I am a Professor of Political Science, specializing in international relations and African studies, at Barnard College, Columbia University (USA). I work on civil wars, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and African politics.
I am currently writing a book—tentatively entitled On the Frontlines of Peace—that examines what works in building peace after mass violence. It builds on fieldwork in eleven different conflict zones, including Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somaliland. My 2014 article in International Peacekeeping develops some of the early ideas for this project. My 2017 article in the International Studies Review, my Op-Eds in the Washington Post (here and here and here), and my Foreign Affairs pieces (here and here and here) present my preliminary findings. Research for this project has been funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Gerda Henkel Foundation, and the Folke Bernadotte Academy.
My previous research focused on the everyday elements that influence peacebuilding interventions on the ground. It included extensive fieldwork in the eastern Congo and briefer comparative research in Burundi, Cyprus, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, South Sudan, and Timor-Leste. The book based on this research, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention, was released by Cambridge University Press in 2014. It won the 2016 Best Book of the Year Award and the 2015 Yale H. Ferguson Award from the International Studies Association as well as honorable mentions for three other book prizes (the 2015 Book of the Year Prize from the Conflict Research Society, the 2015 Chadwick Alger Prize from the International Studies Association, and the 2014 African Argument Book of the Year). Findings from this project have also appeared in Critique Internationale and African Affairs (the latter piece won the 2012 Best Article award from the African Politics Conference Group).
My earlier research project focused on local violence and international intervention in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I have traveled regularly since 2001. My fieldwork and analysis culminated in The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding, released by Cambridge University Press in 2010. The book won the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order and the 2011 Chadwick Alger Prize presented by the International Studies Association to the best book on international organizations and multilateralism. Research for this project has also appeared in Foreign Affairs, International Organization, the Review of African Political Economy, the African Studies Review, the African Security Review, International Peacekeeping, the Revista de Relaciones Internationales, and the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs.
My research has won numerous other prizes and fellowships, including the Special Prize of the Jury from the French Red Cross Fund (2017), two research awards from the United States Institute of Peace (2004-2005 and 2010-2012), two Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation research grants (2010 and 2011), a Presidential Research Award from Barnard College (2010), several grants from Columbia University (2010 – 2013), two Mellon Fellowships in Security and Humanitarian Action (2004-2006), the 2006 Best Graduate Student Paper award from the African Studies Association, and a Fulbright Fellowship (1999-2000).
Before becoming an academic, I worked for humanitarian and development agencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nicaragua, and India. I hold a post-doctorate from Yale University (2007), a Ph.D. in political science from New York University (2006), and master’s degrees in international relations and political science from Columbia University (2000) and Sciences Po (France, 1999).
Lastly, if you are wondering how to pronounce my name, here is the phonetic spelling: sev-REEN’ oh-tuh-SEHR’.
And a fun fact: I am one of the main characters in Timothy Pachirat’s book Among Wolves: Ethnography and the Immersive Study of Power.