Working Papers

Monumental Changes: Confederate Symbol Removals and Racial Attitudes in the United States (paper available here). (Under Review). 2022.

Abstract: How does the removal of political symbols affect public opinion and behavior? This paper explores two waves of Confederate symbol removals in the United States to examine how local changes in the built environment, in conjunction with salient national events, shape racial attitudes and prejudice-motivated violence. Using a difference-in-differences strategy with repeated cross-sectional and panel data, I find that the removal of Confederate symbols, on average, decreased racial resentment, increased support for affirmative action, increased warm feelings (as measured with thermometer scores) toward Blacks, and decreased anti-Black hate crimes, particularly by White offenders. These effects are strongest at the most local level and decay with greater distance from removal sites. These findings suggest a short-term shift in perceptions of social norms, rather than a backlash effect.

Can Communities Take Charge? A Randomized Controlled Trial on Sustaining Schools in Afghanistan (with Dana Burde, Joel Middleton, and Cyrus Samii). (paper available upon request). 2022.

Abstract: After wars, international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) often service basic needs like health and education. Ideally, such service provision would eventually be handed over to an accountable government. But cases like Afghanistan show that handover can fail. Should the ideal of handover be abandoned, or are there strategies to make it realistic? To address this question we test a community-based model for administering primary education in Afghanistan. We use a randomized equivalence trial that estimates effects relative to what INGOs achieve. The model succeeds in maintaining children’s learning and household satisfaction. It does not increase gender or ethnic bias nor does it result in resource misappropriation. However, in a one-year follow-up, community leaders were pessimistic about the model’s viability, although this was moderated by age and education. Communities can take charge in administering basic services, but they need additional inputs to sustainably institutionalize service provision after INGOs withdraw.


Mobilizing to Influence Public Historical Narratives: Evidence from the Early 20th Century U.S. South (working draft available upon request). 2022.

Abstract: When do we see instances of mobilization to influence public narratives of history? I examine this question in the context of the US South from 1890-1920, when an elite women’s organization called the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) emerged with the core objective to propagate the pseudohistory of the “Lost Cause,” which is rooted in a racially dominant ideology. The UDC used white public schools as their primary sites for seeding and spreading this ideology, through the textbooks taught in these schools. Using rich and novel data on where and when UDC chapters were established, this paper shows a strong correlation between counties that had a high potential threat of biracial working class coalitions (as measured by a sizable share of poor and landless white and black farmers) and counties where mobilization around historical narratives occurred (as exemplified by the emergence of local UDC chapters) over the course of this time period. The findings from this case study suggest that when elites are faced with a potential threat by lower class coalitions, they may mobilize to influence the content taught in schools to break coalitions (across race), and formulate new ones (across class).

From another era (pre-PhD)

Peer-Reviewed Publications

A utility approach to accelerate universal electricity access in less developed countries: A regulatory proposal”. IJ. Pérez-Arriaga, R. Stoner, R. Rahnama, S. Lee, G. Jacquot, E. Protzer, A. Garcia, R. Amatya, M. Brusnahan, and P. Dueñas, Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy 8 (1): 33-50 (2019).

Policy Publications

Determinants of WTP among energy poor households: implications for planning models and frameworks“. R. Rahnama. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies Paper (EL 35): 1-33 (2019).

Electrification planning with a focus on human factors”. R. Rahnama and IJ. Pérez-Arriaga. Oxford Energy Forum (115): 30-34 (2018).