R. O. Keohane Award

The Robert O. Keohane Award acknowledges Keohane’s years of service to International Organization and support of junior scholars. It is given annually to an untenured scholar published in IO.


2017 – Scott Abramson

Based on his work published by IO “The Economic Origins of the Territorial State.”


Past Winners

2016 – Sarah Bermeo 

Her article “Aid Is Not Oil: Donor Utility, Heterogeneous Aid, and the Aid-Democratization Relationship Sarah Blodgett Bermeo.”

2015 – Jonathan Renshon

The main purpose of “Losing Face and Sinking Costs: Experimental Evidence on the Judgment of Political and Military Leaders” is to assess the causal importance of status in world politics. Using a lab experiment to directly manipulate and measure the concept of status, Renshon finds that leaders who have real power don’t worry too much about status. This paper deals with a big and difficult topic – the status of political leaders – and does so in an innovative way. Renshon is interested in the behavioral foundations of perceptions about status and uses survey and lab experiments with elites to try to determine causality. The research design is impressive, well thought through and carefully executed. The micro-level findings that result are linked back to the large macro-level literature in a masterful way. Finally, the article is beautifully written, expertly synthesizes a wide range of literatures, and carefully reveals how lab experiments could be used effectively to answer a tough question in IR.

2014 – Karisa Cloward

The ROK Committee found  “False Commitments: Local Misrepresentation and the International Norms Against Female Genital Mutilation and Early Marriage” original and highly relevant for international human rights protection and campaigns. Cloward tackles a question that is very hard to research: whether individuals make sincere behavioral changes or in fact misrepresent their intentions to do so as a result of interacting with human rights advocacy groups. Based on original surveys and interviews in three villages Kenya, this article is a fascinating read and a clever research design.  The Committee admired the thought that went into site selection: Cloward chose to investigate villages that are differentially exposed to international messages about female genital mutilation (FEM). She finds that often people will just agree with an interviewer when they think they want certain answers – in this case, interviewed parents over-report that they do not plan to inflict FEM on their daughters.  Many parents in these Kenyan villages are caught between international and local norms, and research reveals they often feel more  constant pressure to return to the latter.  Cloward’s research has important implications for how individuals ‘respect’ (white) foreign advocates and try to convince they will implement the norms such external actors purvey. She effectively combines experimental design with qualitative interviews to make an important contribution to the study of international norms and socialization.

2013 – Bernd Beber and Christopher Blattman
Their article “The Logic of Child Soldiering and Coercion” builds a strong theoretical argument about the factors that make the use of child soldiers likely and the use of coercion in making soldiers out of children. The authors build their argument on prior literature using strong verbal logic as well as game theory, and proceed to evaluate their argument with evidence from an interesting new dataset on the use of child soldiers as well as interviews with many victims of child soldiering. The article is particularly strong methodologically and sheds interesting new light on a compelling topic.Their article provides us with a strong and confident sense of the processes and reasons why leaders are more likely to use violence and threats against child soldiers than adults, including the role that misinformation and the availability of better alternatives play in creating contexts that foster the use of child soldiers. This research not only helps us understand this important problem better but points to strategies that may allow policy-makers to make it less likely in the future than it is today.

2012 – Burcu Savun and Daniel C. Tirone
Savun and Tirone make an innovative and highly policy-relevant contribution to the literatures on foreign assistance and on civil war. Beginning from the assumption that exogenous economic shocks in low-income countries can trigger civil war, they argue that strategically-deployed foreign aid can reduce the risk of civil war following such shocks. Economic crisis both lowers the opportunity cost of rebellion and decreases the government’s ability to address grievances, whether a government is repressive or not. Governments can use foreign aid to mitigate both of these effects. Savun and Tirone deploy sophisticated statistical analysis, including multiple measures of exogenous shocks, and show robustly that even small increases in aid substantially reduce the risk of civil war in vulnerable countries. From a normative perspective, Savun and Tirone’s results suggest that governments should direct aid toward countries that are prone to economic s shocks, such as those that rely heavily on agricultural exports. Their results also present a strong challenge to arguments about the pernicious effects of foreign aid, by showing that at least in the medium-term, aid can prevent the chaos and destruction of civil war.

2011 – Jordan Branch
This is a very creative article in many respects presenting a truly new and innovative idea. The article examines the effect of cartography on the development of the modern state system. In his IO article, Jordan Branch argues that new mapping technologies in early modern Eu-rope changed how actors thought about political space, organization, and authority, thus shaping the creation of sovereign states and international relations. The article suggests that mapping was fundamental to three key characteristics of the transition toward modern state-hood: the homogenization of territorial authority, the linearization of political boundaries, and the elimination of non-territorial forms of organization. Although maps have been interpreted as epiphenomenal to political change, each of these three transformations occurred first in the representational space of maps and only subsequently in the political practices of rulers and states. The article represents an excellent example of constitutive analysis: If we conceive of the world as territories on a grid, we can draw boundaries which then become the socially constructed borders of modern states. This explanation of the international system’s historical transformation suggests useful new directions for investigations into the possibility of fundamental political change due to the economic, social, and technological developments of globalization. Moreover, and that is another great strength, the article is likely to spark controversy: What has been the politics of mapmaking? Where are the power relationships involved? In sum, Jordan Branch’s article sheds new light on a fundamental question in the history of international relations. We are proud that he has chosen IO to publish his piece which is clearly worth the Robert O. Keohane Award 2012.

2010 – Jeff Colgan
In his article “Oil and Revolutionary Governments: Fuel for International Conflict” (64.4, Autumn 2010), Colgan takes an important contemporary question about international relations: why do “petrol-states” seem to be more aggressive internationally than other states? Colgan challenges the widely held view that oil-rich states are the objects of resource competition, and instead develops a theory based on the incentives and preferences of revolutionary governments who lead oil-rich states. He theorizes that revolutionary leaders are selected through processes that tend to render them violent and risk-acceptant. Oil resources provide the wherewithal to accrue military power. The combination is explosive for international conflict. Colgan finds that revolutionary governments presiding over petrol-states are much more likely than other governments to engage in aggressive militarized interstate disputes. The selection committee liked the theoretical innovation, the new data on revolutionary governments, and the statistical rigor of Colgan’s article. His findings are important for understanding how domestic politics and economic are linked to international conflict behavior.

2009 – Kevin Morrison
In his original, carefully executed, and well-written article “Oil, Nontax Revenue, and the Redistributional Foundations of Regime Stability” (Winter 2009) Morrison brings together a number of heretofore separate strands of the literature (resource curse, foreign aid) by way of his concept, “nontax revenue.” His theory yields precise predictions about the effect that non-tax revenues will have on political stability in both dictatorships and democracies. Stability goes up under both regimes, but for fundamentally different reasons. Morrison points out the different mechanisms that enable this in democracies and autocracies. In dictatorships, nontax revenue leads to greater regime stability since dictators will have greater ability to appease citizens and thereby prevent a revolution or transition to democracy. In democracies, the presence of nontax revenue will reduce the desire of citizens to raise tax revenue. This enhances stability since elites will have less dissatisfaction under democracy. The article received strong nominations from board members, who stressed that the article contributes to an advance in the literature, and that it also has important implications for policy.

2008 – Jessica Weeks
Jessica Weeks’s article, “Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve” (Winter 2008) makes a major contribution to our understanding of international conflict. Before Weeks, many scholars thought that democracies could signal their intentions more credibly than autocracies. This conventional wisdom relied, in part, on the assumption that democratic leaders would suffer greater domestic “audience costs” for not following through on international threats. Weeks argues, to the contrary, that many autocrats are highly vulnerable to domestic audience costs and can, therefore, signal their resolve as effectively as democratic leaders. Weeks develops a theory that explains when and how audience costs arise in autocracies. She then shows, through rigorous quantitative analysis of militarized disputes, that democracies do not have a signaling advantage over most autocracies. The work sheds new light on the foreign policies of autocratic regimes and overturns a key theory purporting to explain the democratic peace. Weeks’s article is already being assigned in PhD courses, and the committee expects that, over time, it will be a highly cited contribution to the field of international relations.

2007 – Erik Voeten
Erik Voeten’s 2007 research article, “The Politics of International Judicial Appointments: Evidence from the European Court of Human Rights,” is a model of a clearly-argued and persuasive contribution to a debate of substantial theoretical and practical importance. The sources and consequences of judicial activism have been the subject of heated argument, especially in European politics. Erik’s contribution is to address observed variation in levels of judicial activism and to account for it. He has created a new data set on judicial dissents that he cleverly uses to estimate each judge’s preferred level of activism. He then considers alternative explanations for such variation, finding powerful evidence that governments that favor European integration appoint more activist judges. His work thus contributes to our understanding of European integration and of the relationship between governments and international courts more generally, pointing to a model in which judges are considered agents of the governments that appoint them.

2006 – Alexander Thompson
In “Coercion Through IOs: The Security Council and the Logic of Information Transmission” (Winter 2006), Thompson provides a careful, thoughtful analysis of why powerful states sometimes work through international organizations to attain their military goals. He argues that by accepting the costs and constraints of working through an international organization, a state can signal benign intentions and so increase international support and reduce international opposition. In his analysis, Thompson engages several prominent–and very different–theoretical approaches and teases out observable implications for each hypothesis. His empirics engage the important 1990-91 Gulf War case and more generally support an informational rationale for the involvement of the Security Council in coercive politics. In short, this article brings theoretical sophistication and empirical nuance to the study of international organizations in security affairs.

2005 – Ian Hurd
For “The Strategic Use of Liberalism: Libya and the UN sanctions 1992-2003” (from the Summer 2005 issue)

2004 – Kenneth Scheve
For “Public Inflation Aversion and the Political Economy of Macroeconomic Policymaking” (Winter 2004) was the first recipient of the R.O. Keohane Award