My overarching research interest is the development and impact of beliefs about ‘others’, be they domestic minority groups, (recent) immigrants or refugees, or foreign populations. I’m particularly interested in international connections: How do beliefs shape policies with respect to foreign others (whether at home or abroad), and how are beliefs affected by ideas imported or borrowed from foreign contexts?

My first book, Ideas, Interests, and Foreign Aid (Cambridge, 2011) identified a wide range of different ideas about the purpose of foreign aid, and showed how these shape the size, distribution, and contents of national foreign aid programs. My second book, with Erik Bleich, Covering Muslims: American Newspapers in Comparative Perspective (Oxford, 2022) examines the tone and content of the media’s coverage of Muslims and Islam, showing that it has long been extraordinarily negative compared to the coverage of other ethnic, racial and religious groups, and that there are strong similarities across countries in the Global North in terms of how Muslims and Islam are discussed.

My current research is broadly focused on three substantive topics, with a fourth methodological focus on the systematic analysis of emotions and moral judgments in texts, especially across multiple languages. Click on any of the items below for more information, along with a few sample avenues of investigation.

European solidarity

The long-term viability of European integration relies on a sense that member states and publics share important connections. Whether framed in terms of a European identity, the idea of linked fates, or more prosaically economic interdependence, a feeling that states and publics are connected is essential. Where does such a feeling come from? Does it make sense to think of it as transnational solidarity? Is it stronger in some countries than in others? And how do the European Union’s limits affect who the connectedness extends to?

Illustration: Fabien Vienne ‘Cooperation Intereuropeenne’

Idea diffusion

When Black Lives Matter protests exploded in the summer of 2020, they did so on a global scale. Protests around the world invariably had a dual goal: expressing solidarity with the American BLM movement, and linking that movement’s goals to related domestic concerns. I am interested in the international spread of these kinds of political ideas: How are ideas that originate in one context mapped to another situation? How do language barriers affect the diffusion of ideas? And how have social media accelerated and changed the way in which ideas spread?

Photo: Elekes Andor (Wikimedia Commons, 83482595, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Framing migrants and refugees

Migration is a thorny political issue almost everywhere. How are public opinion and policy choices affected by the way people think about migrants? My research looks at whether migrants are thought of differently from refugees or victims of cross-border human trafficking; how the nation of origin of migrants affects attitudes, and how competing perceptions of migrants affect both national policy and international diplomacy (especially within Europe) regarding migrants.

Photo: Mstyslav Chernov (Wikimedia Commons, 43060174, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Systematic text analysis - language, emotions and judgments

All of the above research projects require an ability to analyze texts: media (both traditional and social), legislative and political debates, party platforms, etc. In particular, I am interested in improving our ability to extract information about the ways an issue is framed from texts, including the emotional and/or moral dimensions of those frames. I develop software tools to do so, with a particular focus on the ability to extract the same kinds of information across a number of different languages, in a way that makes it directly comparable.

Illustration: Plutchik’s wheel of emotions