Emily Ritter, Ph.D.


Associate Professor

Vanderbilt University

Year of PhD: 2010

Country: United States (Tennessee)

About Me:

I am an associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University. I received my PhD in political science at Emory University in 2010. Before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, I was an assistant professor at the University of Alabama for three years and then an assistant professor at the University of California, Merced for five years.

Research Interests

Conflict Processes & War

Formal Theory

Human Rights

International Law & Organization

Political Violence

Research Methods & Research Design

Immigration & Citizenship

My Research:

My research centers on the relationship between government repression and dissent activities. I contribute to scholarship on international human rights institutions, law, and practice; domestic conflict between national governments and groups from the population; human rights and political violence; and immigration and refugee movements. Game theory and quantitative statistical analysis are the primary methods I use to approach inference.


Journal Articles:

(2016) Preventing and Responding to Dissent: The Observational Challenges of Explaining Strategic Repression, American Political Science Review

Although scholarly consensus suggests that dissent causes repression, the behaviors are endogenous: governments and dissidents act in expectation of each other’s behavior. Empirical studies have not accounted well for this endogeneity. We argue that preventive aspects of repression meaningfully affect the relationship between observed dissent and repression. When governments use preventive repression, the best response to dissent that does occur is unclear; observed dissent does not meaningfully predict responsive repression. By contrast, governments that do not engage in ex ante repression will be more likely to do it ex post. We follow U.S. voting scholarship and propose a new instrument to model the endogeneity: rainfall. We couple rainfall data in African provinces and U.S. states with data on dissent and repression and find that dissent fails to have a significant effect on responsive repression in states that engage in preventive repression.

(2014) Policy Disputes, Political Survival, and the Onset and Severity of State Repression, Journal of Conflict Resolution

Under what conditions will a state repress its citizens? The literature examining human rights violations lacks consensus over exactly how repression and dissent are interrelated. I argue that contradictions have arisen because scholars have not derived expectations consistent with modeling three common assumptions: (1) dissent and repression are causally interrelated (2) states and groups are in conflict over some policy or good and (3) authorities repress to remain in office. I develop a formal model based on these principles, and I predict that changes in the same independent variable can have divergent effects on the onset and severity of repression. Using coded event data for all states from 1990 to 2004 and a two-tiered estimator, I find that increases in executive job security decrease the likelihood that repression will occur in the first place, but increase the severity of observed violations.

(2013) Treaties, Tenure, and Torture: The Conflicting Domestic Effects of International Law, Journal of Politics

International human rights treaties are argued to increase both the likelihood of domestic mobilized dissent and judicial constraint. These pressures pull leaders in conflicting directions: mobilized challenges undermine a leader’s position in power, increasing incentives to repress; courts raise the probability of litigation, decreasing incentives to repress. We argue authorities balance these pressures based on their job security. Politically insecure leaders, desperate to retain power, repress to control the destabilizing effects of dissent. Secure leaders are less likely to fall to citizen pressures, but the probability of facing an effective judiciary weighs heavily in their expected costs. Consequently, they repress less to avoid litigation. We find empirical support for the implications of our formal theory using data on commitment to the UN Convention Against Torture. Treaties have no effect on repression in states with insecure leaders but have a positive effect on rights protection in states headed by secure leaders.

Books Written:

(2019) Contentious Compliance: Dissent and Repression under International Human Rights Law, Oxford University Press

Do international human rights treaties constrain governments from repressing their populations and violating rights? In Contentious Compliance, Courtenay R. Conrad and Emily Hencken Ritter present a new theory of human rights treaty effects founded on the idea that governments repress as part of a domestic conflict with potential or actual dissidents. By introducing dissent like peaceful protests, strikes, boycotts, or direct violent attacks on government, their theory improves understanding of when states will violate rights-and when international laws will work to protect people. Conrad and Ritter investigate the effect of international human rights treaties on domestic conflict and ultimately find that treaties improve human rights outcomes by altering the structure of conflict between political authorities and potential dissidents. A powerful, careful, and empirically sophisticated rejoinder to the critics of international human rights law, Contentious Compliance offers new insights and analyses that will reshape our thinking on law and political violence.