Assistant Professor of Politics and Global Affairs
Areas of expertise: Armed conflict; governance and state capacity in fragile environments; methodology and data of studying civil wars and armed violence
Rachel Sweet is assistant professor of global affairs at the University of Notre Dame. She is a core faculty member of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, part of the Keough School of Global Affairs. She also is a concurrent faculty member with the Department of Political Science.
Sweet’s research focuses on armed conflict, governance and state capacity in fragile environments, and the methodology and data of studying civil wars and armed violence. Drawing on four years of research in East and Central Africa, she uses armed groups’ original financial and administrative records and in-depth interviews to generate new understandings of the logic of rebel control and state survival amidst insecurity.
Her book manuscript, “Violent Institutions: Rebellion, Bureaucracy, and State Capture in the Congo,” examines the varied relationships that form between armed groups and low-level state administrators during war. It probes how rebels’ use of pre-existing bureaucratic offices for taxation and surveillance reshape state institutions, embed violence networks within the state, and provide rebels legitimation to international audiences.
Sweet’s broader work on state-rebel relations examines how parallel networks in national militaries collude with armed groups, and the implications this has for international intervention. She also studies rebels’ strategic use of misattribution in civil war violence, and property rights enforcement in informal settings. She is currently examining global health security and how prior experiences of violence shape community resistance to international and government intervention during public health emergencies.
Sweet bridges academic rigor with practical engagement to improve conflict policy. She has worked with the United Nations Office of the Secretary General-Special Envoy to the African Great Lakes as an armed group expert, as a conflict expert with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission, and as a lead conflict investigator with the Congo Research Group and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She has been featured in the New York Times on National Public Radio, and by the British Broadcasting Corporation. She also has been invited to present research findings to policymakers from the US Department of State, the UN, and various US intelligence agencies.
Previously, Sweet worked at Congolese university in northeast DR Congo and under a group of Kenyan lawyers in Nairobi. These original experiences shaped her commitment to asking whose voices are listened to and influence debates, and to promoting expertise from on-the-ground participants.
Sweet is an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies at Harvard University. She completed her PhD at Northwestern University in 2017. Her research has been supported by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for the Study of Human Violence, the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award, and the Andrew Mellow Foundation Fellowship for African Studies.
- Journal article: Bureaucrats at war: The resilient state in the Congo, African Affairs, Volume 119, Issue 475, April 2020, Pages 224–250, https://doi.org/10.1093/afraf/adaa001
- Book chapter: 2021. “Peacebuilding as State Building? Lessons from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” In The State of Peacebuilding in Africa edited by McNamee, Terence and Muyangwa, Monde, 295-320. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Journal article: (2021). Concealing Conflict Markets: How Rebels and Firms Use State Institutions to Launder Wartime Trade. 1-24. doi:10.1017/S0020818321000205