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Dr Rebecca Tapscott



Rebecca Tapscott is a political scientist whose work studies how authoritarian power is produced and contested. Her main research interests include how the state produces and projects political power; the relationship between gender, citizenship, and state authority; and how these processes can be studied ethically—as well as the politics of how these determinations is made. Her work has focused largely on Uganda, with a broader interest how these processes unfold in the so-called “global South”. Rebecca is the author of "Arbitrary States: Social control and modern authoritarianism in Museveni's Uganda" (Oxford University Press, 2021).

Before joining York in 2023, Rebecca held a post-doc and then an Ambizione Research Fellowship at the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy (2017-2023). Rebecca has also held Visiting Fellowships at the London School of Economics, Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and at the University of Edinburgh’s Politics and International Relations Department. She holds a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. She is a recipient of the Fletcher School’s Alfred Rubin Prize in International Law (2011) and the International Studies Association’s Carl Beck award for innovative research on emergent international concerns (2017).

Rebecca serves as the Risk and Ethics Officer, and is a Deputy Director of the White Rose’s Security, Conflict, and Justice Pathway.

Rebecca is interested in supervising PhD studies in comparative politics or international relations, especially but not exclusively in the areas above.




My research agenda is concerned with how authoritarian power is produced and contested, as well as how these questions can be studied ethically. My work on authoritarianism focuses on the state from below—among other topics, I have written about how the Ugandan state outsources day-to-day security to vigilantes and community policing groups, the myth of the state’s monopoly on violence, political mobilisation by women and youth, and the role of masculinity in projecting authoritarian power.

I have two current research projects.

Ugandan Resistance Councils (URC):

I am the Principal Investigator for the URC, a project that documents the historic process of establishing local democratic governance institutions in Uganda. Called “resistance councils” when they were first established in the late 1980s, these local councils are today one of the most important public authorities in day-to-day Ugandan life. The project studies how these democratically elected local authorities interface with sub-national and national-level government to produce state authority at a local level.

For more information, please visit our website.

Governing Research Ethics:

I am currently the Principal Investigator for the Swiss National Science Foundation funded project, Governing Research Ethics (GRE) and a founder of the Ethical Governance Network (EGN). The project studies the transnational politics of regulations for ethical research with human subjects. It focuses in particular on if and how ethical regulations have made their way to the social sciences in different country contexts, and how this stands to shape social scientific knowledge production.

For more information, please visit our website.


Selected publications

Most of my publications are open access, but if you are unable to access any of my writing and would like to read it, please feel free to email me.

Selected Publications:

My book, Arbitrary States: Social Control and Modern Authoritarianism in Museveni's Uganda (Oxford University Press, 2021) is a study of Uganda’s state from below, focusing on local violent actors and their relationship to state authorities to explain how the state projects its authority into everyday life. It draws on extensive fieldwork conducted in Uganda, and interviews with vigilantes, community policing outfits, local authorities, and police. The book was a finalist for the African Studies Association’s Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize. It has been reviewed in African Affairs, Perspectives on Politics, Civil Wars, Journal of Development Studies, and Foreign Affairs, among other outlets.

I have explored the broader implications of my book with the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy via interview (New Perspectives on Modern Authoritarianism, July 2021) and podcast (Fear and Empathy in Fieldwork, September 2021) as well as producing alternative media in collaboration with Victor Ndula (Vigilantes: Security or insecurity? 2021)

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

Encyclopedia articles and book chapters:

External activities


Editorial Work:

International Studies Review board member: I serve as a board member on the International Studies Review.

Associate Editor, Research Ethics: I serve as an Associate Editor on the journal Research Ethics.

Reviews Editor, Civil Wars: As reviews editor at Civil Wars, I designed new review types to increase inclusion and diversity in the study of civil wars and political violence broadly understood, including reviews of non-English language works, arts and culture reviews, and reviews and rejoinders.

The Ethics Governance Network:

I am a founder and coordinator for the Ethics Governance Network, a platform which connects scholars and practitioners concerned with the regulation of research ethics for social science studies of and on people. The network fosters discussion about how “we” regulate the ethics of social science research. The network traverses disciplines and countries to overcome institutional, national, and disciplinary silos that have too often limited the study and understanding of ethical regulations in the social sciences.

Our website is currently down, but if you would like to join the network, please drop me an email and we’ll be in touch when we get it up and running.

photo of Rebecca Tapscott

Contact details

Dr Rebecca Tapscott
Department of Politics and International Relations
University of York
YO10 5DD

Feedback and Guidance hours this semester:  Tuesdays 15:00-16:00 and Fridays 10:00-11:00 Book slot on Google calendar