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Professor Heather Tafel

Heather Tafel

Professor Heather Tafel
Department of Political Science
1128 Au Sable Hall
Grand Valley State University
1 Campus Drive
Allendale, MI 49401

I do not have office hours during the spring/summer session. Send me an email if you have questions, and perhaps we can figure out a day and time to meet either in Allendale or at the downtown campus.


Ph.D. in Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2005
B.A. with High Honors in International Studies and Modern Languages (German & Spanish), Eckerd College, 1993

Fields: comparative politics, democratization, federalism, Russia and post-communist Europe, international relations

Current Courses

PLS 103 Issues in World Politics

PLS 105 Introduction to Human Rights

PLS 339 Democracy and the Authoritarian Challenge

PLS 325 Human Rights & Democracy in Russia & the Post-Communist World


Tafel, Heather L. 2014. "Beyond 'Putin's Russia: Society and Politics in a Changing Russia." [Review of Constructing Grievance: Ethnic Nationalism in Russia's Republics by Elise Giuliano; Popular Support for an Undemocratic Regime: The Changing Views of Russians by Richard Rose, William Mishler, and Neil Munro; The Politics of Inequality in Russia by Thomas F. Remington.] International Studies Review 16: 478-484.

Tafel, Heather L. 2013. [Review of Changing Federal Constitutions: Lessons from International Comparison, eds. Arthur Benz and Felix Knüpling.] Publius: The Journal of Federalism 44 (1): e2.

Tafel, Heather L. 2011. "Regime Change and the Federal Gamble: Negotiating Federal Institutions in Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and Spain." Publius: The Journal of Federalism 41 (2): 257-285.

Tafel, Heather L. and Dexter S. Boniface. 2003. "‘Old Carrots and New Sticks: Labor Strategies Toward Economic Reform in Eastern Europe and Latin America.” Comparative Politics 25 (April): 313-333.

Ongoing Research

U.S. Media Portrayals of Post-Soviet Russian Leaders: Rendering Politics after Communism, book manuscript, co-authored with Erika King.

Recent Conference Presentations

"Friends, Frenemies, or Foes? Media Coverage of U.S.-Russian Security Agreements and Disagreements." Presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. April 2016, co-authored with Erika King.

"Combating Freedom Fighters, Rebels, or Terrorists? U.S. Media Coverage of Russia’s Wars in Chechnya." Presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. April 2015, co-authored with Erika King.

"Portraying President Putin: U.S. Media Depictions of American Exceptionalism's Self-Anointed Critic." Presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. April 2014, co-authored with Erika King.

"Regime and Opposition in Russia: Engaging Society in a Semi-Authoritarian System." Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, CA. April 2013.

"The Party Had Only Just Begun? Russia’s Hegemonic-Party Regime in Comparative Perspective." Presented at the Annual Conference of the Midwest International Studies Association, St. Louis, MO. November 2012.

"Defeating Democracy: How Russia Promotes Authoritarianism in the Former Soviet Union," Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Political Science Association (IPSA) and the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), Sao Paulo, Brazil. February 2011.

"The Party Has Only Just Begun? Russia's Dominant-Party Regime in Comparative Perspective," Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, New Orleans, LA. February 2010.

"Comparing US and EU Democracy Promotion: Identity, Leverage, and Institutions." Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, New York, NY. February 2009.

"The EU as Democracy Promoter: The Prospects and Limits of Success." Presented at the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, CA. March 2008.

"Democracy Demotion in Russia: The European Union’s Advocacy of Democratic Norms." Presented at the Annual Conference of the European Studies Association, Montreal, Canada. May 2007.


I joined the GVSU political science faculty first as a visiting instructor in 2003 and then as a member of the tenure-track faculty in 2004. Before moving to Michigan, I lived in Urbana-Champaign, where I did my graduate work at the University of Illinois, and in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I did my undergraduate work at a liberal arts college called Eckerd College.

My research interests are comparative democratization, Russian and post-communist European politics, democracy promotion, and more recently, U.S. media depictions of Russia. I wrote my dissertation on Russian regime change and federalism, and continue to research regime and federal dynamics of Russia. I am especially interested in how institutions, particularly federal and party institutions, work in Russia and why they function the way they do. In addition, Professor Erika King and I recently began a new project that investigates the U.S. media's depictions of Russia. We hope to expand this into a larger study that compares how the U.S. media have portrayed Russia in the post-Cold War era. 

In addition to my teaching and research at Grand Valley, I maintain a news-oriented Facebook page called Democracy Resurgent?! Debating World Politics, participate in the Russian Studies program at GVSU, have served in a leadership capacity for the AP Comparative Politics exam reading, and am the faculty advisor for the Alpha Sigma Tau Gamma Xi chapter at GVSU. 

While growing up in Florida, I caught the travel bug early and learned German during my junior year of high school as an exchange student with the Congress-Bundestag exchange program. I returned to Germany during a semester abroad while in college and again after graduation by being awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Halle, in eastern Germany. A Peace Corps internship took me to Lesotho, southern Africa for three months during my junior year of college, and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship landed me in Innsbruck, Austria for a year after living in Halle. While living in Austria and during graduate school at the University of Illinois, I learned Russian and then traveled there on several occasions with research support from the University of Illinois, American Councils for International Education, and Grand Valley State University. I still love traveling, and in my spare time I enjoy cooking, hiking, reading and meeting with my book club, and exercising at the YMCA.