Thesis of the month

A selection of recently defended Ph.D. theses

Every year, about 30 Ph.D. theses are defended in the SPS Department. In order to illustrate the range of topics, the department presents a selection of theses chosen among those that are both of very high quality (as certified by the examiners’ reports) and whose findings may be of interest to a wider public. 


Eleonora Milazzo on Interstate solidarity and responsibility shirking in refugee protection. A normative approach to justice among EU member states

Milazzo_PhotoWhat do European Union (EU) member states owe each other in the field of refugee protection? How should we understand the references and appeals to solidarity among them with respect to the management of asylum flows? These questions have become increasingly relevant since the 2015 European response to inflows of asylum seekers. This is not only because solidarity is a difficult concept to grapple with, but also – and perhaps more importantly – because EU member states have repeatedly failed to manage asylum flows in a fair way. Normative political theory does not provide satisfactory tools to tackle the theoretical and political facets of this problem... View more

Eleonora Milazzo defended her thesis at the EUI in January 2021. The first paper based on her Ph.D. research has recently appeared in Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric. Her research focuses on EU political theory and the ethics of refugee protection. She is also interested in a wide range of normative and policy issues surrounding regional migration governance, EU integration, and global governance... View more

Jonas Driedger on David and Goliath: Power Politics and Military Conflict in the Backyards of Major States

Driedger 150x cropped

War and military conflict between states have decisively shaped modern history. This is particularly the case for so-called unequal neighbors, where states with globally preponderant economic and military strength – great powers – clash with vastly weaker states in their neighborhood. For example, the proximate cause of the Second World War was the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Conflict between unequal neighbors remains a significant threat for human security, economic welfare, and strategic stability across the globe. For instance, experts, diplomats, and politicians regularly warn that conflict could escalate between China and its various small neighbors, and that such a conflict could drag the United States into the unfolding confrontation... View more

Jonas J. Driedger is a political scientist from Germany, specializing in international security cooperation, deterrence, the causes of armed conflict, and international security policy, especially of NATO, the EU, Germany, and Russia. He defended his thesis in December 2020, while also being a DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow for Transatlantic Security Cooperation at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (Johns Hopkins University) in Washington DC. He was an Alfa Fellow and Visiting Researcher at the Moscow Higher School of Economics... View more

Carlos J. Gil Hernández on Cracking Meritocracy from the Starting Gate: Social Inequality in Skill Formation and School Choice

Carlos Hernandez150In contemporary liberal democracies, a college education is the best bet to climb up the social ladder for working-class families. However, inequalities by parental socioeconomic status in college enrolment remained at worryingly high levels in the last decades. Carlos’s thesis aims at answering a key unresolved question in sociological research: why are social inequalities in schooling so “sticky” over generations? To answer this question, Carlos’s thesis explores how wealthy families avoid their children falling down the social ladder from early in life. Its core argument is that negative traits for skill formation and learning—low birth weight and IQ—are less or not detrimental at all for well-off children when compared to disadvantaged peers. Upper-class parents follow compensatory strategies—educational investments and aspirations—to reproduce their status in a rigged social contest... View more

Carlos J. Gil Hernández defended his thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in October 2020. Carlos carries out theoretically-driven empirical research with interdisciplinary interests in skill formation, intergenerational social mobility and social policy. He is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Trento, where he works in the Project “INEQUALITREES-A Novel Look at Socio-Economic Inequalities using Machine Learning Techniques... View more

Anna Kandyla on The Emperor’s New Clothes? Assessing the Democratic Value of the European Citizens’ Initiative

Kandyla_150The European Union (EU) has long been accused of suffering from a democratic deficit. One of the reforms introduced with a view to helping tackle this deficit is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an instrument which makes it possible for citizens to present legislative proposals to the European Commission, provided that they have collected one million signatures from at least one quarter of Member States. Ever since the ECI was introduced in the Treaty of Lisbon, it has been accompanied by buoyant democratic rhetoric. But, does the ECI indeed help enhance democracy in the EU?.... View more

Anna-Angela Kandyla defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in September 2020. Her research interests focus on political participation, social movements, democratic innovations and EU governance... View more 

Joseph Ganderson on Politics by Association. Party Competition and Post-Crisis Bank Structural Reform in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany

GandersonWhen policies fail and a crisis strikes, politicians need to diagnose what went wrong and propose fixes. However, even when faced with the same problem at the same time, policymakers in different countries can reach different conclusions about what to do next. The financial crisis of 2008 presented multiple countries with the same problem: large banks that were ‘too big to fail’ needed public bailouts to prevent economic contagion and collapse after Lehman Brothers went under. Among the set of potential solutions, the most radical option was structural banking regulations: breaking up the largest firms by preventing them from combining traditional commercial banking with apparently riskier, if more lucrative investment banking. This step was universally opposed by these large banks, who argued it threatened their competitiveness and capacity to fund the real economy. However... View more

Joseph Ganderson completed his thesis under the supervision of Prof. Pepper Culpepper and defended it in September 2020. He is a researcher at the European Institute, London School of Economics, where he works on the ERC-funded project SOLID (Sovereignty, Solidarity and Identity in the EU Post 2008). Here, his primary focus is on Brexit... View more

Sphend Kursani on Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the Post-1945 International Order

Sphend KursaniWhy is it that some contested states survive and others do not? Contested states are entities that exhibit strong elements of empirical statehood, but lack universal international recognition from the existing society of states. An intriguing aspect about contested states is that when they emerge, they undermine the authority and sovereign claims of the internationally recognized states that try to exert control over them. But when they continue to survive and persist, they additionally show a stubborn capability to challenge the broad and long-held consensus on the protection of borders and territorial integrity of the existing members of the society of states out of which contested states emerge... View more

Shpend defended his Ph.D. dissertation on “Contested States: The Struggle for Survival and Recognition in the post-1945 International Order” in July 2020. From October 2020, he will be a Lecturer at the University of Leiden. His research interests include self-determination, secession, statehood, recognition, violence and extremism... View more 

Sophia Hunger on Is There a Populist Zeitgeist? Coming to Grips With an Elusive Phenomenon

Hunger_150Much of public debate and media attention has been dedicated to the threat of a “populist zeitgeist” in recent years. This common fear assumes that due to the increased electoral success of populist parties, mainstream parties will mimic these competitors and themselves become increasingly populist. This is generally seen as an undesirable, yet inevitable reality. The terms “populism” or “populist” are often used very broadly in public debate– referring to charismatic leadership, giving ordinary people “what they want”, or linking it to “fake news.”... View more

Sophia Hunger is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Civil Society Research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. She defended her dissertation at the EUI in July 2020. Prior to obtaining her Ph.D. she studied political science, economics, and anthropology in Munich, Copenhagen, and at the UNC Chapel Hill... View more

Adrián del Río Rodríguez on Should I Stay, Or Should I Go? On the Determinants of Elite Defections in Electoral Autocracies

AdrianDelRio_new1Blatant dictatorships— in the form of monarchy, totalitarian or military rule—have largely disappeared. Nowadays, most authoritarian leaders exploit democratic institutions to cover their tyrannical rule. In particular, these institutions serve the leaders in distributing state resources to prominent elites and undermining the opposition. As a result, the ruler fosters the loyalty of elites and their cooperation to ensure regime survival. However, these electoral autocracies often collapse when such elites defect to the opposition. Why would ruling elites defect when a dictator in electoral autocracies can threaten their lives and offer more rewards? In his thesis, Adrián del Río argues that aligning with the dictatorship offers significant advantages to politicians. However, being part of the ruling coalition can entail two high costs that motivate defection... View more

Adrián del Río defended his thesis at the European University Institute in May 2020. His research interests focus on elite politics and power-sharing institutions in authoritarian and newly democratic regimes. In his work, he uses web-scraping and text-mining to build original datasets and applies a variety of statistical models to test theoretical arguments... View more

Argyrios Altiparmakis on The age of the bailout: Contention, party-system collapse and reconstruction in Greece, 2009-2015 

Altiparmakis-Cropped-150x200 newWhy did the most abrupt collapse of a political system in post-war Western Europe happen and what role did social movements have in it? In his thesis, Argyrios Altiparmakis studies the collapse of the Greek political system under the strains of the bailout regime during the early 2010s and the unique march of a radical left party, Syriza, towards power in Europe. While most narratives of the Greek debt crisis draw a straight line between the economic crisis and the collapse of mainstream parties PASOK and New Democracy in 2012, Argyrios Altiparmakis focuses on the role of social movements and the structure of political competition during the age of the bailout. He argues that social movements had two profound effects... View more

Argyrios Altiparmakis is a research fellow at the European University Institute, enrolled in the SOLID project researching the political consequences of multiple European crises and the resilience of the European Union. He defended his thesis at the EUI in June 2019. He works on party conflict, political competition, social movements and political behaviour... View more

Ieva Grumbinaite on Turning “Them” into “We”. The Impact of the Rotating European Union Council Presidency on the Member States

Ieva Grumbinaite 150xThe rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union is held by each EU Member State in turn. It gives the countries an equal leadership opportunity to chair the meetings of the Council of the EU for six months. The achievements of different Council presidencies on the EU level, such as their performance, priorities or agenda-setting power have received some academic attention. However, in her thesis, Ieva takes a reverse and to date understudied perspective by analysing whether the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU means anything to the Member States holding the position. The broad overall question the thesis raises, whether the Council presidency contributes to bringing EU affairs closer to the Member States, is especially relevant in the context of relatively strong Euroscepticism across the EU and recent crises of European integration, such as the refugee crisis or Brexit... View more

Ieva is currently a senior researcher at the Public Policy and Management Institute in Vilnius, Lithuania, where she contributes to the preparation of various policy evaluations and studies relating to EU policy instruments in the fields of education and public administration. She defended her Ph.D. thesis at the EUI in February 2020... View more

Theresa Gessler on Political Conflict on Immigration and Democracy in Europe

Gessler_150Why do certain problems become 'hot topics' politically? In her thesis, Theresa Gessler studies political competition on two such topics in Europe: immigration and democracy. In particular, she shows the impact of (right-wing) challengers on political debates over the last years across Europe. By affecting the salience of political problems, they managed to put immigration and democracy on the agenda. The thesis details two different dynamics of politicization: attitudes and party mobilization on democracy-related issues follow long-term trends shaped by the character of democracy as a valence issue. In contrast, recent change to political conflict on immigration was shaped by the context of the refugee crisis that polarized debates...View more

Theresa Gessler is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and a member of the Digital Democracy Lab. She defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in December 2019. She works on party conflict on the issues of democracy and immigration, as well as the transformation of democratic processes through digitalization. In her research, she uses text analysis and computational methods, based on data collected from online and offline sources... View more

Julian Limberg on "Of Banks and Budgets: How Financial Crises Shaped the Modern Tax State"

Limberg_Julian 150xHave financial crises left their imprint on the modern tax state? In his thesis, Julian Limberg shows that financial meltdowns do indeed shape tax systems. In particular, financial crises lead to higher taxes on the rich. He argues that three factors account for this. First, financial crises are expensive. Crisis-hit countries face fiscal distress and are direly in need for additional revenues. Second, financial crises can increase demand for tax progressivity. As citizens’ fiscal fairness principles become violated, claims to compensate for these violations via progressive taxation arise. Third, crisis-induced tax policy changes are sticky. Once new tax policy measures are in place, politicians have a hard time scaling them back. As a result, financial crises can cause long term transformations of the tax system. Julian proceeds in three steps to test these arguments... View more

Julian Limberg is a Lecturer in Public Policy in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute in May 2019. He is also part of a larger project that investigates the historical lineages of the modern tax state worldwide... View more

Irene Sanchez Vitores on Disinterested or discouraged? The gender gap in political interest.

Sanc150xWomen systematically declare in surveys and interviews that they are less interested in politics than men. In times where feminist movements are pushing for an agenda focusing on improving gender equality, this systematic lack of interest in politics amongst women demands some further exploration. In spite of advances in recent years in terms of levels of gender equality in Western societies, women being as educated as men or women’s incorporation to the labor market, women still seem to have no motivation when it comes to being politically involved. Although not every citizen is equally involved with politics, if a good half of the population systematically finds itself on the unmotivated side, it means that they are less likely to communicate their preferences, demands and needs to the institutions and actors that could act on them. This thesis explores men’s and women’s interest in politics to disentangle what is driving this apparent lack of interest. Are men and women so different in their interests? And if so, how can these differences be explained?... View more

Irene Sanchez-Vitores defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in June 2019. Her research interests focus mainly on political behavior and orientations, particularly on the dimensions of gender-based inequalities. She is also interested on political sociology and media... View more

Reto Bürgisser on The Politics of Welfare State Recalibration in Continental and Southern Europe 

Bürgisser 150xDo we still witness partisanship differences in welfare state reforms and to what extent do social democratic parties still tailor welfare state reforms to the preferences of their core constituencies? Recent claims in the literature have stressed a loosening link between parties and their voters and a deteriorating policy performance of parties in office. The literature on party cartelization, winner-takes-all politics and producer group politics have all argued that electoral politics has become less relevant and that government composition does not affect policy output. In his thesis, Reto Bürgisser argues that electoral politics still matters. But... View more 

Reto Bürgisser is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Bern, Switzerland. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute (EUI) in June 2019. Prior to his Ph.D. he completed a BA and MA in Political Science and Sociology at the University of Zurich. Reto’s main research interest include political economy, comparative politics, and political behavior... View more

Björn Bremer on Austerity From the Left. Explaining the Fiscal Policies of Social Democratic Parties in Response to the Great Recession

Bremer_Bjoern-150xWhy did social democratic parties accept austerity as the dominant macroeconomic policy in response to the Great Recession? Traditionally, these parties have been opposed to austerity and in favour of Keynesian demand management, but they failed to renew this Keynesian commitment during the recent economic crisis in Europe. In his thesis, Björn Bremer explains this puzzling response of social democratic parties to the economic crisis by studying the popular and elite politics of austerity. His answer builds on a framework that combines a focus on public opinion with a focus on the prevailing policy discourse among social democratic elites. He argues that, during the Great Recession, the social democratic parties found themselves in an electoral and ideational trap... View more

Björn Bremer is a Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne. He received his Ph.D. at the European University Institute (EUI) in March 2019. At the EUI, he was also a member of the ERC project “Political Conflict in Europe in the Shadow of the Great Recession” (POLCON). Prior to his Ph.D. he completed a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford and an MA in International Relations and International Economics at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University... View more

Estelle Herbaut on From access to attainment: patterns of social inequality and equity policies in higher education

Herbaut 150xWhy are students from disadvantaged background under-represented among higher education graduates? Which are the crucial points during the educational career for the emergence of higher education inequalities? And can social inequalities be reduced by political reforms or interventions at this level of education? In her thesis, Estelle Herbaut assesses the effect of social origin on pivotal outcomes of higher education careers in France. While most studies have focused on access to higher education, ignoring the large proportion of university students dropping out without a degree, her thesis provides a comprehensive assessment of patterns of inequalities, from initial access to final attainment. It also shed new lights on the development of inequalities over time by combining the study of single key transitions with an analysis of whole students’ trajectories during their educational careers... View more

Estelle Herbaut is a postdoctoral researcher at Sciences Po Paris, where she is part of a NORFACE-funded and country-comparative research project on the relationship between tracking in secondary education and the formation of social inequality over the life course. Her research interests focus on social inequalities, education policies, higher education and students' trajectories. Prior to her Ph.D. at the EUI, she has worked for several years at the OECD collecting and publishing comparative data on education policies... View more


Koen Damhuis on Roads to the radical right. Understanding different forms of electoral support for radical right-wing parties in France and the Netherlands

Koen DamhuisWhat leads people to vote for a radical right-wing party (RRP)? In his thesis, Koen Damhuis sheds new light on this urgent question by focusing on the diversity of the concerned citizens. Contrary to most existing analyses, studying typical traits pertaining to all radical right voters in one or several countries, his thesis identifies and systematically compares different forms of radical right support in France (Front National) and the Netherlands (Party for Freedom).  By doing so, the study consistently links supply-side and demand-side factors, arguing that these roads to the radical right should be seen as two-way traffic rather than one-way-streets. One the one hand voters determine the parties’ political fate and thus their strategy (supply); on the other hand, parties play a crucial role in the construction of voters’ political preferences (demand), by giving voice to their latent predispositions, incoherent experiences and slumbering convictions... View more

Koen Damhuis is an Assistant Professor at the Utrecht University School of Governance, where he participates in the interdisciplinary research project Dynamics of Youth, focusing on societal and political polarization among Dutch secondary school students. Koen received his Ph.D. degree at the European University Institute in December 2018. During his doctoral studies, in February 2017, De Arbeiderspers published Wegen naar Wilders (Roads to Wilders), a book in which Koen made the Dutch part of his Ph.D. project accessible for a general audience... View more


Jenny Holmsen on "Believe it or not: The new face of religion in international affairs. A case study of Sant’Egidio"

Holmsen 150xHow does religious diplomacy differ from “regular” diplomacy? And has the rise of religious diplomatic actors in international politics had any significant effect on established diplomatic practices? Over the last decades, religious actors have become increasingly salient across a spectre of diplomatic fields. Despite a keen academic and political interest in the potential of religious actors to push and pursue global diplomatic agendas – particularly in the domain of peace-making – we know very little about how religious diplomacy unfolds in practice, and even less about how such practices relate to broader changes in the international system. 

In her thesis, Jenny Holmsen provides new empirical knowledge about the operational dynamics of faith-based mediation and its contact point with international politics through a qualitative case study of one of the world’s most prestigious faith-based diplomatic networks – the Italian Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio... View more

Jenny Holmsen defended her thesis at the European University Institute (EUI) in December 2018. She currently works in the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, as advisor to the Department for Civil Society, Democracy and Human Rights, and holds a guest researcher position at the research project RelPol at the University of Oslo (UiO). Holmsen has a M.A. in peace and conflict studies, specializing on Islamist movements in Algeria, and a B.A. in European history, focusing on French colonial presence in North Africa... View more


Katharina Wolf on Europe’s Military Responses to Humanitarian Crises

WolfWhy do European Union (EU) member states sometimes respond collectively to prevent or address large-scale humanitarian crises while, at other moments, they use different institutional channels? More than once, EU states have pondered, hesitated, disagreed and let others interfere when widespread and systematic killing of civilians were looming. Instead of using the EU’s military crisis management capacities, member states have acted through different institutional channels such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), ad-hoc coalitions of states or single state-led operations to interfere in humanitarian crises. At times, they have decided not to intervene at all... View more

Katharina Wolf is a Research Associate at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies in the Global Governance Programme. After that, Katharina will take up a position as Defence Data Analyst at the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels. Her doctoral research examines why, when, and in which format European states intervene militarily in humanitarian crises... View more


Lorenzo Piccoli on The politics of regional citizenship. Explaining variation in the right to health care for undocumented immigrants across Italian regions, Spanish autonomous communities, and Swiss cantons

Lorenzo PiccoliDo citizenship rights of vulnerable populations vary within states? And if so how, and why? In his thesis, Lorenzo Piccoli shows that distinct traditions of regional protection of vulnerable individuals—like minor children, the disabled, and the homeless—can be used to challenge and contest national governments’ ideas about citizenship and their policies. Piccoli compares how governments protect the right to health care for undocumented immigrants in three multilevel states and, within these, in pairs of regions that have been governed by either left- or right-wing parties and coalitions: Lombardy (Italy, conservative government from 1995), Tuscany (Italy, progressive government from 1970), Andalusia (Spain, progressive government from 1980), Madrid (Spain conservative government from 1995), Vaud (Switzerland, progressive government from 2002) and Zürich (Switzerland, conservative government from 1991). The comparison is based on the analysis of 31 legislative documents and 62 interviews with policy-makers, health care professionals, and members of NGOs... View more

Lorenzo Piccoli is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the nccr – on the move, the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) for migration and mobility studies, and a Research Assistant at GLOBALCIT, the global observatory on citizenship at the Robert Schumann Centre for Advanced Studies in Florence. He defended his doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in April 2018 and is currently working towards publication of the main findings on Ethnopolitics and Regional Studies... View more


Tomasz Wozniakowski on Towards Fiscalization of the European Union? The European and American Fiscal Unions in a comparative historical perspective

WozniakowskiUnder which conditions could the European Union (EU) get the power to tax? Tomasz P. Woźniakowski’s demonstrates that fiscalization—a concept he defines as a process that leads to the emergence of a federal/supranational power to tax—is triggered by internal threats. His dissertation focuses on the ‘post-crisis’ economic governance of the EU from a comparative historical perspective, and analyses the conditions under which a supranational/federal power to tax is likely to emerge. To this end, Woźniakowski investigates the emergence of the United States (US) fiscal union in the late 18th century to demonstrate how the institutional flaws of its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, led to a sovereign debt crisis culminating in a taxpayers’ revolt... View more  

Tomasz P. Woźniakowski is a Postdoctoral Researcher for LEVIATHAN, an ERC-funded project at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin devoted to addressing the EU’s 'post-crisis' accountability challenge in economic governance. His research focuses on the role of national parliaments in the EU economic governance, Europeanization as well as US and EU fiscal unions in a comparative historical perspective... View more

Julia Rone on “Don’t Worry, We Are From the Internet”The Diffusion of Protest against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in the Age of Austerity 

Rone 150xDoes the use of digital tools facilitate protest diffusion, challenge existing hierarchies, and allow more bottom-up information to diffuse during protests? Julia Rone’s thesis goes against overly optimistic views on the role of the Internet in protests and shows that in the mobilization against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) organizational resources and pre-existing protest traditions mattered more for diffusion than using digital tools and media. Rone situates the anti-ACTA mobilization within the context of the post-financial crisis cycle of contention and analyses it as an important manifestation of the Internet-utopianism that marked the whole cycle... View more

Julia Rone defended her Ph.D. at the Department of Social and Political Sciences at the EUI in February 2018. Julia is a member of the COSMOS research network and has participated in the project "Mobilizing for Democracy", under the supervision of Donatella Della Porta. She has taught courses on digital media law and politics at the University of Florence and the Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf... View more


Despina Karamperidou on The Business of State Building: How Business Shaped Local Government Performance in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina

Despoina Karamperidou 150xWhy does the performance of local governments in conflict-affected states differ so much? Why is it that in some communities, political stability is established and economic development takes off soon after conflicts end, whereas other localities are plagued by prolonged political instability and poor economic performance? Despina Karamperidou’s dissertation sets out to solve this puzzle. Challenging existing explanations – the role of political institutions, civil society and social capital, and foreign aid - she argues that it is state-business relations which shape the performance trajectories and the development paths of local communities... View more

Despina Karamperidou is a research consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research (Innocenti) where she coordinates the Time to Teach project – a multi-country study on the determinants of teacher absenteeism in sub-Saharan Africa... View more

Anne Christine Holtmann on Why are children from disadvantaged families left behind? The impacts of families, schools, and education systems on students’ achievement

HoltmannWhy do school children from families with lower socio-economic status fall behind those from better-off families? Is this because disadvantaged children are raised in disadvantaged families or because they attend lower-quality schools? Does it make a difference whether schools and education systems are socioeconomically segregated or integrated? In her thesis, Anne Christine Holtmann argues that the role of schools is often overstated, as it is intertwined with that of families. However, even when taking this into account, she finds that children from disadvantaged families perform better if they attend socioeconomically integrated schools... View more

Anne Christine Holtmann is a research fellow in the project ‘New Opportunities or Reinforced Disadvantage? Variation in returns to low-achieving school leavers' participation in pre-vocational training measures’ at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)... View more

Macarena Ares Abalde on A new working class? A cross-national and a longitudinal approach to class voting in post-industrial societies

Macarena 150xIs there a new working class in post-industrial societies? Macarena Ares’ thesis finds that in terms of its socio-demographic characteristics today’s working class is different from the traditional industrial one, but that both are still similar in terms of political attitudes. Since the 1990s many advanced economies have undergone important transformations of their occupational and class structures, most notably through growth of the service sector and a decline in industrial occupations. These changes in the social structure can have important implications for the mobilization of social classes by political parties... View more 

Macarena Ares is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zürich, where she is part of an ERC-funded project studying welfare policy priorities in Western Europe. She defended her doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in November 2017. Her research interests focus on political sociology, electoral behavior, welfare state politics and quantitative methods.... View more


Juan Masullo on a Theory of Civilian Noncooperation with Armed Groups. Civilian Agency and Self-Protection in the Colombian Civil War

Juan MasulloWhat do civilians do when living in warzones? Why do some flee, others support and even join armed organizations, and yet others engage in forms of resistance? While many studies have focused on the insurgents, Juan Masullo’s dissertation looks into the life of communities living in the midst of war. He studies the choices civilians make to navigate through war and avoid, prevent or at least mitigate violence. Concretely, Masullo focuses on one pattern of civilian agency that has been widely overlooked: civilians’ decision to collectively and nonviolently refuse to cooperate with armed factions. He asks why some communities engage in civilian noncooperation while others, similarly situated within war dynamics and facing similar choices, do not.... View more

Juan Masullo, Ph.D. (European University Institute), is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Bremen International Graduate School of the Social Sciences (BIGSSS). In 2016 – 2017 he was a Research Fellow at the Program on Order, Conflict, and Violence at Yale University. His academic interests include civil wars, collective action and, more broadly, contentious politics... View more

Mathilde M. van Ditmars on Family & Politics. The enduring influence of the parental home in the development and transmission of political ideology

Mathilde M. Van DitmarsHow does the family influence citizens’ political ideology, and what role do family dynamics and structure play in this process of political socialization? Mathilde van Ditmars’ thesis provides new answers to this question by engaging with recent and ongoing changes in society and family forms that previous studies have not taken into account. She investigates specifically how the transmission and development of citizens’ political ideology is affected by the gender of parents and siblings, the experience of parental separation during childhood, and intergenerational social mobility... View more

Mathilde M. van Ditmars is a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University, where she coordinates an ERC-funded project regarding family socialization and its relation to educational choices, and co-supervises four PhD students. She defended her doctoral thesis at the European University Institute in September 2017. Her research revolves around questions concerning the development and structure of individual preferences, and is marked by an interdisciplinary approach drawing from political science, sociology, and psychology... View more

James Dennison on Re-Thinking Turnout. Explaining Within-Individual variation in Electoral Participation

Dennison 150Why do citizens vote in some elections but not in others? James Dennison’s thesis presents four essays that aim to answer this question. The motivation behind the thesis is not only the importance of voter turnout to democracy, both as a guarantor of legitimacy and representation, but also the methodological and theoretical weaknesses in the existing literature caused by the lack of attention given to why individuals vote at some points in their lives and not at others. This deficit stands in contrast to the vast literature explaining why some individuals vote and others do not, as well as why national-level turnout varies both between countries and within countries over time... View more

James Dennison is a Research Fellow at the Migration Policy Centre in the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute in Florence. He defended his doctoral thesis—Rethinking Turnout: Explaining Within-Individual Variation in Electoral Participation—at the European University Institute in July 2017. His research interests include electoral behavior, attitudes to immigration, attitudinal formation, political psychology and quantitative methods... View more

Camille Brugier on Soft-Balancing the United States, Forum-Shopping or Prestige Diplomacy? Explaining the Rise and Expansion of EU-China Trade Relations

Camille BrugierTheoretically, a strong trade relationship depends on a number of factors: reciprocal strategic interest, geographical and cultural proximity and similarity of the regimes involved. In this respect, the EU-China trade relationship is best characterized by a lack of strategic interest of the two actors in each other’s region, strong cultural differences, a great geographical distance as well as strongly contrasting regime types. However, in the last couple of years, the EU has remained China’s first trade partner and China is the EU’s second trading partner after the United States.... View more

Camille M. Brugier defended her PhD in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in June 2017. During her doctoral studies, she worked for the European Institute for Security Studies as a Junior Analyst and spent three month in Renmin University in Beijing. She is now teaching Methods of the Social Sciences and International Relations in the department of political science of the Capitole University of Toulouse since September 2016... View more

Daniel Schulz on Too Little, Too Late? How Central Bankers' Beliefs Influence What They Do

Daniel SchulzHow do policymakers take decisions in the face of extreme uncertainty? What guides their policies when past evidence does not apply to the conditions they confront in the present? In his PhD thesis, Daniel Schulz argues that policymakers turn to their beliefs of ‘what works’ when designing policies in such situations. Empirically, the thesis examines central banks’ decisions during the Great Recession with a particular emphasis on the monetary policies of the European Central Bank.... View more

Daniel Schulz is currently a Research Associate at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the EUI and works for Sven Steinmo’s ERC-funded project on citizens’ willingness to pay taxes . His research interests focus on the field of comparative political economy, particularly on issues of monetary policy, financial regulation, and the politics of taxation... View more

Marco Valbruzzi on Government Alternation in Western Europe: A Comparative Explanation

Marco ValbruzziAlternation in government has been usually regarded as a hallmark of liberal democracy. But what determines how often and when parties in government alternate? What are the conditions that make alternation possible, probable and real? These are some of the questions at the centre of this thesis, which investigates the determinants of governmental alternation in Western Europe since the end of WW II... View more

Marco Valbruzzi is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Bologna (Department of Political and Social Sciences) where he works on a project investigating the political consequences of the economic crisis in Europe. He is also Adjunct Instructor at Gonzaga University (Florence campus), where he teaches a seminar on the Italian political system... View more 

Jan Karremans on State interests vs citizens’ preferences: On which side do (Labour) parties stand?

Jan KarremansWhat matters more for public policy today: electoral programs or technical competence? This question is being raised from different angles in the political science literature, often in relation to the growing impact of processes such as globalization and Europeanization on national policy-making... View more

Johannes (Jan) Karremans is currently a research assistant at the European University Institute, working at Hanspeter Kriesi’s POLCON project. From June 2017 Jan will be a Post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, working for Dr Marina Costa Lobo’s MAPLE Project... View more

Martín Portos García on the Mobilisation in Spain under the Great Recession

Martín Portos Garcia

What motivates citizens in countries hit by an economic crisis to join protest movements or support new challenger parties? In his PhD thesis Martín Portos argues that it was not their economic grievances but their political dissatisfaction. Protesters were not the most deprived people, but those more angry with the political status quo and the policies being implemented... View more


Martín Portos G. is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre on Social Movements (COSMOS), Scuola Normale Superiore (Florence). He completed a PhD in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in February 2017, with a thesis focused on anti-austerity protests in Southern Europe. His research interests include political participation, social movements, democratic attitudes, institutions and nationalism...  View more


Davide Morisi on the influence of information in political campaigns

Davide MorisiFrom Britain’s decision to leave the EU to Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S., recent political events in 2016 have shown how voters’ decisions in election and referendum campaigns can lead to unpredictable and sometimes troubling outcomes. Among the many factors influencing these outcomes, information plays a crucial role. How do voters react to campaign arguments when they need to make political decisions, such as voting for a candidate, a political party, or a particular issue presented in a referendum? How does availability of information sources influence these decisions?... View more

Davide Morisi is currently a postdoctoral research assistant at the European University Institute. He defended his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences on 4 November 2016. Davide’s research focuses on political behaviour and public opinion, with a specific emphasis on political psychology. In particular, he studies how citizens process information and how campaign messages affect voting behaviour in election and referendum campaigns. View more



Katharina Meissner on Competing for Economic Power: South America, Southeast Asia, and Commercial Realism in European Union Foreign Policy


The European Union (EU) is at the forefront of engaging in external economic relations with economic powerhouses and entire regions. Much of this happens outside of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Yet, current negotiations with Canada (CETA) and the United States (TTIP) face strong opposition from civil society groups and the election of Donald Trump deals a de facto deathblow to TTIP, reinvigorating economic nationalism. By pursing bilateral economic relations, has the EU already in the past developed a strategy of ‘commercial realism’ that can endure during an age of protectionism?... View more

Katharina Meissner is currently Assistant Professor at the Institute for European Integration Research (EIF) at the University of Vienna. She obtained her Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in June 2016. Katharina Meissner works at the intersection of European Union studies, International Political Economy and International Relations. More specifically, she studies European Union external relations towards world regions in the context of trade negotiations. View more


Chiara Comolli on Fertility in Times of Economic Crisis

Chiara Comolli

The recent recession has been the longest and strongest downturn that western economies have faced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. When individuals are uncertain about present or future earnings or occupation, they tend to postpone life-changing decisions. Empirical evidence confirms conventional wisdom and shows that the Great Recession had a paralyzing effect on childbearing in most western economies. After a period of positive trends, these countries saw their fertility rates plummeting after 2008... View more

Chiara Ludovica Comolli is post-doctoral researcher at SUDA, the Demography unit in the Sociology Department at Stockholm University. She defended her thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence on 27 April 2016. Chiara’s main research focus is fertility behavior in developed countries. In particular, she studies how childbearing responds to various sources of economic and financial uncertainty in the United States and in Europe. View more


Enrique Hernández on Europeans’ Democratic Aspirations and Evaluations

Enrique Hernandez

Are ordinary citizens capable of forming coherent opinions on how democracies should ideally work? In contrast with the assumption that mass publics are ill informed about politics, Enrique Hernández’ PhD thesis reveals that most Europeans have a coherent idea about how democracies ought to work ideally. When thinking about their ideal model of democracy, a majority of individuals attribute higher importance to essential democratic features, such as free and fair elections, than to other features that apply also to not fully democratic political systems, such as the fact that governments explain their decisions to citizens... View more


Enrique Hernández is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Political Science Department of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. He defended his thesis and was awarded a Ph.D in Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence on 21 October 2016. Enrique Hernández’s research interests include electoral behavior, political attitudes, public opinion and political participation. View more


Jerome Roos on the structural power of finance in sovereign debt crises

Jerome Roos

Why do heavily indebted countries not default on their external debts more often? The question may seem simple but the answer has eluded economists for decades. We generally take it for granted that governments will honour their financial obligations under all circumstances — yet historical experience belies the notion that this is somehow a natural condition. During the Great Depression, virtually all European and Latin American borrowers unilaterally suspended payments on their foreign debts. Today, by contrast, the declaration of such outright moratoriums is exceedingly rare. Even as the European debt crisis reached a climax in 2011-2015, the total share of world public debt in a state of default fell to a historic low of 0.2 percent. How do we explain this extraordinary degree of debtor compliance in the contemporary period?... View more


Jerome Roos is a postdoctoral researcher in political economy at the Department of Sociology of the University of Cambridge. He obtained his Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute in May 2016, and is currently working on the book version of his thesis, to be published by a leading American university press. View more


Céline Colombo on citizens’ competence in direct democracy

Céline Colombo

How competent are citizens in direct democracy? While the popularity and use of direct democratic instruments is growing throughout the democratic world, criticism persists that ordinary voters lack the necessary competence to make complex policy decisions. The Brexit referendum and the Italian constitutional referendum are only the two most recent examples of controversial policy decisions taken by citizens directly at the ballot box. In times of increasing polarization, where the talk is of post-truth politics, fake news, and echo chambers, it is particularly important to asses to what extent citizens base their decisions in direct democracy on the consideration of different, polity-related facts and arguments... View more


Céline Colombo is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Political Science Department, University of Zurich, with a focus on Political Psychology and Behaviour. She defended her thesis and was awarded a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence on 3 May 2016. Céline Colombo studies citizen competence and political decision-making, mainly in direct democratic settings. More specifically, she is interested in citizens’ political knowledge, motivated reasoning, the functioning of elite-cues versus policy-arguments and deliberation in decision-making, integrative complexity of political thinking, as well as the link between deliberative and direct democracy. View more

List of Ph.D. theses defended in 2021 

List of Ph.D. theses defended in 2020

List of Ph.D. theses defended in 2019

List of Ph.D.theses defended in 2018 

Page last updated on 15 February 2021

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