Samuel Ritholtz describes their CIVICA faculty visit to the Hertie School


Samuel Ritholtz, Max Weber Fellow at the EUI, shares how their short CIVICA mobility experience led to progress in their research project.

Samuel Ritholtz, part-time Assistant Professor and Max Weber Fellow at the EUI Department of Political and Social Sciences (SPS), spent a few days at the Hertie School, thanks to the CIVICA Faculty Short Visit Scheme. The European university alliance CIVICA involves ten leading universities in Europe, including both the EUI and the Hertie School.

Could you please tell us about your CIVICA faculty visit? Why did you want to go to the Hertie School and what did you work on during the visit?

I visited the Hertie School in Berlin from the 11th to the 13th of December 2023. I wanted to go to Hertie for two reasons. Firstly, I work on a project together with Anita Gohdes, Professor of International and Cyber Security at Hertie. Secondly, during my PhD, I was a visiting fellow at Hertie’s Centre for International Security. Thanks to CIVICA, which selected me under its faculty short visit scheme, I had the opportunity to visit Hertie again. This experience allowed me to re-establish and reinforce my connection with that university. During the visit, I worked extensively with Professor Gohdes on our shared research project and attended a research seminar at Humboldt University with Max Weber/EUI alumnus Phillip Ayoub, Professor at University College London.

Why was your CIVICA short faculty visit important?

This mobility experience represented an excellent opportunity for me. I would describe it as a “work retreat’’ that allowed me to concentrate for multiple days on a project I am working on with my colleague from Hertie. Being able to work together in the same place for an extended period of time was much more effective than instead trying to find suitable times to organise online meetings that last an hour. I found the ‘immersive experience’ of going somewhere and spending some days collaborating with your peers in person as a unique opportunity. CIVICA allows for these ‘work retreats’, and these experiences are so useful to advance on research projects. I also expanded both my personal and my research network thanks to this visit.

Could you please tell us more about the research project you are working on with the colleague from Hertie?  

In general, my research work lies at the intersections of comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. The project I work on with Professor Gohdes from Hertie focuses on violence against LGBTQ+ people and tries to understand if these episodes of violence can predict conflict escalation. This project is still in its early stages. Therefore, it was important for us to meet and plan the way forward.

I work on violence against the LGBTQ+ community during conflict, while Anita Gohdes focuses on state repression and violence against journalists. Together, we are trying to understand how these episodes of anti-LGBTQ+ violence can be predictors of conflict escalation or even state repression. Our project involves Associate Professor Meredith Loken, from the University of Amsterdam, who has extensive understanding of these phenomena as her research explores contemporary forms of gender-based political violence. The three of us will investigate whether the targeting of LGBTQ+ people precedes conflict escalation or worsening state repression. In other words, violence against the LGBTQ+ community can be considered a canary in the coalmine. It potentially represents a warning sign that violence might escalate and eventually end up at the level of mass atrocity. However, there has been limited empirical proof behind this theoretical claim. Our research project aims to fill this gap by providing empirical evidence.

Our project combines my work on the ground in Colombia, with Anita Gohdes’ experience on predictive model and advanced data analysis, as well as Meredith Loken’s conceptual work on gender-based political violence. As next steps, following my travel to Colombia to finalise and fine-tune the data collection phase, Professor Gohdes will work with the data using a model of her design. Then, Professor Loken and I will consider how this analysis relates to this existing theory. Our research will be one of the first mixed methods approaches to understand LGBTQ+ experience in conflict zones and repressive environments.

What is the added value of CIVICA?

CIVICA provides both the opportunity and the resources that allow researchers to work with peers at the international level in a way that is thoughtful, productive, and unique. This is something that is very valuable for researchers.

The spirit of CIVICA is to cooperate among top-level universities with like-minded peers from different countries in a spirit of openness and teamwork. This is very important at all stages of the academic career, but even more for early-career researchers. The mobility experiences provided by CIVICA reinforce existing connections, create new ones, and allow research projects to advance. This opportunity offered by the CIVICA alliance is thus extremely valuable for the professional development of researchers.

Interview conducted by Lucia Giannini (EUI).