Studentships Past and Present


Successful applicants to our 2015 studentship competitions are listed below, along with abstracts of their research. Clicking on a name will bring you to the student’s profile page.


Suzzette Lopez Abbasciano

Description: The purpose of this research is to analyze social media campaigns that emerge after terrorist attacks to examine the role such campaigns play in countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. Based on public communication campaign theory (Hwang, 2012) and a crisis and disaster communication model (Liu et al., 20 15) this study examines how social media campaigns that developed after the 2014 kidnapping of Nigerian school girls, the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, and the 2015 massacre at Garissa University in Kenya contributed to major CVE objectives as laid out by two prominent United Nation’s (U.N) Security Council Resolutions-UNSCR 1325 and UNSCR 2178-and the February 2015 White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Through a case study analysis it is possible to come to a better understanding of what aspects of social media campaigns are the most effective for building community resilience. With an increase in the international community’s allocation of resources towards online countermeasures for combating extremism the findings from this study can shed light on the potential usefulness of incorporating or supporting social media campaigns into broader CVE strategies.

Empirical and theoretical research focused on social media campaigns in general is scarce. No specific theories have been developed to explain and predict the effectiveness of public communication campaigns in increasing learning, changing attitudes or beliefs, or encouraging action (Atkin & Rice, 2013). There is also little theory-based research that has been conducted to understand the major factors that affect how publics consume crisis information through social media in comparison to other media sources (Jin et al., 2014). Research on social media campaigns in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals across four major academic databases resulted in no articles that covered terrorism-related issues. To address this gap in the social science literature, especially concerning terrorism research, this study builds on the individual exposure and social models of campaign influence (Hwang, 2012) and the social-mediated crisis communication model (SMCC) (Liu et al., 2015). Their respective concentration aside, each paradigm measures the influence of social media on individual and group behavior. Furthermore, the SMCC model features aspects of resiliency as an outcome effect.

Erin Osterberg

Description: My proposed research asks two questions: (i) What are the effects of the securitization of migration policies post 2001 insofar success in integration and feelings of trust and belonging; and (ii) Are there unintended policy consequences of rapidly changing securitized migration policies?

My interest in this issue arose from the disproportionate media and public attention garnered by marine arrivals that overall represented a trivial percentage of humans smuggled to Canada annually. Contextually, the arrival of 568 migrants on two ships in 1999 effectively provoked intense legislative change to Canada’s immigration laws. The state perceived the boat arrivals as ‘crises’ and the media frenzy that ensued provoked the sustained pervasive rhetoric of risk and fear (Mountz 2010). Amidst the recognition that mass marine arrivals are instances of international organized criminal enterprises having developed a mechanism for profit through the exploitation migrants, emerged public rhetoric about the ‘dangerousness’ of asylum seekers in the context of the threat of terror that has been at the center of immigration reform and the development of exclusionary policies since 2001 (Hier and Greenberg 2002). The results have been enormous. In Canada, there were 111 new immigration policies implemented between 2002-2015, compared to 19 between 1867 and 2001 (CCR, 2015). Fear and insecurity are central features of the shift to increased securitization of immigration (Amoore and de Goede, 2008).

My research will offer a valuable contribution to the existing body of knowledge by including a scalar analysis of the responsive nature of social policy framed through the lens that borders are not sites of exception as ascribed by Agamben (2008) and others, but instead are legislatively crafted zones of administration where the rights normally afforded to those individuals in democratic states are intentionally withheld through policy decisions designed to securitize the border and protect the sovereign nation from perceived threats.

In an effort to understand the effect of securitized policies, I will conduct semi-structured interviews with a variety of stakeholders in two sites: Toronto and Vancouver. Interviewees will include members of migrant advocacy networks with whom I have already established a relationship. In these interviews, I will seek to unpack with the scalar effects of crises reaction to discursive events, at the local, national, and international level. I will then use snowball sampling method to broaden the sample of interviewees; through referrals from the advocacy networks, I will conduct semi-structured interviews with migrants after a positive claim determination has been finalized (now recognized as refugees in Canada) who were processed through the securitized system of migration policies post-2001. This research seeks to unpack and reveal critical insights into the individual effects of securitized migration policies. This is crucially important to preventing alienation of migrants and fostering an individual sense of trust and belonging to promote integration, improving the way future national security policy and programs are both designed and implemented, and moving toward a more cohesive and just society.

Kerry-Ann Persen

Description: Drawing on theories and methodologies from sociology, social psychology, and economics, my dissertation is an interdisciplinary investigation of the attitudinal, behavioral, and psychological effects of transnational Islamist political violence on moderate Muslims. In particular, I will answer the following questions: How do moderates respond to violence perpetrated in their name? And what explains counter-mobilization against violent groups? While research has focused on the factors that contribute to the emergence of violence, the impact of these movements on individual Muslims’ attitudes and behavior has largely been ignored. Policy pundits and politicians have employed anecdotal cases to argue that violence perpetrated by extremist groups has led to a variety of responses by Muslims globally ranging from the radicalization of Muslim youth, to the conversion of Muslims to other religions, to the backlash of Muslims against violent groups. However, the reality is we don’t have a clear understanding of the distribution of Muslim reactions. Routine polls indicate that 70-95% of Muslims in Muslim majority countries believe violence is never or rarely justified yet there is significant variation in reactions within this moderate subset of the population. What remains unanswered is how the attitudes and behavior of Muslim majorities change in response to international extremism and what explains counter-mobilization or the lack there of against radical groups.

My project will address these questions in three components. First, I will investigate what characteristics of episodes of violence (target, severity of an attack, etc.) and of individual backgrounds (socioeconomic status, age, etc.) influence how one reacts to a violent event. Second, I will link political violence to immediate and overtime changes in attitudes toward fundamentalist goals, acceptance of violence, and religious intolerance. Finally, the third component of my dissertation will explore counter-mobilization of moderates—the 70-95% of the population that does not believe violence is justified—against groups that use violence. I theorize and will test a coordination dilemma, which I call the Moderates’ Dilemma, that may explain relatively low levels of counter-mobilization against violent groups in the Islamic World despite high levels of opposition to the use of violence.

Michael Shkolnik

Description: In recent years, some terrorist organizations have been increasingly successful in consolidating territorial control, threatening regional stability. Expanding bases of operations lead to more influence, increased recruitment, and enhanced fundraising capabilities – issues directly affecting Canadian national security. My research agenda will examine why some terrorist movements evolve into full-fledged insurgencies while others do not. The conditions associated with “protoinsurgencies” – nascent guerrilla movements that lie at the nexus between terrorism and insurgency (Byman 2008) – are poorly understood and hypothesized causal mechanisms have not been guided by a theoretical framework or tested explicitly. It is far easier for states to prevent a nascent insurgency from maturing than it is to defeat a full-blown insurrection.

This research agenda will utilize rational-choice approaches and build on the opportunity and willingness theoretical framework (Most and Starr 1981) concerning the diffusion of conflict. To address the research puzzle, I propose to undertake a mixed-methods approach utilizing large-n quantitative analysis and in-depth qualitative case studies. The first stage entails constructing a data set to test all instances where a recognized terrorist group escalates violence to the level of an insurgency from 1970-2014. Data on terrorist groups is derived from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and data on their capability to escalate violence to the level of insurgency or civil war is extracted from the PRIO Armed Conflict dataset. Other empirical models will assess territorial control and the duration until groups attain the insurgency threshold. This research design will test critical hypotheses derived from the literature that focuses on both group level and state level variation, a distinction that is often overlooked.

The second stage of research entails detailed case studies using a structured, focused comparison methodology. Process tracing will be used to identify the most relevant causal mechanisms and highlight important subnational variation not captured by macro-level quantitative analysis. This research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge and the findings will help policymakers better understand how to mitigate the threat from terrorists by assisting targeted countries in addressing key proto-insurgency conditions. The findings will help Canadian policymakers to combat current and potential terrorist insurgencies.


Maxime Bérubé

Description: In June 2006, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested 14 suspects for being about to commit attacks against important government buildings in Ottawa’s area. Before being arrested, the suspects had organized two paramilitary camps in order to train themselves for armed combat. By the same time, civilian military simulations are gaining more and more popularity within the Province of Quebec, and we know very little about what constitutes this marginal activity and the risk that can account from this type of training. Thus, we ask the following research question: through exploring the acquisition of detrimental capital in civilian military simulations, how can we better understand the process leading to the commission of an act of extreme violence? Considering different learning processes, we suggest to look at military simulations to see how the learning of detrimental capital can explain how an individual or a group are achieving acts of extreme violence. We propose and empirically support a socio-criminological approach for a better understanding of extreme violence radicalization, and we think that delinquent behavior must be learned, as any other behavior, which inevitably suggests some competency to achieve it. Using a mixed method of ethnographic observations, surveys and interviews, we highlight how to study the processes of radicalization in a single ideological perspective is insufficient for having a complete picture of the phenomenon. Even if we are demonstrating that within the observed communities, lots of positive affect are influencing participants toward unfavorable definitions for delinquent behaviors, we are also showing that they learn advanced combat techniques that are often used for the commission of such acts. In addition, we figure that these activities may have an impact on their moral judgment. This study stands out by providing a different perspective on radicalization. We agree that the observed military simulations communities are not usually seen as a radical, but it allows us to learn how some specific types of learning can have an impact in the more than complex radicalization processes. Moreover, it can also teach us about what we could called “non-radicalization” factors, or radicalization resistance factors.

Joana Cook

Description: There is increasing emphasis on women in relation to counterterrorism, but it is under-documented and under-theorized. This research provides rigorous academic analysis informed by policy and practice to understand women as security practitioners in counterterrorism practices.

Three literature gaps prompt this research. Literature on women and security generally portray women as victims, peacemakers or terrorists, neglecting the ever-increasing role of women as practitioners of security. Security studies increasingly recognizes the importance of security of the individual (human security), but has not yet scrutinized how this unfolds in counterterrorism practices. Finally, while terrorism studies are well established, recent trends have not been adequately researched, such as women as security practitioners.
This thesis draws on contending perspectives of security, and feminist research on gender and security concentrated in three areas to theorize the role of women in counterterrorism. Counterextremism where women are seen as active agents in preventing extremism. The security development nexus where human security is increasingly conflated with state security. Transforming the language of security where state security is associated with the security of women (ex. ISAF policies focused on Afghan women).
Theorizing women in counterterrorism is important for three key reasons. Counterterrorism measures inadvertently punish, rather than protect populations unless underlying gender dynamics in which counterterrorism measures are developed, implemented and assessed are understood. Failing to account for gender in the design, implementation, and assessment of counterterrorism measures undermines the extent they can succeed. Gender equality and non-discrimination are integral to tools regarded as essential to countering terrorism such as human rights and rule of law.

Yemen is an ideal case study for further comparisons. Yemen features both nationally and internationally run female police training programs, and an all-female elite counterterrorism unit. These are largely led by the US and UK, but mirror Canadian engagement abroad. Often labeled ‘on the brink’, regions of Yemen are viewed as safe-havens for international terrorists. Yemen also possesses key traits of concern including high levels of gender inequality and developmental concerns. This case could help inform how we view women in counterterrorism practices both at home and in our engagement abroad.

Katherine Dyer

Description: My major research paper investigates the change in security education in the Ontario Police Foundations since September 11, 2001. According to the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, the purpose of the foundations is to achieve a basic understanding in the police and law enforcement fields, where graduates must demonstrate the abilities for acquiring the knowledge required for a law enforcement career. The programs must provide students with the basic knowledge to provide them with the minimal requirements to be considered applicants for future employment in the Ontario Regional and Municipal Police Forces. The education is to provide basic knowledge of policing, and as local police have begun to partner with different agencies and have a greater role in national security, investigating how security education has changed and is being taught is essential. The paper will look at the effects of specific legislation including Bill C-36 and Bill S-7 on how security is being taught in police foundations. The purpose of the paper is to see what aspects of national security are being emphasized, and why. The paper will be collecting syllabuses, lecture notes and textbooks from 20 police foundations in Ontario. It will depend on the qualitative data analysis software “NVivo” to code documents to organize them into subthemes of national security. This will be used to determine if any themes emerge when looking at national security, which include themes such as intelligence gathering, terrorism and radicalization. The research paper will also interview professors and police officers. The importance of how national security is approached and understood can have crucial importance as it identifies how those interested in becoming police officers are taught national security at the beginning process of their policing career. Understanding this will allow greater emphasis on demonstrating how different levels of agencies have been integrated with each other, where national security education that was previously not common has become a part of police foundation education. It will also assist in being able to answer later questions and research of if the current teachings of national security within the municipal sphere are sufficient.

Katie Ford

Description: Universities and other institutions of higher education are being pinpointed as places of heightened vulnerability for recruitment to violent extremism (U.K.; House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 20 12; Knowles, 20 12), with new responsibilities for higher education institutions proposed within the U.K. context to counter this vulnerability (2014, PREVENT Duty Guidance). In particular, student societies-and speakers they bring to university campuses-have been implicated in contributing to campus extremism (2013, Tackling Extremism in the UK). However, there are no systematic studies regarding governance of student associations within university-level student bodies or the potential for radicalization within these groups.

Most of the research on the topic of radicalization on campuses has taken place within the U.K., with the extent of the problem in Canada less well understood. However, the growing trends of homegrown radicalization to violence (Government of Canada, 2011) and foreign fighters raise concerns about university campuses being used as grounds to recruit students within Canada.

My proposed thesis research focuses on filing this gap in Canada and reducing the ability of terrorist organizations to use university campuses as recruitment grounds. To do so, it examines how aware student government organizations are of the issue of radicalization and what policies and practices they have in place to counter it. Specifically this research will ask: (1) Are individuals who govern student clubs and societies aware of issues surrounding campus clubs and radicalization to violence?; and (2) What policies and procedures are in place on campuses that can be used to effectively deter and counter campus extremism?

The proposed research will involve interviews with campus representatives who govern student organizations and a content analysis of student organization policies, with the aim of collecting data from 10 Ontario universities (with the intention of expanding the scope if possible). In addition policy based materials, such student association rules, will be analyzed. The proposed research takes a policy-focused approach, with its ultimate purpose being to create and disseminate best practices for countering terrorist recruitment on university campuses.

Philippa Levey

Description: The process of radicalization is a heavily debated topic as scholars appear to be divided in their understanding of how such violent and radical indoctrination can be inculcated into seemingly ‘random’ individuals, manifesting itself through violent actions (Ranstorp, 2010). A relatively new direction for the radicalization process appears to be facilitated by the Internet, as online material and exchanges provides certain individuals with the inspiration and sometimes the social contacts to pursue the process further (Sageman, 2004). The current study examines the online trajectories of Canadian and non-Canadian individuals – specifically minors – engaging in Islamic forums as they transition from adolescence to adulthood,” while determining the extent of change occurring in levels of violent discourse / online behaviour. The study addresses the development of online violence, specifically how turning points throughout individual lifespans online encourage or discourage violent narratives. Drawing from Life course Theory (LCT), it is evident that major turning points throughout the life course, such as the transition to adulthood, have an impact on the level of violence found in online narratives. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are used, specifically making use of SentiStrength – sentiment analysis software that attributes specific scores to narratives ranging from to negative (Kennedy, 2012) – in order to measure changes in violent discourse. The research question will be answered via a mixed methods approach. The content of user posts will be analyzed qualitatively to extract the themes emerging from their online narrative over time. In addition, all posts will be analyzed quantitatively via the use of Sentistrength, a sentiment analysis software that attributes specific scores to narratives from the extremely positive to extremely negative (Kennedy, 2012). It has been used and validated in multiple studies (Neumann, 2013), including online narratives like those found on Twitter (Beres, 2012).

Elanna Nolan

Description: While new ‘security challenges’ are perceived according to their national, transnational and global scales, with them come very localized implications. As Coaffee and Wood observe, ‘security is becoming more civic, urban, domestic and personal: security is coming home’ (2006, 504). The UK’s Prevent Strategy (2003; 2011) has provided a model for Canadian and Australian strategies, emphasizing social resilience to extremist radicalization as the most effective and enduring national security defence. Outside of the UK there is a gaping absence of critical scholarship evaluating the effects of this approach (Thomas 2010). Preliminary critique has highlighted potential impacts of amplified Islamaphobia; interventions increasing alienation; targeted responses that sanction racial profiling; and deterioration of trust by misuse for intelligence gathering. However, there remains insufficient evaluation and critical reflection, post-implementation, on the impact on participating minority communities. In the absence of evaluation and critique, ‘softer’ strategies are effectively, and misleadingly, rendered ‘neutral.’ Following a participatory ethnographic research method, my PhD research challenges the assumed neutrality of ‘soft’ interventions and seeks to actively address this urgent and critical ‘evaluation’ gap by asking: What are the intended and unintended effects on targeted youth participants? And how effectively do these interventions fulfil their socially cohesive aims of galvanizing communities, building resilience, and repairing and developing trust between minority youth communities and the State?

My research addresses this cleavage through a comparative study of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs in Australia and Canada. A comparative analysis will be reciprocally enlightening and useful, given a shared multiculturalism and counterterrorism policy context. My study will include ethnographic research with youth community groups in involved in CVE programs, RCMP (Vancouver), and Australian Federal Police (Melbourne). My involvement with TSAS has helped me to establish strong research relationships with these agencies.

My research is expected to reveal insights into the effects of State-sponsored intervention with young minorities, which is crucially important to preventing further alienation, improving the way future national security policy and programs are both designed and implemented, and moving toward a more cohesive and just society.

Shannon Speed

Title: Apparatus of Exception: Security certificates and scale

Description: This project offers insight into the Canadian security certificate regime as a response to terrorist activities. This policy operates under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and is meant to be an expedited deportation order for non-citizen threats to Canada. This legislation has been in place since 1978 and was effectively used in over twenty cases; around 2001 five cases became ‘caught up’ in legal challenges resulting in indeterminate detention and huge financial costs. My dissertation research involves interviews with individuals working at various levels of this regime and an examination of Parliamentary discussions and court cases. My analysis uses a governmentality perspective, approaching security certificates as an apparatus with specific logics and techniques for governing.

The viability of security certificates as public policy is important to consider in terms of it being an effective and efficient security measure. The end result for a person named in a security certificate is intended to be deportation, but this begs the question of whether such a person remains a threat once outside the supervision of Canadian authorities. The imperative of these cases is the use of intelligence that neither holds up as evidence nor can be disclosed to the named person and their counsel, precluding the possibility of criminal prosecution and detention. These proceedings are ‘pre-event’ in nature.

The use of security certificates has placed Canada in the precarious position of being in contravention of its own Constitution as well as international standards. Individuals working within the security certificate regime have suggested that the process is an abject failure for all parties. Having had one post-9111 certificate withdrawn and another thrown out by a Federal Court Judge, the government continues to uphold this as a fitting security response to non-citizens; this adamancy is reflected in recently tabled amendments to Division 9 in Bill C-51.

The outcome of this project will be a mapping of this regime that includes the perspectives of those both upholding and contesting security certificates. This thorough consideration of key players and components will provide important insight for informing policy related to governing non-citizen terror suspects.

Nicole Tishler

Description:  The academic literature on terrorism has failed to accord serious attention to terrorist hoaxes. In seeking to answer the question “why do some terrorist groups include hoaxes in their campaign makeup, and what affects the timing and proportion of hoax activities (in relation to non-hoax activities) in their campaign profile when they do?” my dissertation brings coherence to a presently sporadic, incomplete, and incoherent literature about hoaxes. It also presents the first focused examination of existing hoax data, to serve the dual purpose of delineating the characteristics of hoaxes and their perpetrators, and determining the degree to which existing data is able to shed light on hoax phenomenon.

The analysis will occur in three stages. First, at the macro-level, I will conduct a quantitative analysis using regression analysis, with the binary dependent variable of whether or not a terrorist group uses hoaxes, to answer the first part of the research question: why do some terrorist groups include hoaxes in their campaign makeup? Data will be drawn from ITERATE, for transnational terrorist incidents, and the Monterey WMD Terrorism Database, for incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. The soon-to-be released Canadian Incident Database (CIDB) will be used to examine hoaxes in the Canadian context, and as a check for the degree to which ITERATE and Monterey—the sources of the vast majority of existing empirical work including hoaxes—understate the incidence of hoaxing by excluding domestic, non-CBRN events from their samples. At the meso-level, I will expand on the coding and analysis of comprehensive attack profiles for the hoaxing group sample only, to respond to the second part of the research question—what affects the timing and proportion of hoax activities (in relation to non-hoax activities) in groups’ campaign profiles when they do include hoaxes?—and to identify common clusters of characteristics among hoaxing groups in view of building a hoaxer typology. Last, at the micro-level, I will conduct detailed case studies of certain terrorist groups (determined based on the preceding analysis), in order to introduce a greater idiosyncratic appreciation of the factors at play.


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