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Margaret Hanson

Margaret Hanson is a Weiser Emerging Democracies Postdoctoral Fellow for the 2017-18 academic year. Her research focuses on institutions that help autocracies endure. Specifically, she examines how formal and informal institutions interact to shape governance in authoritarian regimes. Her broad research interests include authoritarian stability, governance, and development, with an emphasis on the former Soviet Union.

Her core research project, entitled “Legalized Rent-Seeking: How Dictators Use Formal Institutions to Manage Corruption,” confronts a surprising reality in many autocracies: though, as most literature predicts, state officials expropriate property with impunity, they often take the seemingly redundant step of turning to courts to resolve the resulting conflicts with property owners. More puzzling still is citizens’ willingness to do the same, despite low trust in courts. Using eminent domain as a lens, the project examines why citizens and the state turn to civil courts in disputes with one another. She utilizes a mixed-methods approach that draws on interviews, ethnographic observation, and two original surveys in the Central Asian state of Kazakhstan; the latter includes embedded experiments on the role of personal ties and bribery in individuals’ decisions to go to court. Her work contributes to a growing literature on how autocrats use formal institutions to sustain their rule.

Margaret will spend her time at WCED developing a book manuscript on civil courts’ role in sustaining authoritarian rule. She received her Ph.D. in comparative politics from The Ohio State University in 2017. In addition to extensive dissertation fieldwork in Central Asia, she spent three years as a researcher and teacher in Russia and Kazakhstan.


  • Ph.D., Political Science, The Ohio State University, 2017
  • M.A., Russian Studies and Political Economy, European University at St. Petersburg, 2006
  • B.A., History, Grinnell College, 2005

Awards and Honors

  • National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDRIG) in Political Science (2016)
  • Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) (2015)
  • Individual Advanced Research Opportunities (IARO) Title VIII Pre-Doctoral Fellowship (2015)
  • Social Science Research Council Title VIII Pre-Dissertation Award (2014)
  • Foreign Language Area Studies Academic Year Fellowship, Persian/Farsi/Tajik (2013, 2012)
  • U.S. Student Fulbright Research Grant, Kazakhstan (2009)
  • Fulbright Critical Language Enhancement Award, Russian (2009)


Following her WCED Fellowship year, Professor Hanson accepted a position as assistant professor at Arizona State University.