Latest about COVID-19 and W&M's Path Forward.

Info for... William & Mary
William & Mary W&M menu close William & Mary
Directory Page Title

Philip Roessler

Associate Chair, Associate Professor

Office: Chancellors 334, 757-221-3045
Links: [[proessler, Email]] and {{, Webpage}}
Office Hours: Tuesdays 2-3 or Fridays 11-12 via {{, Zoom}}
Research Interests: African Politics, Conflict, State-building, Development


Professor Roessler received his B.A. from Indiana University and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He has held fellowships at Stanford University and Oxford University. 

Professor Roessler’s research and teaching offer new perspectives on conflict, state-building, and development, with a focus on the region of sub-Saharan Africa, where he has conducted extensive field research. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the British Academy, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute of International Education and United States Agency for International Development and been published in World Politics, Journal of Politics, the American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics and other outlets. 

Roessler has also written two books—both out in 2016. The first—Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap (Cambridge University Press, 2016)—offers a novel theoretical and empirical account of the strategic logic of war and peace in sub-Saharan Africa, drawing on extensive field research in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and complemented by extensive quantitative analysis using the Ethnic Power Relations dataset. It builds on Roessler’s 2011 World Politics article, "The Enemy Within: Personal Rule, Coups and Civil War in Africa," which won the Gregory Luebbert Award from the American Political Science Association for the best article in comparative politics for 2010 or 2011.

The second book—Why Comrades Go to War: Post-Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa’s Deadliest Conflict (Oxford University Press/Hurst Publishers, 2016)—is co-authored with Harry Verhoeven of Georgetown University. Drawing on extensive field research in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, it offers a theoretically-informed analysis of the breakdown of the pan-Africanist coalition that overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 and the logic of why its breakdown led to Africa’s Great War in August 1998, the most devastating conflict since World War II.

Beyond his scholarship on the coup-civil war trap and armed conflict, Roessler’s additional ongoing research projects address other big questions in the study of development and state-building, including: 1.) the effects of partition on political attitudes, migration and identity in Sudan; 2.) a field experiment on the impact of the mobile phone revolution on women’s empowerment in Tanzania; 3.) the impact of Chinese aid and investment projects on state-building in Africa; and 4.) a comparative historical analysis of the origins and consequences of spatial inequality in Africa.

To scale and advance his research on spatial inequality, in August 2016 Professor Roessler was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Political Science Program.

At W&M, Professor Roessler teaches courses on African politics, comparative politics and mixed methods research for the study of conflict and development. He is also the Director of the Center for African Development, a research center that provides students with the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge policy-relevant research in Sub-Saharan Africa. Each summer since 2014, Professor Roessler has traveled with a group of students to Tanzania to undertake a multi-phased experimental study on the micro-level effects of the mobile phone revolution.  

Recent Papers and Publications

“The Empty Panorama: The Colonial Origins of Spatial Inequality in Africa,” (with Yannick Pengl of ETH-Zurich, Rob Marty of W&M, Kyle Titlow of University of Arizona, and Nic van de Walle of Cornell University).

“Self-enforcing Powersharing in Weak States,” (with Dave Ohls of American University) 

Ethnic Politics and State Power in Africa: The Logic of the Coup-Civil War Trap (Cambridge University Press, 2016)

Why Comrades Go to War: Post-Liberation Politics and the Outbreak of Africa’s Deadliest Conflict (Oxford University Press/Hurst Publishers, 2016), (with Harry Verhoeven)

 “Intergroup Violence and Political Attitudes: Evidence from a Dividing Sudan,” (with Bernd Beber and Alex Scaco), Journal of Politics (2014). 


GOVT 337: African Politics

GOVT 312: Politics of Developing Countries

GOVT 203: Intro. to Comparative Politics

GOVT 391: Mixed Methods for the Study of Conflict and Development