My research is motivated by a desire to be both policy-relevant and theoretically driven. My work draws on my interests in the politics of hunger and food security, economic and social rights, and ethics.
My book Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger (Cornell University Press, 2020) focuses on international anti-hunger advocacy and the challenges activists face when constructing campaigns around complex and chronic problems like hunger. You can access a free "sampler" of the introduction chapter, provided by the publisher, by clicking the link at the bottom of this page. Who is to blame for chronic hunger? What causes the problem? How can it best be solved? Relying on in-depth interviews as well as surveys with senior and executive staff at top international anti-hunger organizations (including Oxfam, ActionAid, CARE, Save the Children, Amnesty International, FIAN, among others), I document the diverse targets and proposed solutions of contemporary anti-hunger advocacy. Arguing that dominant models in the literature are unable to explain the fragmented activism around the human right to food, I provide an alternative model of transnational activism which I call the “buckshot model,” and examine the causes and consequences of the diffusion of blame on activist efforts in this important issue area.
How is it possible that international anti-hunger campaigns behave so differently from campaigns already documented in the literature? Central to explaining activist behavior in this issue space is understanding the normative environment in which activists are working. Although scholars often assume that all human rights codified in law have been translated into norms, I argue that there is no norm around the right to food and examine implications for advocacy efforts when no norm is present. The hunger case encourages scholars to consider more carefully the difference between shared moral principles (i.e. “people ought not be hungry”) and norms (i.e. “good governments ought to ensure their people have enough food to eat”). This book offers readers an expanded conceptual toolkit to understand the social and moral forces at play in human rights advocacy.
I am currently working on several additional projects, including a new project on ethics and ration composition in food assistance, which examines how authorities decide what constitutes a “good enough” ration for different communities in need and how the language of science and nutrition, social understandings of the “appropriate” diet, and the role of stereotyping and racism has affected and continues to affect important decision-making on what constitutes an “appropriate” ration for a given community. Research on contemporary rations began during 2017-2018 when I worked full-time with the Office of Food for Peace as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow. Historical work began in the summer of 2019 at the U.S. National Archives and has continued during my Kluge fellowship with the Library of Congress in 2021. Additionally, together with co-authors Dina Bishara (Cornell) and Chantal Berman (Georgetown), I recently published an article in World Development on social understandings of state obligation for the economic and social rights to food and health care in Tunisia, based off of a nationally representative survey we conducted in Tunisia in 2017. A second, related article on retrospective understandings of socioeconomic grievances in Tunisia is forthcoming in Acta Politica. I have conducted archival work on the construction of hunger as a global problem at the UN FAO archives in Rome, the UK National Archives and the US National Archives. Continuing my interest in ethics and social theory, I published an article ("What isn't a norm?") in International Studies Review examining the difference between norms, moral principles, supererogatory standards, and law and how conceptual slippage between these concepts can hinder our ability to make sense of economic and social rights in IR. An earlier version of this paper was awarded the Best Faculty Paper Award 2018 for the International Law section of the International Studies Association.
I am also working on a new book project (Aspiration in World Politics, under advance contract with Cornell University Press) with Martha Finnemore (GWU) on the role of aspiration in climate politics and the Sustainable Development Goals, which builds off of our article recently published in International Studies Quarterly). This paper recently was awarded a 2021 Best Paper award for the International Theory section of the International Studies Association.
Together with co-PIs Carolyn Holmes, Meg Guliford, and Mary Anne Mendoza, I have organized a series of research workshops and panels, bringing over 80 scholars together across the subfields to examine the role of descriptive research in political science. This initiative is generously funded by $35,000 in grant funding from the Centennial Center of APSA . We have been invited to co-edit a journal special issue on the topic, and have a forthcoming article in P.S. Political Science & Politics sharing insights developed in these workshops.
It is important to me that my research is useful both within the academy and in practitioner and policy communities. During the 2017-2018 year I worked full time in the Office of Food for Peace (FFP) at USAID as a gender and youth fellow on the food security technical team. In this capacity, I assisted with food security technical team visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, and Djibouti among other visits. As a AAAS fellow, I worked to bridge the gap between academic and policy work by contributing to USAID projects including conducting focus groups with refugee populations and food aid recipients during the fellowship year. In the course of the fellowship I was also a member of the Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) working group in the Administrator's Action Alliance for Preventing Sexual Misconduct (AAPSM) which was tasked with improving USAID's policies to prevent the sexual exploitation and abuse of aid recipients by humanitarian aid workers and contractors. I was recently invited to serve as Policy Advisor for food security concerns in the Office of Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State, a position I expect to begin in January 2024, while on leave from UMB.
Please see my C.V. for additional information on grants, fellowships, and public engagement as they relate to my research.