| Willy Brandt School of Public Policy

The Use of Qualitative Comparative Analysis in International Sanctions Research

GIGA Senior Research Fellow Dr. Julia Grauvogel held a guest lecture about “The Internal Opposition Effect of International Sanctions: Insights from a Qualitative Comparative Analysis”, based on a forthcoming book chapter in the Research Handbook on Economic Sanctions where she applied QCA to the study of anti-regime mobilization in 75 sanction episodes in Sub-Saharan Africa. The guest lecture was part of the “Qualitative Comparative Analysis” course led by PD Dr. Patrick A. Mello.


International sanctions are a commonly used foreign policy tool to address concerns about human rights, democracy, and international law. There has been plenty of research on the effectiveness of sanctions and how targeted countries respond, yet there is little understanding of how sanctions encourage opposition movements.

Although it has grown in popularity in recent years, especially among European scholars, Dr. Grauvogel considers QCA an underutilized tool in international sanctions research. One of the benefits of this technique is that it allows for an interplay of different explanatory approaches (in this instance, theories of economic deprivation, political opportunities, and signals). Additionally, QCA provides a middle ground between large-N and case studies. This advantage allows scholars to generalize systematically while still maintaining an in-depth knowledge of the cases.

Dr. Grauvogel’s work highlights three critical findings. First, the justification given for sanctions has a more significant impact on domestic opposition than the cost or comprehensiveness. Second, the degree of political openness makes a difference in anti-regime mobilization. Third, a combination of sanction signals and deprivation can lead to anti-regime activity. Not only does Dr. Grauvogel’s work add to the field’s understanding of opposition movements in sanctioned regimes, but it also has real-world policy implications. In light of recent international sanctions against regimes in Belarus and Myanmar, this knowledge is crucial.

Despite these developments, Dr. Grauvogel also highlights that QCA entails certain limitations – some of which can be addressed with robustness tests and careful application, whereas others call for the combination with other methods, whether large-N or case-based. We hope that Dr. Grauvogel’s work is just the beginning of future research on social movements, international sanctions, and QCA. Look out for her forthcoming chapter in the Research Handbook on Economic Sanctions.