Field Research Grants

Isaac Hock, Political Science


Much of the world is rapidly urbanizing, yet contemporary urbanization is often informal urbanization, creating substantial slum neighborhoods without adequate access to government services. In its absence, non-state armed actors often become substitutes for the state, and informal economies flourish. Many scholars and public officials view informal urbanization with alarm, arguing that informal communities are conflict-prone. Yet, informal urban neighborhoods exhibit substantial variation in political violence: while some experience intense periods of political violence, others are relatively peaceful. What explains this puzzling variation?

Drawing upon fieldwork and data collection in South Africa, I analyze the causes of a particular type of political violence—violence over rents, or government resources, benefits and privileges. While most scholars stress the absence of the state in informal neighbors, I argue that government rents constitute a major part of the economies of informal communities. I argue that violence is shaped by three factors: the type and strength of informal institutions, transitions from informal to formal property rights, and as a form of signaling by communities to the state.

I test these theories through qualitative fieldwork and gathering novel micro-level data on political violence and municipal projects in South African townships.


Isaac HockIsaac Hock is a PhD student in Political Science. His research focuses on urban violence, crime and economic development in sub-Saharan Africa. He is a graduate of Swarthmore College.