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Selected Ph.D. theses defended recently

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. 


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 defences in 2017

List of Ph.D. theses defended in 2016  


Page last updated on 02 March 2018