I am a Professor and Chair 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.
My latest book, The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider’s Guide to Changing the World, has been released by Oxford University Press in 2021. (The French translation was published in 2023, and the Japanese version is forthcoming). Drawing on fieldwork in twelve different conflict zones, including Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somaliland, it examines what works in building peace after mass violence. My 2014 article in International Peacekeeping develops some of the early ideas for this project. My 2017 article in 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 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 Internacionales, and the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs.
In 2021, I was named a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques) by the French Government—a historical knighthood for French academic, cultural, and educational figures. That same year, I received the Emily Gregory Award for excellence in teaching (Barnard’s only student-nominated and student-selected professorship award) and the Victor Sidel and Barry Levy Award for Peace from the American Public Health Association. I was also elected to chair the Barnard political science department, starting in 2022.
I have won numerous other prizes and fellowships for my research, including the Emerging Scholar Award from the International Studies Association’s International Security Studies Section (2021), 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), two Presidential Research Award from Barnard College (2010 and 2021), several grants from Columbia University (2010 – 2020), 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).
My research has helped shape the intervention strategies of several United Nations departments, foreign affairs ministries, and non-governmental organizations, as well as numerous philanthropists and activists. I have been a featured speaker at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the United Nations Security Council. My TED talk on solving mass violence has nearly 800,000 views and has been subtitled in 19 languages.
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).
Originally from Paris, I am a French-American citizen, and I currently reside in New York City with my husband. For more information, please browse my website or follow me on Twitter, Instagram, ou Facebook. Lastly, if you are wondering how to pronounce my name, here is an audio recording, and the phonetic spelling is: 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.