POLSIS Lecturer Wins American Political Science Association Award

Gerasimos Tsourapas, a Lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham, was awarded the 2016 best doctoral dissertation prize by the American Political Science Association’s Section on Migration & Citizenship. His PhD thesis identifies the importance of Egyptians’ labour emigration for sustaining authoritarian rule between 1952 and 2011.

The award committee was comprised of David FitzGerald (Professor, University of California – San Diego), Helen Marrow (Associate Professor, Tufts University), and Taeku Lee (Professor, University of California – Berkeley). Its statement read:

"In his dissertation entitled "Trading People, Consolidating Power: Emigration & Authoritarianism in Modern Egypt", Gerasimos Tsourapas describes and explains Egyptian migration policy from the 1950s to the present. Gerasimos engages the question of what emigration policy looks like in non-democracies. Are emigration policies a tool of statecraft in authoritarian societies and, if so, to what end?

Tsourapas interviewed key political leaders, conducted a content analysis of emigration coverage in three newspapers, and constructed an unprecedented dataset of Egyptian migration statistics. The dissertation makes exemplary use of multi-method design and inductive modes of inference, to construct its gripping narrative. The committee was especially impressed by Tsourapas’ ability to conduct his study under extremely difficult political conditions and his attentiveness to the multiple levels of statecraft at work in emigration policies – domestic, regional, and international.

The findings are both subtle and consequential. Tsourapas challenges the received wisdom that movements out of the Middle East are primarily driven by economic or developmental factors. Rather, many policies have their origins in politics – especially, they reflect concerns about national security, the exercise of soft power vis-à-vis relations with Egypt’s neighbors, and interests in consolidating political power in times of crisis, such as the power vacuum that followed Gamal Abdel Nasser’s death. In this sense, Tsourapas’ dissertation is of the genre that reminds scholars who would rush to the economic determinants of any phenomenon that politics, too, matters. And for political scientists, that surely adds an additional feather to the cap of an already powerful dissertation. 

To sum up, "Trading People, Consolidating Power" is a timely reminder of the value of political analysis, demonstrating in this case how labor migration serves the strategic political ends of consolidating power in authoritarian societies. These findings are likely to be broadly transportable to many other contexts of migration, and the committee looks forward to seeing versions of Tsourapas’ work in print over the coming years."