Jocelyn Sage Mitchell

Assistant Professor in Residence, Liberal Arts Program
Email: jocelyn.mitchell (at)
Phone: +974 4454 5051
Office Location: 2-234


Jocelyn Sage Mitchell is assistant professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, teaching comparative and American politics and interdisciplinary courses. She is also an affiliated faculty member of Northwestern University's Middle East and North African Studies Program in the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences. Mitchell holds a BA in political science and Middle Eastern studies from Brown University (2003) and an MA (2008) and a PhD (2013) in government from Georgetown University. She has lived in Doha, Qatar, since August 2008 with her husband and two sons.

Mitchell's research interests span political economy, authoritarianism, state-society relations, and nation-building, focusing on the Middle East. These interests form her current research agenda, which explores the interaction between state and society under conditions of rentier (resource-rich) authoritarianism. In the past five years, she has been awarded over $1 million USD from the Qatar National Research Fund and other academic institutions for three separate but interrelated grant projects (2012–20132014–2015, and 2016–2019) that investigate previously-unexplored attitudes and behaviors of Qatari citizens about political, economic, and social issues and use a mixed-methods approach to empirically test theoretical assumptions as well as explain process and cause. Her empirical evidence includes four sets of original, nationally-representative surveys of Qatari citizens and expatriates, extensive ethnographic observations and Arabic interviews, and Arabic media analysis. In all of her grant projects, she prioritizes the inclusion of students as researchers, training them in research skills and tapping into their expertise. Mitchell's research clarifies the political mechanisms of the modern rentier state: State-distributed benefits are a necessary but insufficient explanation of domestic stability; state and society coopt and constrain each other in policies and preferences; and nation–building efforts are integral in even the most extreme conditions of rentier authoritarianism. These findings inform her book manuscript, nearing completion, entitled “The Politics of Legitimacy: Wealth, Voice, and Nation in Qatar.”

Mitchell regularly presents her research and organizes panels at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association and the Middle East Studies Association, as well as local and regional conferences and workshops. She also works one-on-one with her student researchers to disseminate their ideas. Under her guidance, her undergraduate researchers have presented their work at the Middle East Studies Association, published their papers in Northwestern University’s undergraduate research journal, and presented award-winning posters. "She also communicates her work to general audiences and non-specialists, including through published work in the Washington Post and repeat appearances on the Al Jazeera English television network and on London’s Monocle Radio. Her work has been published in political science journals, including the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, as well as book chapters and encyclopedia articles. 

Mitchell teaches innovative and rigorous courses in comparative and American politics, all of which contain research methods components and teaching techniques that accommodate different learning styles and ESL/first-generation students. Her syllabi and classroom are structured to prepare students to apply their skills and knowledge to complex, real-world problems, by focusing on authentic assessments, collaborative learning, and critical thinking. She consistently receives strong quantitative and qualitative student evaluations that praise her organization and enthusiasm, her engaging teaching style, and the usefulness of class materials and assignments. Outside of the classroom, she mentors and advises students to graduation and beyond. She is committed to pedagogical improvement, through service work, class development, and journal publications, including in the Journal of General Education and the Journal of Political Science Education.

Courses Taught at NU-Q


American Government and Politics
This course provides an introduction to American politics and government. We will explore the US constitution, the three branches of government, the news media, public opinion and political participation, and campaigns and elections. We will follow the American elections with interactive blogs, and end with a comparative and critical perspective on US democracy. An introduction to American politics is essential for students to understand American influence and capacity on foreign policies and current events.

Debates in Comparative Politics
This course provides a dynamic introduction to a current debate in comparative politics—how to determine whether a country is a democracy. By the end of the class, you will be able to critically analyze various political systems throughout the world. You will first decide your definition of democracy, using the work of Dahl and other theorists as guides. Then, using this definition, you will evaluate the states of Russia, India, and Pakistan, through in-depth case study analysis. By becoming familiar with political science literature and learning to compare country case studies, this class provides a solid foundation for you to delve deeper into the big political questions and events that are of particular interest to you.

Gulf Society and Politics
This class investigates important themes of contemporary Gulf society and politics: the impact of oil wealth on social and political development, contested notions of citizenship in the Gulf, and changing gender roles in the Gulf. Political readings are combined with literature from the Gulf region. Students should end the class with a better understanding of the rapid development and transformation of Gulf society and politics, and the challenges still facing the region.

Ways of Knowing: Climate Change [interdisciplinary]
What do we know? How do we know it? What is the best way of gathering data to learn what we do not currently know? How do we process our current knowledge and use it as a basis for action? These epistemological questions are addressed differently by different disciplines or academic groups trained to investigate problems following certain, agreed-upon rules of analysis. The theme of climate change, a topic of particular importance to students and the world at large, functions as a concrete mental hook for the students to better understand diverse epistemologies and methodologies: how different disciplines address these questions in different ways. Each professor will introduce methods and protocols from his/her discipline to discuss different ways of knowing. But by weaving together lectures, discussions, and assignments, the course will also underscore the interconnectedness of our disciplines and the value of an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and solving the complex problems of our times.


Female Civil Society
This class investigates female engagement and empowerment by linking the study of civil society in the Middle East with specific concerns about gender, oil wealth, and modernization. This class provides a hands-on research experience through the lens of critical ethnography. Guided by the available political science literature, students will combine their interview and observational evidence with unique survey data to create multimedia projects (documentaries, museum installations) and a final essay on the drivers and obstacles of women’s engagement in politics and society of the Middle East.

Inequality in America
This course provides an in-depth look at inequality in America, in which some individuals and groups "get what, when, and how" (Lasswell 1936) more than others. The class will contrast the promise of equality with the reality of inequality in American democracy today. Although the primary focus is on America, relevant comparisons to Qatar and the Gulf will be introduced to investigate how these concepts travel across contexts and raise awareness of global forms of inequality. Students will understand the social construction of difference (race, class, gender, and sexuality), the impact of intersectionality, and the concept of backlash as status quo groups seek to protect perceived threats to their power and place in the system. Specific issues, such as voting rights, education, and policing, will be explored through a comparative and critical perspective, and the prospects of social change will be assessed.

Politics of Legitimacy
The protests and revolutions throughout the Arab world, beginning in December 2010, brings attention to the importance of legitimacy for the long-term stability of political regimes. This class goes beyond economic rentier explanations to look at the politics of legitimacy and its effects on government capacity and stability. We compare Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to explore the extent to which these countries have been able to maintain their legitimacy despite the unrest of the Arab Spring. Students should end the class with a better understanding of the importance of political legitimacy to state stability in the post–Arab Spring world, even in oil-rich states.

Politics of Legitimacy in China [independent study]
How does China, the largest authoritarian regime in the world, maintain relative stability despite domestic challenges and international pressures? This project is an in-depth case study of how China has been able to win consent and maintain its legitimacy beyond all forms of coercion that are perceived to be commonly adopted in authoritarian regimes. Literature will include China’s sources of legitimacy such as economic growth, nationalism, popular support, sports and civil society, and the pervasive discontent and major challenges confronting China and the country’s response  to these challenges. The final report (15–20 pages) will discuss China’s legitimation strategies.

Public Opinion
This course is geared toward increasing students’ understanding of how to critically interact with survey polls and data in order to measure and analyze public opinion. The class begins with general political science approaches to measuring and analyzing public opinion, and then focuses on recent public opinion and survey research on the Arab Middle East. Thus, this course aims to enhance the basic skills of journalism and communications students when it comes to interpreting survey data in a meaningful and accurate way, as well as provide critical knowledge of recent public opinion. Students should leave this class with higher statistical literacy, a better understanding of how to analyze and interpret survey data, and a greater knowledge of public opinion in the Arab Middle East.

Survey Creation [independent study]
This course guides students through the concepts and practice of polling research, in the Western world and the Middle East. Topics include survey design, wording and context of questions, framing effects, anchoring vignettes methodology, and translation issues. Students divide into teams to create sections of the original survey instrument, including social, political, and economic issues. The final survey instrument will then be professionally conducted to a random, nationally-representative sample of citizens in Qatar. 

Areas of Research
  • Political economy
  • Rentierism
  • Authoritarianism
  • State-society relations
  • Nation-building
  • Political legitimacy
  • Public opinion
2016. Research Grant, Northwestern University in Qatar. 172-7100013-10031823-17-1411. US$10,200.
2016–2019. Primary Investigator (PI), “National Museums and the Public Imagination: A Longitudinal Study of the National Museum of Qatar.” Dr. Karen Exell (LPI), University College London–Qatar. Qatar National Research Fund, National Priorities Research Program (NPRP) 8-389-5-051. US$800,521.
2014–2015. Primary Research Mentor, “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment.” Qatar National Research Fund, Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) 15-035-5-013. US$150,000.
2012–2013. Primary Research Mentor, “Qatar and the World Values Survey: Ensuring Conceptual Validity and Cross-Cultural Comparability.” Qatar National Research Fund, Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) 12-016-5-007. US$99,836.
2012. Research Grant, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. SP0023425. US$20,000.
Selected Awards

Finalist, 8th Annual UREP Competition, for best UREP grant concluded in 2015, for the QNRF UREP grant, “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment,” Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference, Doha, Qatar, March 21–23, 2016. Top 6 out of 66 UREP projects overall.

Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), “Best Paper Award,” May 2015, for the paper, “In Majalis Al-Hareem: The Complex Professional and Personal Choices of Qatari Women,” presented at the DIFI Annual Conference on Family Research and Policy: The Arab Family in an Age of Transition: Challenges and Resilience, in the Role of State Policies on Family Formation and Stability pillar.

Qatar Foundation, Research and Development, “1st Prize Research Excellence Award,” November 2014, for the poster presentation, “Majalis Al-Hareem in Qatar: Sites of Social and Political Engagement,” presented at the Qatar Foundation Annual Research Conference 2014 in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities pillar.

Northwestern University in Qatar “Unity Award,” May 2014, for the QNRF UREP grant, “Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment.”

Selected Publications

Mitchell, J. S. (2017) “Why did Qatar just change its residency laws? Washington Post. August 9.

Gengler, J. J., and Mitchell, J. S. (2016) “A Hard Test of Individual Heterogeneity in Response Scale Usage: Evidence from Qatar.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

Mitchell, J. S. (2016). "We’re All Qataris Here: The Nation-Building Narrative of the National Museum of Qatar." In Erskine-Loftus, P., Al-Mulla, M., and Hightower, V. (Eds.), Representing the Nation: Heritage, Museums, National Narratives, and Identity in the Arab Gulf States. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Mitchell, J. S., and Pal, L. A. (2016). "Policy Making in Qatar: The Macro-Policy Framework." In Tok, M. E., Al-Khater, L., and Pal, L. A. (Eds.), Policy Making in a Transformative State: The Case of Qatar. Palgrave Macmillan.

Mitchell, J. S., Foley, S., Moritz, J., and Carvalho Pinto, V. (2016) “Space: Female Space: Arabian Peninsula.” In Joseph, S. (Ed.), Encylopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, Supplement 14.

Mitchell, J. S., Paschyn, C., Mir, S., Pike, K., and Kane, T. (2015) "In majaalis al-hareem: The complex professional and personal choices of Qatari women." DIFI Family Research and Proceedings 4.

Mitchell, J. S. (2014). "Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Creating Knowledge through Student-Faculty Partnerships." Journal of General Education 63 (2–3): 73–93.

Mitchell, J. S. (2013). “Beyond Allocation: The Politics of Legitimacy in Qatar.” Ph.D. diss., Georgetown University.