Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, International Studies, University of California / San Francisco

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Political Science, University of Wisconsin / Madison
Claiming Land: Institutions, Narratives, and Political Violence in Kenya

The central question of this dissertation asks: Why has there been such significant variation in the occurrence and forms of political violence across Kenya since the onset of multiparty elections? Recent explanations of political violence focus on elections, state strength, ethnic identity, and the feasibility of rebellion. By contrast, I suggest that variation in land tenure institutions is a crucial yet overlooked factor in shaping the occurrence and dynamics of political violence. Land institutions matter because they shape the politics of access, claim-making, and election-time patronage and coercion. The project focuses on the formation of contentious claims to land, and how these claims or grievances can be mobilized by elites into various forms of political violence. Two specific questions guide the research. First, there is considerable variation in the types of land tenure relationships in Kenya—across geographic regions, between different ethnic groups, and within communities. Why do these diverse land tenure relationships provoke contentious land claims in some cases, while in many others, tenure relationships remain uncontested? Secondly, when and how do contentious claims to land become a mobilizing tool for political violence? The dissertation uses a five-stage research design based on a micro-comparative study of different communities across Kenya, each displaying variation in land tenure strength, land claims (narratives), and different histories of political violence. It also includes a national-level quantitative study comparing the percent of titled land and the patterns of political violence at the district-level in each election-year.