Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



This dissertation intends to provide answers to the following research questions: Why do some dictators forcibly remove their top ruling elites from power? If dictators choose to purge an individual, what influences their choice about whether to include punitive violence as part of the action? This work contributes to the field of research on elite interaction and political violence within authoritarian regimes. I advance three main theories on purges and violence. First, I argue that purges of ruling elites are more likely during a period of weakness that follows regime change, declining in likelihood over time as the regime ages and elites organize as a credible counter-balance to the dictator. Second, dictators who enter office unconstitutionally are more likely to use violent elite purges than leaders who entered through a regulated, constitutional manner. Third, unconstitutional entry dictators are more likely to use violent ruling elite purges when the regime is nascent and contested, declining as it ages.

I investigate these hypotheses through two methodologies, empirical testing and illustrative historical case studies. For the empirical testing, I utilize an original dataset of authoritarian elites from communist Eastern Europe, which helps me to develop more nuanced measurements of ruling elite purges and violence. The hypotheses are tested with cross national time-series logistic regression tests, finding evidence supporting my generalizable theory. I then expand upon the empirical findings by presenting four historical case studies from within the sample that illustrate the hypothetical presumptions in action. I finish this work with a series of short case studies examining expansions and exceptions to my theory that go beyond the realm of Eastern Europe, concluding with suggestions for future avenues of study that could advance this work's research agenda.



Committee Chair

David Sobek



Available for download on Tuesday, March 25, 2025