Benefits: Explaining Patronage in Postwar Aceh, Indonesia”

Policy Reports

“Understanding the Livelihoods of Former Insurgents: Aceh, Indonesia.” Indonesian Social Development Papers 17. Jakarta: World Bank (2011).

“Mobilizing for Violence: The Escalation and Limitation of Identity Conflicts.” Indonesian Social Development Papers 3. Jakarta: World Bank (2004)