Kathleen E. Powers
Research
My research focuses on the intersection of political psychology and international relations, and in particular on foreign policy attitudes, transnational identities, and intergroup cooperation and conflict.
Publications
Joshua D. Kertzer, Kathleen E. Powers, Brian C. Rathbun, and Ravi Iyer, "Moral Support: How Moral Values Shape Foreign Policy Preferences", Journal of Politics, 76(3), 825-840.
Abstract: Although classical international relations theorists largely agreed that public opinion about foreign policy is shaped by moral sentiments, public opinion scholars have yet to explore the content of these moral values, and American IR theorists have tended to exclusively associate morality with liberal idealism. Integrating the study of American foreign policy attitudes with Moral Foundations theory from social psychology, we present original survey data showing that the five established moral values in psychology - harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity - are strongly and systematically associated with foreign policy attitudes. The "individualizing" foundations of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity are particularly important drivers of cooperative internationalism, and the "binding" foundations of authority/respect, ingroup/loyalty, and purity/sanctity of militant internationalism. Hawks and hardliners have morals too, just a different set of moral values than the Enlightenment ones emphasized by liberal idealists.
Working Papers
"Nationalism and Foreign Policy: Does Internal Equality Reduce External Conflict?"
Abstract: When do strong national identities lead to external conflict, and can they ever encourage cooperation? Some political scientists note the virtues of nationalism for uniting groups within a state and encouraging loyalty. Others fear nationalism's darker side: intense national pride drives hawkishness and nationalism has been implicated in conflicts from WWI to Russia's recent incursions in Ukraine (e.g., Van Evera 1994; Schrock-Jacobson, 2012). I argue that nationalism as a cause of hawkish foreign policy preferences depends on a singular understanding of national identity - one based on community - where maintaining the group's unity requires a separation between "us" and "them." However, equality can also shape social relations - and it generates a conceptually and practically distinct group identity. The results of a survey experiment show that nationalism relates to hawkishness only when people conceive of their co-nationals as part of a community group. Community-based nationalists are less cooperative and more bellicose, but the opposite holds when equality provides the basis for the national identity. In that condition, strong identifiers are less conflictual in response to an escalating foreign policy crisis, and more willing to cooperate internationally. These findings provide an alternative way of understanding the trade-off between nationalism as a force for peace within states but war between states. The effect of nationalism depends on how individuals' understand the nature of the identity.
"Foreign Policy Attitudes as Networks" with Joshua D. Kertzer
Abstract: What's systemic about foreign policy belief systems? We introduce political scientists to a new - networked - paradigm for political attitudes, and develop a new experimental design that disentangles the directional nature of attitude constraint while leveraging tools from network analysis. We find that established models of foreign policy attitudes make unrealistically strict assumptions about the directionality and uniformity of attitude structure. Specific policy attitudes like the Iraq war play more central roles than our existing theories give them credit for, and the topology of attitude networks varies substantially with individual characteristics like political sophistication.
"Killing at a Distance: A Construal Level Approach to the Psychology of Drone Operation"
Abstract: In 2009, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta called drones the "only game in town" - a prescient observation given the military's increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the intervening years. Drones are certainly the wave of the future in military technology, with clear tactical advantages. But this rise in armed drones has triggered the concern that, by physically separating an operator from her target, we might have removed a psychological barrier to the use of deadly force. In this paper, I attempt to adjudicate part of this claim - what impact, if any, might distance have on strike decisions? I use construal level theory from social psychology to determine how certain thought processes induced by distance lead a person to focus on the broad goal of the mission rather than the means by which she will achieve it. I conduct an experiment to show that in average people taking the perspective of a drone operator, distance moderates sensitivity to mounting civilian casualties - psychologically distant participants are willing to launch a strike despite the collateral damage - though this effect is driven by participants with low levels of political knowledge.
"Moral Hazard: German Public Opinion on the Greek Debt Crisis" with Brian Rathbun and Therese Anders
Abstract: The recent Eurozone crisis and negotiations over bailout packages to Greece are more than a simple controversy about the distribution of financial resources. They have a decidedly moralistic overtone. International political economy literature, however, has made almost no room for how moral considerations influence economic attitudes. This paper analyzes the moral foundations of German attitudes toward the most recent Greek government bailout package, using original survey data, to explain an essential factor in the German government's hard line approach. Our analysis opens IPE to a new set of variables central to social and, we argue, economic life. Drawing on research in moral psychology, our results show that the moral foundations of authority and fairness drive opposition to the bailout, while support stems from moral considerations about caring for others and ingroup loyalty. We advocate a new empirical agenda on the role that ethics play in economic policy-making and attitudes.
Book Manuscript
"Social Identity in International Politics"
How can groups overcome conflict and cooperate with one another in international politics? In my book project, currently undergoing revisions from the dissertation, I leverage political psychology to offer a new answer to this old question by considering variation in the content of national and transnational identities. Past scholars promote building identities that bind erstwhile hostile groups into a single community, marked by positive interactions and the absence of large-scale conflict. It follows that civil conflict can be attenuated when e.g., Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds see themselves as primarily Iraqi, and a transnational European identity should foster trust and make war "unthinkable" on the continent.

I scrutinize two related problems that challenge this dominant understanding of how community identity enhances cooperation, and develop and test a novel theory to address them together. First, while building a shared national identity may alleviate conflict within a state, IR scholars agree that nationalism causes war -from WWI to recent Russian incursions in Ukraine. Second, attempts to eliminate nationalism by creating shared regional identities, as in Europe, often fall short as people struggle to connect with their regional identity or express hostility toward deviant members of the group. Building national and transnational communities has negative implications for conflict and cooperation.

My project untangles these problems by developing a theory of identity content in IR. I argue that social relations shape identity, and that the content of identity determines how it affects foreign policy preferences. While most IR scholarship stresses building united communities based on shared history, values, and a "we-feeling," social identities can also be formed by equality. An equality-based identity reinforces reciprocity and fairness while affirming tolerance for diversity. A person's understanding of her national or transnational identity as a community or a group of equals determines whether identification promotes militarism or cooperative tendencies.

I test my theory in three empirical chapters, with methods that combine to provide both internal and external validity to the research. Two survey experiments manipulate the content of real and fictional national identities. I find that when community norms define identity, stronger nationalists prefer to escalate conflicts --- they are more bellicose. The opposite pattern emerges when groups are held together by equality within the nation. In this condition, strong national identification promotes international cooperation, not conflict, reversing much of what IR scholars assume about the inherent risks of nationalism. Nationalists are only more hawkish when they are driven to protect their nation as a community. The third empirical portion of the dissertation tests my theory in the substantively distinct area of transnational cooperation. I analyze data from a representative, cross-national survey in 17 European countries, collected as part of the IntUne project on European identity ("Integrated and United. The Quest for Citizenship in an Ever Closer Europe, 2005-2009"). Consistent with my theory, I find that Europeans extend the trust required for international cooperation to each other and support regional security integration only when they understand Europeanness as something that entails equal rights and participation in politics. While constructvist IR assumes that building broader communities will create cosmopolitan global citizens prone to cooperation, those who identify with Europe as a community trust each other less and prefer to maintain national control over security decisions.
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