Clocks and Clouds

Clocks and Clouds is an American University undergraduate research journal that publishes articles on the cutting edge of political science, international relations, and public policy.

Through the journal, our authors contribute to the intellectual dialogue both within the American University community and in broader academia. Philosopher Karl Popper’s “clocks and clouds” metaphor describes the two ends of the spectrum of predictability in social science. Clouds represent the disorderly and irregular, and clocks represent the predictable and rational.

By providing a venue for top undergraduate research, Clocks and Clouds aims to find the clocks amidst the clouds.

Follow us on Twitter at @ClocksCloudsAU and on Facebook to receive updates on staff application and submission processes! Please reach out to Editor-In-Chief, Tammy Nguyen, for inquiries at


Recently Published

Effective Engineering: Creating a Parallel Electoral System to Address Old Divisions in New Bosnia

By: Fiona Corcoran 

The Dayton Accords, created in 1995 as a result of threeparty negotiations to end the war in Bosnia, established a rigid system of consociational government that enshrined the political representation of ethnic Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs at every level. While this arrangement was essential for convincing the leaders of the ethnic factions to transition from armed conflict to politics, it has also created gridlock in the national legislature, virtually barred multiethnic parties from gaining a significant voice in parliament, and guaranteed a slow drift towards the devolution of power to two ethnically-circumscribed federal entities. Bosnia and Herzegovina was the target of several waves of internationally-imposed electoral reform that sought to remedy the failures of the Dayton system through the centripetal logic of the alternative vote and other last-minute adjustments transparently designed to favor multiethnic parties and disadvantage the dominant ethnic nationalist coalition. These interventions have been unsuccessful, in part because the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are aware of and resentful towards what they perceive as attempts to undermine their political will. This paper suggests a parallel electoral system that can address the failings of the current consociational system and challenge the dominance of ethnic nationalist parties while still respecting the will of the Bosnian people.

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Preventing Civil War Recurrence Through Authoritarian Consolidation

By: Alice Genovese-Mester

Civil wars do not always end neatly, often ceasefires fail, regimes collapse, and combatants retake their arms. While there are a variety of competing explanations for civil war recurrence, this paper seeks to explain the success and failure of authoritarian regime consolidation during periods of recurrent civil war, looking at the path that leads to an end to conflict rather than a return to civil war. This process of authoritarian consolidation has three steps. First, the nascent regime must form a broad winning coalition consisting of potential belligerents. Then, this coalition must be maintained through the distribution of spoils. Finally, future spoils must be signaled, which must then be followed up on in a cyclical return to the second step. This process ensures that potential belligerents are invested in the future of the new regime, discouraging civil war reignition. But, if it fails belligerent factions will have more incentive to return to arms than maintaining the peace. Two case studies explore the success of this process in the Somoza Regime of Nicaragua and its failure in the Huerta Regime of Mexico. While the process succeeded in Nicaragua for over forty years, it is an imperfect and ongoing process requiring vigilant leadership and constant maintenance, which may make it prone to failure in the long term. 

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Contesting the velina: The emergence and reproduction of a feminized body politic in contemporary Italy

By: Theodora Mattei

Veline are showgirls present in Italian contemporary media who, dating back to the 1980s, became an enduring symbol of femininity in Italian society through increasing commercialism and privatization. Veline both engender a moral panic about traditional values and are considered postfeminist actors who defend and promote their sexuality for personal liberation. Past studies have limited velina research to the notion that she is a byproduct of external political factors; however I begin at the margins to demonstrate how femininity conceptualized through veline is central to Italian politics. Conducting a genealogical analysis using a reflexivist methodology, this study seeks to understand the tacit codes involved in both performing and processing female sexuality in Italy. Veline are both a fetishized image created for consumption, and evidence of rigid power dynamics which produce norms for how women ought to behave in Italian society. I suggest that veline are emblematic of a culture of violence towards women in the broadest sense. 

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Numbers Numb: The Significance and Shortcomings of Imagery within the Immigration Debate

By: Jeremy McLane

CW/TW: The following article includes and discusses  traumatic imagery involving the forced separation of migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This paper examines the impact that the iconic image of the ‘Crying Girl on the Border’ had on U.S. immigration policy as well as on the treatment of migrants at the Southern Border. The paper traces the circulation of the image in the days following its original publishing and finds a connection between the publication of the image, the public discourse that followed, and the end of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy. Utilizing research methods employed by researchers who studied other historically iconic images, this paper examines the true impact this particular image had on the family separation policy. The publication of this image led to an outpouring of support for the lives and wellbeing of migrants and—in the form of online donations—helped deliver crucial aid in the form of humanitarian assistance and monetary support. However, despite the family separation policy having been formally reversed, immigrant families have continued to be separated at the Southern Border, leading to questions about the effectiveness of imagery and its ability to bring about structural change. These conclusions are in line with the impact, or lack thereof, that other iconic images have had on official policy, while still being able to bring important attention and aid to human rights crises around the world. 

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Determining Disengagement Methods: Deciphering the relationship between engagement pathways of U.S. identity-motivated domestic terrorists and the most effective disengagement method

By: Michaila Peters


This study aims to identify broad conceptual gaps in the field of terrorism studies, beginning with those of government motivated research, that have prevented the establishment of a unified, efficient system of achieving the disengagement of U.S. identity-motivated violent terrorists. Current government motivated research categorizes terrorists either by ideology or a dominant weakness (e.g. lack of employment), assuming they have a causal relationship with engagement, and therefore, help us understand disengagement. This research informs the development of counter-terror programs. However, current academic (non-government) research shows that this causal relationship does not exist. This has resulted in extremely inefficient and unsustainable counter-terror government programs. This study suggests three key methodological changes for future studies working to understand how to achieve disengagement: Measure engagement and disengagement as developmental pathways, not discrete decisions; consider the context they are embedded in, and statistically analyze the new data for causal relationships between engagement and disengagement. Such relationships could serve as new characterizations of terrorists, and more accurately determine what resources are appropriate for each individual to achieve disengagement, improving counter-terror programs. These methodological changes are demonstrated in this paper through the examination of three case studies, but hold limited validity without a future large-n study.

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Development and Destruction: Representations of International Development During the Narmada Valley Development Projects

By: Dhanya Rao

The Narmada Valley Development Project was one of the most ambitious yet contested projects financed by the World Bank. Over the course of this project, different discourses of development emerged and were reinforced by different actors. On the one hand, the World Bank aligned itself with the hegemonic modernization paradigm while the Narmada Bachao Andolan, a subaltern protest movement, rejected this paradigm altogether. This research questions how these incompatible discourses are able to simultaneously occupy the landscape of the Narmada Valley. This research employs a discourse analysis of official sources linked with the Indian Government, the World Bank, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan, and questions how these antithetical representations are both able to occupy the Narmada Valley. This occupation is made possible by international development’s status as an empty signifier, or a process stripped of any meaning. This article additionally argues that the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s discursive process of interweaving discourses on human and environmental costs empowered the group to gain similar legitimacy to that of the Indian Government. Development as an empty signifier allows for the existence of a power and knowledge vacuum, creating space for the questioning of conventional development authority. Ultimately, this article contends that development as an empty signifier allows for unjust regimes of dominance to flourish at the expense of the subaltern, or those often disregarded in the development process. 

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Generation and Income in Predicting Abortion Attitudes in the American Electorate

By: Marissa Zupancic

This research project seeks to identify if an American voter’s generation or income is helpful in predicting his or her views on abortion. Although there is much discourse that exists on the topic of perceptions of abortion, I hope to pursue something more specific: the correlation between the generation that a person belongs to and their view on abortion. Additionally, more recent data is available from the 2016 election year regarding incomes. I hypothesize that in comparing voters, those belonging to older generations will be more likely to oppose abortion than younger generations, and that those belonging to higher income groups will be more likely to oppose abortion than lower income groups. To test my hypotheses, I used the American National Election Survey Data from 2016. I separated income into three groups, from less than $50,000, $50,000 to $100,000, and greater than $100,000. Generation is split up into Generation Z, Millennial, Generation X, and Baby Boomer. I controlled for party registration, gender, religiosity, and whether or not a person was Catholic and attended church. In my final tests, I used a chi square crosstab with a Somer’s d proportional reduction in error. In conclusion, as generation grows older and as income increases, a person is more likely to be pro-choice than pro-life, maintaining the same result with controls. More research should be done on predicting American voters’ abortion attitudes with additional controls, like race, but the trends for income and abortion are clear and statistically significant with positive correlation within the bounds of this study.

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