RUNC: Ashley Anderson

Ashley Anderson studies risky politics in dangerous places.

Ashley Andersonphoto by Megan Mendenhall
June 5th, 2024

Ashley Anderson is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. She studies contentious politics in authoritarian regimes, primarily the Middle East.

Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?

A: I’ve always been interested in conflict and what makes people willing to risk their lives for political goals. When I started graduate school, I thought the best way to answer this question was to investigate the motives for terrorism, but then I got very interested in protest politics which involves a longer, more sustained acceptance of risk.

Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

A: Fieldwork. In 2013, I arrived in Tunisia in with a poor sense of direction, a middling command on the language, and no contacts whatsoever. But I quickly oriented myself — and literally walked the streets on the weekends looking for union offices, identifiable by the union label on the face of certain buildings. Then, on weekdays, I would show up at 9 a.m. so that I could be the first one there when the workday began to ask for interviews. Over the year or so I was in the field, I was able to get over 100 interviews through this method and subsequent referrals.

Q: Describe your research in five words.

A: Risky politics in dangerous places.

Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?

A: My mom. Being an academic isn’t easy: You get a lot of rejections, and it takes a lot of grit and faith to get through it all. My mom has both, especially the latter, in abundance. Some days I wish I could have her assurance that everything is going to work out for the best.

Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?

A: I’ve always wanted to be a retiree — ha! But in truth, I would be a screenwriter for TV shows. I have a couple of ideas for mystery/thrillers, and one sitcom swirling in my head that I think would be perfect for ABC primetime.

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