Dr. Brandon Bolte
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CPAE Faculty Spotlight:  Dr. Brandon Bolte, SPIA

Hi everyone! I’m Dr. Brandon Bolte, and I started as an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the UIS School of Politics and International Affairs (SPIA) in Fall 2023. Beginning July 1, I’ll also be a member of the Board of Directors of the World Affairs Council of Central Illinois (WACCI). Prior to joining UIS, I was a 2022-23 Peace Scholar Fellow with the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Penn State University, where I received my Ph.D. in Political Science the year prior. I’ve had an amazing first year here at UIS, and I’m so excited to continue connecting with the Springfield community.

My teaching and research areas focus on international politics and quantitative (statistical) methods. I’m most interested in rebels, militias, and civilians in civil wars—wars within countries—but I also research domestic political causes of conflicts between countries. For instance, a few co-authors (from various other universities) and I recently published a study showing that right-wing populist leaders are more likely to initiate international militarized disputes, but only if they were elected in participatory democracies. My other research on pro-government militia groups in civil wars can be found in International Studies Quarterly (The Puzzle of Militia Containment in Civil War) and the Journal of Conflict Resolution (Security Consolidation in the Aftermath of Civil War).

In my dissertation, I studied the cooperative relationships between rebel groups in multiparty civil conflicts—those where at least two rebel groups are fighting against the government at the same time. Using a newly constructed dataset of rebel group alliances and their characteristics across the world, I showed that, like the governments of countries, rebels design alliance agreements in different ways, that this variation is driven in part by how power is structured within rebel organizations, and that these different alliances have consequences for negotiating multilateral peace with the governments against which the groups are fighting.

My current scholarship focuses on the complexities of governance during and after civil wars. In one project, co-authors and I examine the motivations behind prosecutions in gacaca courts in Rwanda, which were designed to prosecute crimes related to the 1994 genocide, but we argue are also being used as tools for authoritarian repression. I’m also working on a project that uses lab-in-the-field experiments in India to show how rebel efforts to govern—by creating their own judicial institutions, providing public services, etc.—effectively undermines the legitimacy of the state and, interestingly, leads civilians living in these places to replace their trust in the state with more trusting interpersonal interactions with one another.

I love my research, but I also deeply believe that the most profound impacts I can make on the world is through my teaching. My pedagogy emphasizes inclusive, student-centric learning, active engagement with the material, and the development of critical thinking skills. All of these elements of my teaching style are derived from my own undergraduate education at a liberal arts school. My political science courses also emphasize the “science” part of the discipline. I want my students to not only understand central phenomena in the discipline like power, war, trade, and human rights, but to think about them as strategic behaviors that we can make predictions about. Don’t think politics can be studied scientifically like biology, chemistry, and geology? My courses will hopefully convince you otherwise!

In my first year at UIS, I’ve taught GBL 101: Global Culture and College-aged Youth, PSC 373: Introduction to International Relations, PSC 515: Seminar in International Relations, and PSC 503: (Advanced Quantitative) Graduate Research Methods. In the future, I’ll also teach PSC 483: Model United Nations, PSC 242: Statistics for Social Sciences, PSC 473: War and Peace, and a new course I’ve designed, PSC 484: Rebellion, Political Violence, and the Politics of Civil Wars. In all of these courses, I hope to invigorate my students’ interests in the politics of international affairs as well as expose them to different tools for understanding the world around them.

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