My work is characterized by interests in the political economy of development with an empirical focus on postcommunist Eurasia and Russia and the application of causal identification methods. For my book-length dissertation project, I am investigating the emergence and persistence of the forced labor system in the late Russian Empire and U.S.S.R., and its effects in their successor states. My individual and collaborative research agendas investigate fiscal redistribution, sanction effects, inclusive governance, public administration and accountability reforms, and citizen engagement in authoritarian spaces. In this research statement, I provide an overview of my research agenda as organized across two major themes.
1. The Political Economy of Development
In this research agenda, I leverage natural experiments in recent historical and contemporary settings to study variation in the political economy of development. I achieve this through two major works in progress.
In my book-length dissertation project I examine the institutionalization of forced labor and its long-run effects in Eurasian authoritarian spaces between the 1870s to 2000s. This extensive period captures different political regimes: the Russian Empire, U.S.S.R., and periods in post-communist transition. First, I reconstruct the mechanisms of adoption and persistence of forced labor in the region as a response to labor reorientation from agriculture to industrialization in the Russian heartland following the emancipation of serfs, global trade shocks that spurred demand for labor-intensive crops, and the Soviet economic challenges that incentivized labor extraction while maintaining the centrality of Russian core-centered development. Second, I design a natural experiment by operationalizing exogenous variation in soil suitability to grow labor-intensive and politically salient crops to estimate the causal effects of forced labor. I analyze how violent and extractive labor policies helped produce four major social legacy claims of the Soviet Union: weakened patriarchal norms, inter-ethnic cohesion, mass public goods provision, and the perception of the communist past.
My book project makes three strands of contributions. First, this project contributes a pioneering micro-level dataset on the adoption and persistence of forced labor across a large number of primary sampling units over a large geographic space in Eurasia, which is demographically, socially, and culturally diverse. While granulated data strengthens the internal validity of my causal claims, its outcomes across religiously, politically, economically, and socially diverse spaces reinforce external validity. Second, this study will contribute novel theoretical frameworks that explain (1) how some of the signature Soviet-era social outcomes were established through forced socialization and political repression in agriculture, even though significantly falling short of broad inclusion, and (2) how short-term authoritarian economic rationale for forced labor mutated into an instrument of political violence akin to labor extraction in market economies much despised by the Soviet propaganda. These frameworks find evidence through rigorous archival research. Moreover, I test my theory by sourcing longitudinal data on agricultural output and agronomic soil qualities from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and Russian archives for nearly 100 years, 30,000 household-level survey responses from the Life in Transition Survey, and an original dataset on local public administrators (n=5,000) and households (n=1,200) in Uzbekistan.
Third, in addition to contributing to a growing body of literature on the political economy of development and violence, my research makes a stronger case for analyzing countries and semi-autonomous provinces within the Soviet Union as within-case units drawing rationale from settler colony research approaches previously applied on Western European colonies, thus bringing attention to overlooked instances. The outcomes of my book project would be relevant to literature on the comparative political economy of development, state-sponsored political violence, gender politics in authoritarian regimes, and postcommunist and authoritarian studies.
My fieldwork in 2021-2023 included extensive and immersive research in multiple archives, fielding original surveys, analyzing retrospective quantitative data, and conducting qualitative research. I continue working on my book project at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, in 2023-2024.
In a collaborative research paper with Jennifer Brick-Murtazashvili (“Does Sanctions Shock Affect Public Goods Provision by Female Leaders in Development Economies”), we operationalize a unique household-level survey from Tajikistan in 2013 and 2016. While the effects of a functioning foreign labor market and resultant remittances on the labor migrants’ places of origin are well studied, there is a lack of understanding of the immediate effects when such markets experience sanction shocks. Using the Crimean Annexation shock in 2014, we causally identify how the economic crisis stemming from sanctions in Russia forced the return of primarily male labor migrants and closed off the arrival of many more. We test how sanction-induced return from and limited labor migration to Russia affect local governance perceptions. Our research has important implications for understanding the long-term political effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine and punitive sanctions on Russia for states and societies with close economic ties to Russia.
2. Political Accountability in Non-Democratic Regimes
As a comparative political economy scholar, I plan to inform the present research with my works in historical political economy. To this account, I co-founded and co-coordinate the Local Economic and Administrative Performance (LEAP) Research Project with Temirlan Moldogaziev (Indiana University – Bloomington) and Cheol Liu (Korea Development Institute).
Leveraging my pro-bono research appointment at Uzbekistan's Ministry of Economy and Finance as an independent Research Associate, I helped found a research program with primary field access in Uzbekistan. The LEAP project secured $75,000 in international seed grant from the Korea Development Institute (for 2022-2024). Together with young scholars from four different research institutions, we study public administration reforms, poverty reduction policies, participatory budgeting, and policymaking in Central Asia – the areas most affected by extractive institutions in the past. We are the first social science research team to gain field access to Uzbekistan for a steady pipeline of theoretically well-grounded, empirically rich, and substantially useful research output.
Two of our projects are in progress. In our first paper, we investigate the Citizens’ Initiative Open Budget policy – a unique application of participatory budgeting as a platform for limited substantial representation, fiscal redistribution, and policy signaling in authoritarian settings. In the second paper, we field a pioneering local administrative workforce survey to capture Uzbekistan’s China-inspired top-down developmental policy through central bureaucratic conscription (of 9,000 plus administrators) to measure their public service motivation and accountability performance.
Finally, in my research paper project, I deploy a survey experiment to test if empathetic and relatable informational perspective-taking can affect redistribution in favor of largely under-represented disabled people in post-Soviet Eurasia. I theorize that due to concealing data on social needs and often politically rigged assignment of state-guaranteed social benefits for vulnerable groups (unemployed, disabled, single parents, or large families), many civilians do not realize the extent to which they interact with their fellow citizens in need and breadth of their impact on them. In my pilot survey, I find that when people are primed to recognize and then reflect on the potential breadth of incidence of commonly accepted disability, they are able to empathize with disabled people and support costly redistributive policies favoring them. This research is particularly useful since, in authoritarian environments, citizens lack a voice in electoral institutions. They cannot directly affect legislation through widely televised or distributed platforms and tools, such as parliamentary hearings. Nevertheless, citizens can leverage media accountability and effectively petition for policy changes if they are mobilized through cost-efficient and empathetically informative interventions.