Sarah Thompson

Ph.D. Candidate
Job Market Candidates
Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science and a graduate fellow at Stanford’s King Center on Global Development. Her work addresses substantive issues in comparative politics, notably traditional governance and gender, by leveraging field, survey, and quasi-experiments in combination with fieldwork.

Her job market paper asks the following question: How does the state convince citizens to adopt its institutions, replacing customary forms of dispute resolution with state courts and laws? The Pakistani state recently undertook historic state expansion in its tribal areas, bringing key judicial institutions and standards to residents for the first time. This study leverages a novel experiment with 2,100 respondents and a costly behavioral outcome to assess how state-building efforts like improving performance and appealing to minoritized groups impact the decision to comply. The results show evidence of a backlash effect, where upsetting existing power dynamics eclipses the overall benefits brought by a new formal institution. These findings suggest a dilemma for states as they attempt to consolidate control in areas of limited statehood, where the distributive consequences of state-building initiatives actually weaken state legitimacy and success.

Her other dissertation work on traditional governance shows that the state’s absence may actually lead to better group outcomes. Sarah and co-authors illustrate the mechanisms through which indigenous governance in Mexico insulates communities from cartel presence and associated homicides.

In addition to her dissertation on traditional governance, Sarah has several projects that assess women’s political participation and agency in South Asia.

She received a National Science Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship, and her research has been supported by funders like J-PAL, the IGC, Stanford’s King Center, the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, and the Governance and Local Development Institute.

Before Stanford, Sarah earned a B.A. in political science (magna cum laude) from Columbia University, and worked as a legal analyst in the field of government enforcement defense and international judgment enforcement.

 I welcome opportunities to discuss applying to Stanford's PhD program in Political Science, especially with prospective FLI, POC, and LGBTQ+ students. Please feel free to reach out via email with "Prospective Student" as the subject line.


Research Interests

Fields of Study
Comparative Politics
International Relations