“Don’t Trust the Refugees!” 1980s Peru, Stylee

It will come as no surprise to many that Donald Trump’s beating of the fear drum vis-a-vis Arab and Muslim migrants and refugees is a tried and true narrative among politicians who oversee police regimes .


In 1982, during Peru’s conflict with Sendero Luminoso, a violent communist insurgency that specialized in terror,

the elected civilian government of Fernando Belaunde Terry (1980-85) ordered the armed forces to enter into action [where Sendero was active] and declared the region an emergency zone.

Between Sendero and army violence, an estimated 50,000 forced migrants fled the rural area (Ayacucho) for Lima and other urban areas.

Ayacucho is a rural area overwhelmingly populated by indigenous people who, as throughout most of the world, faced discrimination and third class economic, political and social status in Peru.  Unsurprisingly, this stigma, on top of the stigma associated with being “a refugee” led to substantial abuses at the hands of urban police: in a democracy, marginalized minorities receive scant support from the majority population.

Michael Smith summarizes the situation.

Once in Lima carrying a voting identification with Ayacucho marked as a birthplace was a guarantee of two weeks in the security police’s prisons and even torture.  Police units staked out bus depots to follow passengers coming in from the Central Sierra.

Why did police units do so?  For the very reason the Republican candidate for US President advocates: because they were born and raised in Ayacucho the democratically elected Peruvian regime viewed them as suspicious: were they supporters of Sendero Luminoso, come to Lima to spread communist ideology and terror attacks?  Who could be sure?  Best to keep a close eye on, arrest, and interrogate them.

Those of us who study insurgency, terror, counter-insurgency, repression, and human rights are very familiar with the basic narrative structure that the Republican candidate is advancing.

Guilt by association (the so called “links” and “ties” to this or that group), and presumptive guilt by heritage and birthplace are hallmarks of the anti-Enlightenment forces that have advanced the inherent goodness (and, at times, superiority) of group A over the scary members of group B since the 1800s.  It is the ideology behind nationalism and all sorts of other stripes, whether the Hindu racism of the BJP or the white racism of Stormfront.

Those who criticize Trump’s rhetoric as racist are missing the key point.  The hallmark of rhetoric is brazen, naked nationalism, and it is a political error to think of it simply as racism.  Why?  Nationalism is a far more effective political appeal to mobilize support–it appeals across categories, as Trump did so effectively on Monday.

One of the inherent weaknesses of the speech that Obama recently made criticizing Trump’s post-Orlando speech is that it is not “hand-in-glove” with nationalism.  Sure, one makes the appeal to “the America we want,” but the Enlightenment ideals need to be appended to a specific nation.  Voters can embrace nationalism and its symbols, but dismiss the rights of “bad people” with considerable ease and a clear conscience.

On the other hand, the political power of the nationalist appeal that leaders of police regimes make is that it fits “hand-in-glove” with the dehumanization of the scary other; the foreigner “who does not share our values”; the “terrorist” at our door.  And this is not an American thing.  It is a human thing.  Analysts unfamiliar with the breadth of appeal contained in such nationalist messages are poor students of coercion, repression, and the violation of human rights.

In 1933 US President FD Roosevelt famously told Americans that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Then, on February 19, 1942 he reversed course, fearful of Japanese Americans, and signed Executive Order 9066 deporting or “concentrating in camps” secured by military police (interred them en masse is the polite phrasing Americans like) all people of Japanese ancestry in the US.

These nationalist appeals are effective politics, folks.  It repeats itself over and over again, throughout the world.  And if you are a US citizen, congratulations: you definitely have a front row seat to history.  What role will you play?


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The Orientalist Morality Play, Genital Cutting Stylee

Alex de Waal recently opined that “in the West, we like morality plays with clearly identified heroes and villains, in which we can play the role of savior.”  He is discussing the balancing act human rights activists must play between speaking out and remaining silent as driven by the reality that naming and shaming activism is only successful when people respond en masse; when the world pays attention.  He acknowledges that Western public outrage is best stimulated by “these fairy tales.”

I am well aware of this dynamic, and have groused about morality play narratives before.  I do not claim to be pure as the driven snow, by and large reject de Waal’s views about where to strike that balance.  For me, the old school Amnesty International position, which de Waal describes as “dry factual accounts of prisoners of conscience, victims of torture, and people sentenced to execution,” is both the instrumental and proper route.  But I am not someone you would want to hire to mobilize public opinion.

I offer this as backstory to a recent post I put on Facebook in which I lambasted a BBC “The Inquiry” report titled “Why Can’t Egypt Stop FGM?”  I have a bunch of podcasts I listen to as I drift off to sleep, and “The Inquiry” is on that rotation.  The title set alarm bells in my head [eye roll, with internal voice: Will their next report be “Why Can’t the US have a Discussion about MGM?”], and I almost deleted the episode.  But I decided to risk it.  Not long in the reporter set me off, and I sat up, copied the link, deleted the episode, and put this on Facebook, before settling into a different “drift off to la la land” podcast.  This post unpacks why I reacted that way to the reporting.


I understand Orientialism to be a specific form of ethnocentrism produced by British colonial academics, and echoed by its government and public, that understands non-European “lineage” human beings as members of “inferior races” that, inevitably, produced “uncivilized societies.”   It is racialized, for example, as “brown people doing backward shite.”

This is not the place to do more than assert that the Orientalist school of British academia provided the intellectual foundation for Western Imperial Colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade, genocides of native peoples in Australia, Canada and the US, and the 20th Century’s episodes of eugenics-inspired genocide, nationalist-based claims for statehood, social movements like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Ku Klux Klan (which both sought to keep WASPs “pure” from Jews and the Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Spain), and so on.  Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights provides a very accessible account of this intellectual backlash to the Enlightenment claims of inalienable universal rights adhering to all members of the species Home Sapiens,[1] and the ensuing culture war is alive and well to this day.

OK, with that as backstory, let’s have a look at my post.  My opening sentence is

For the record, I am opposed to genital mutilation of children, whether carried out in hospitals, homes, or places of worship.

Two things are noteworthy.  First, I use the word “mutiliation” in reference to genital cutting of both boys and girls.  Second, I include the clause “whether carried out in hospitals, homes, or places of worship.”

Why do I make these efforts in that opening sentence?

Two “morality play” narratives bug me in the anti-FGM movement.  First, around 1990 some in the movement advocated for the term “mutilation” rather than the more neutral “cutting.”  Second, is the use of “worst case” short-term outcomes.


Mutilation, not Cutting

I assume it is apparent why the use of “mutilation” rather than “cutting” is more effective for generating outrage and public pressure.  When I first started noticing the terminology change I became uneasy because of the predominance of Orientalist narratives in Western (news and film) media about African, Arab and Asian people.  Among those most heavily influenced by the narrative, a response to a story about “mutilation” might be: “What do you expect from those fucking _____s?  Those people are animals.”  And granting that sensitizing people with such views to care about human suffering is, shall I say “challenging,” I am a big fan of not driving that chance to zero.  And it seems to me that the more neutral “cutting” stands a much better chance of getting such a person to pause and think about a similar practice in her culture whereas “mutilation” guarantees that pause will not occur.

What of the impact of the term switch upon the “base,” liberals who are aware of the Orientalist narrative and made efforts to unlearn it, etc?  Here I can see a “bang for the buck” case for “mutilation” over “cutting.”  I have no evidence that it is more effective, but I have a very strong prior belief that it is [this sentence contains a subtle dig at a friend of mine, Bill].

So human rights activism is about mobilizing the base, right?  Yes.  Naming & shaming does not work unless the base responds.  But, I am not comfortable prioritizing one fight over all overs.  I want to consider the cost to reinforcing the Orientalist status quo.  My discomfort with the switch from cutting to mutilation is driven be the extent to which it plays into the Orientalist status quo.

For me, the harm done there does not justify the mobilization benefit. But, if you are going to go there, then I want to see some positive action taken to press against Orientalism as well.  How?  That’s the activist / reporter’s job.  Figure it out.

Returning to my opening sentence, I used the term “mutiliation” in reference to children as setup to my use of “male genital mutilation” to follow.


Worst Case Short-Term Outcomes

I trust most readers share my prior belief that “if it bleeds, it ledes.”  In other words, gory  and deadly outcomes get attention.  Naming & shaming requires attention.

Turning to the ending clause tries to get the reader to think about where these procedures take place, and how that differs across the UK/US v Egypt.  I am trying (unsuccessfully, it turns out!) to head off those who would take a “worst case” short-term consequence approach (e.g., death from infection) and ignore that where such an event takes place is a function of wealth, and that the health outcomes of such an event will be very different across those three settings.  Because male genital cutting occurs predominantly in the UK and US in hospitals, the risk to infection is far less than it otherwise would be.  The relevant counterfactual to circumvent Orientalist thinking, then, is to imagine that the genital cutting of Egyptian girls took place as does the genital cutting of boys in the UK and US.  That counterfactual adjustment is required before we allow our heads to make a judgment based on the short-term medical outcomes of the procedure: fever, pain and in some cases, death.  Unsurprisingly, early in the BBC story they begin the story by introducing us to a little girl who died within two days of having her genitals cut.

Next, I rant, saying: I am upset by this.

But the Orientalism with which FGM is covered, and consumed(!), in the West makes me bonkers.

My frustration stems from my belief that lots and lots of Western reporters and news consumers have made little effort to give themselves distance from the Orientalist narratives that dominated 19th and 20th Century Western education and public discussion, and are increasingly being challenged in the 21st.   In my view coverage and consumption of the FGM issue exhibits this.  And that upsets me.

It upsets me because I am troubled by both genital cutting of children and Orientalist narratives.  With respect to the former, I would like to see us halt all removal, by whatever means, of the flesh of “healthy” children.[2]  With respect to the latter, I believe it is pernicious: it is hard to see, and propagates via repetition.

You may disagree that reporting and consumption of the FGM issue in the West exhibits Orientalism.  Fair enough.  After all, I do not offer a breakdown of that particular report, or provide examples from others.  I am asserting that “I see that” and encourage you to listen to it and/or consider the issue as you consume reporting on the issue.  Is it devoid of Orientalism?

Back to my post, I next describe the specific part of the report that “made me bonkers”:

Here, the BBC reporter breathlessly intones about the estimated 92% of women aged 19-49 in Egypt who have had their genitals cut, oblivious to the rate of “male circumcision” (MGM) in the UK, etc.

You may know that there exist classifications of female genital cutting.  I am willing to wager [have a strong prior belief, Bill!] that few BBC “The Inquiry” consumers are familiar with the distribution of types female genital cutting across women aged 19-49 in Egypt.  But drawing on my own consumption of reports over the past several decades, I also believe that reports are strongly biased toward the types that remove the most flesh (II and III).

I recognize that critical thinking skills levels and numeracy education dictate that “hair splitting” and discussions of distributions are not going to dominate news coverage.  Indeed, human rights activists are self-selected populations that have only recently begun to attract sizable portions of people highly skilled in both those domains.

Yet, I want some sensitivity from the BBC (and activists) that Orientalist narratives are pernicious.  So if you are going to tell us that 92% of women have had their genitals cut, and intone, if memory serves, that such a number is “almost beyond belief” or “shocking,” I cannot recall which, then I want some comparative context in which to consume that.  Why?  Absent such context I believe that the modal listener is going to think about type II and III cutting, in a home, absent contemporary UK/US pain relief and wound care.  Here is an Atlantic journalist in a piece about Western misperceptions: “I thought African girls were held down and butchered against their will.”

There is a small chance that is reality, but I am pretty confident [have a strong prior belief, Bill] that–at a minimum–among wealthy Egyptian women aged 19-49, such a perception is extremely unlikely to be accurate.

The 92% figure also led me to think about the prevalence of the practice of male circumcision in the US (and, I assume, but do not know, the UK).  For the reasons explained above–an effort, however ineffective, to combat Orientalist driven perceptions of inferior peoples with savage cultural practices–I wanted to explicitly draw this comparison.

Further, doing so set me up to rail against a frustration I have with how many of my students, and some reporters, respond to learning of female genital cutting.  The Atlantic reporter is again helpful, explaining that she misbelieved “that it is forced on women by men,” when “in fact, elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom.”   Many of my students have responded to that information with the question: “How could women/mothers do that to girls?”

This question is prima facie evidence of ethnocentric thinking: the speaker is effectively saying “I cannot imagine the women I know making a decision like that.”

Here my concern for context really takes hold.   What “that” do you find so difficult to imagine?  Such a question invites inquiry into alterations of aspects of the unimaginable “that” to see if one can locate something similar in one’s own cultural experience to make “that” imaginable.

Well, as you undoubtedly appreciate I, for one, do not find it terribly difficult to find a comparable situation that can help bridge the divide and produce discussion that might not only reduce Orientalist thinking, but also expand our understanding of the “barbaric” cultural practice of genital cutting.

To wit, I closed my post with this:

How can “their” mothers permit that, indeed.

My quoted reference to “their” is an effort to highlight the ethnocentric othering in the question I have experienced so many ask.  And I hoped, vainly it appears, that it would stimulate readers of the post to appreciate the cultural pressure involved.  Importantly, such “pressure” is most effective when it is not perceived as pressure.  That is, norms are most easily observed in violation.

When I teach norms in my undergraduate human rights course I ask my students raise their hands if they have walked about naked in public.  They giggle, smile, look around and do not raise their hands.  I feign surprise: “Really?  None of you?  Why not?”  They giggle some more and struggle to answer.

Why?  Because the Western norm that it is offensive to bare ones buttocks, genitalia, and, for women, breasts, is so strongly ingrained that nobody even thinks about it.

Let us now consider the issue of altering children’s bodies.  Costly behavior is a common form of signalling, from calorie burning mating dances singalling fitness among male animals, to long curly locks and black garb; grills; tatoos, etc. to signal community membership among male humans.

It may not be immediately obvious to others, but it is immediately obvious to me that the genital cutting practices persist in many various human societies because they are strongly ingrained norms.  In the US, insurance companies routinely cover, as part of childbirth, the male genital cutting despite the fact that it offers no medical benefit and violates the Hippocratic Oath.  I would be surprised should I learn that European countries where male circumcision is as widely practiced as it in the US did not cover the procedure in their national health insurance programs.


Anal Bleaching, Labiaplasty & Vaginoplasty 

Though I did not raise it in my post, it seems to me remiss not to mention the rise of cosmetic anal bleaching, labiaplasty and vaginoplasty in the US and elsewhere.  There is literally a growing industry that caters to cutting and reshaping/coloring women’s genitals/ anus to help them “fit in,” whatever the fuck that means.   OK, I lie.  I know what it means: approximate a culturally produced “beauty standard.”

And this, too, raises the question “Why would she do it?”, though now let us include moms who direct others to cut their children’s genitals and women who choose to direct someone to cut their genitals.  Yes, I am leaving dads and men out of the question, not to absolve them or minimize their role.  I leave them out to highlight the problem with coverage of female genital cutting that leads people to ask: “Why would she do that?”  I think we know the answer.


[1] If you are interested in Hunt’s argument, but access to her book is beyond your means, shoot me an email and I will send you a PDF of the two most relevant chapters.

[2] I recognize that the phrase “healthy” is culturally defined (because all human language is!), and yes, that is a soft underbelly in my position.  And I am going to ignore that.  :)


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Charles Tilly, Throwing it Down!

Today I discovered a new (to me) essay by Chuck: 1984’s “Social Movements and National Politics.”  I have bemoaned elsewhere the limited impact Tilly’s work has had on political science research on conflict, and it is wonderful to read for the first time a piece from his oeuvre.  I literally stopped, stood up, and celebrated (paid homage to) several passages (e.g., those opening four paragraphs!).

Since the NBA Finals are in play, images of Dr. J and Michael finishing on the break filled my head as I bore witness to another Tilly passage packed with mind-blowing insight for so few words.  I would like to share one with you.

In this passage Tilly tells a story to set up his finish, which makes more generally the point I raised in my Presidential Address to the Peace Science Society a few years back: the terms  we tend to use when we study conflict are the state’s terms, and we gotta stop.


Tilly opens the chapter by discussing a group of women banding together at a Languedoc, France market, in 1682, to drive the Crown’s officials from the toll booth they had recently erected at the city gate to facilitate collection of a new grain tax.  From there he sketches the Camisards, a group of Languedoc Protestants who resisted, during the 1680s and 1690s, the Crown’s efforts to eliminate their “sacrilegious” worship.  He raises these events to help us figure out how we might usefully define the concept “social movement.”

If we run forward in time from the era of the Comisards to our own day, we encounter inter-village fights, mocking, and retaliatory ceremonies such as Riding the Stang and Katzenmusik, attacks on tax collectors, petitions, mutinies, solemn assemblies, and many other forms of action, most of them long abandoned in the early period.  As we approach our own time we notice electoral rallies, demonstrations, strikes, attempted revolutions, mass meetings, and a great variety of other means, most of them unknown in the time of the Comisards.

Now there are two important things to notice about these forms of action.  First, they are forms: learned understood, sometimes planned and rehearsed by the participants.  They are not the “outbursts” and “riots” dear to authorities and crowd psychologists (Tilly 1984, p. 307;  emphasis mine).


He sneaks it in: an aside; a snark.  The use of story.  The economy.  #BoyIsKillinIt

Oh, to have that game.


Tilly, Charles. 1984. “Social Movements and National Politics.” In C. Bright & S. Harding (eds.) Statemaking and Social Movements, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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A Fictional Account of Torture that Illuminates Politics

I knew locking a man up in a dark room was meant to arouse fear before torture; hoping they’d begin with the bastinado, I thought about the lies I could tell to save my hide.

That is Black, a character in Orhan Pamuk‘s 1998 novel My Name is Red  (pp. 246-7).  The passage, which I continue below, offers a useful window into the central claim Steven Pinker makes in his book about the centuries long decline in homicide produced by government’s assertion to a monopoly over the legitimate exercise of coercion, and development of courts and police to enforce the claim.


Bastinado (aka foot whipping); demonstration using a cane.  Source: Wikimedia

Pamuk’s novel is set in Istanbul during the 1590s.  And though it is not widely know, but torture was widely used in courts and other judicial proceedings as the means to establish the innocence/guilt of accused throughout human societies up to the 18th Century.  As Radley Balko explains in his Rise of the Warrior Cop, police as we know them today are a 19th Century development, spreading globally from London.  Criminal courts that relied on forensic evidence are a post-1920 development (think “Perry Mason,” “Adam 12,” “Law & Order,” “CSI,” etc.).

Thus, as far as the living memory of our species is concerned, the use of torture as legitimate means to investigate and adjudicate charges is completely foreign.  Pamuk’s fictional account packs in a brief scene a wonderful antidote.  Though it was not his intention to do so,[1] the Sultan’s use of torture to investigate the murders that are at the core of the novel illustrate not only Pinker’s process–generalized beyond homicide to human cruelty–at work, but also reflect nicely on the moral claims that accompany the focus on the monopoly on violence.

We begin with more of a glimpse inside the detainee’s head as he is removed from the room and the process begins.

In the hands of my torturers, I had nothing in which to take refuge.

I didn’t even notice that tears began to fall from eyes.  I wanted to beg, but as in a dream, no sound issued from my mouth.  I knew from wars, deaths and political assassination and torture (which I’d witnessed from afar) that life could be extinguished instantaneously, but I’d never experienced it this closely.  They were going to strip me from this world just as they’d stripped off my garments.

They took off my vest and shirt.  One of the executioners sat on me, driving his knees into my shoulders.  Another placed a cage over my head with all the practiced elegance of a woman preparing food and began slowly turning the screw at its front.  Nay, it wasn’t a cage, but rather a vise that slowly squeezed my head.

I screamed at the top of my lings.  I begged, but incoherently.  I cried, mostly because my nerves had given out.

They stopped momentarily and asked: “Were you the one who killed Enishte Effendi?”

You see, it is a judicial inquiry.  The Sultan has directed his staff to interrogate the detainee, Black, because a murder has taken place and no police force exists to investigate, nor prosecutor, nor judges.  In medieval Europe this process was known as Trial by Ordeal (aka, Trial by Fire).  The Spanish Inquisition and Salem Witch Trials are widely known events that featured trial by ordeal, but few realize that trial by ordeal was the standard judicial process practice throughout Europe for centuries.  Those events were not in the least exceptional.

Let us return to Black’s trial by ordeal.

I took a deep breath. “Nay.”

They began to tighten the vise again.  It was excruciating.

They asked again.


“Who then?”

I don’t know!”

I wondered if I should just tell them I’d killed him.  The world spun unpleasantly about my head.  I was overcome with reluctance.  I asked myself if I were growing accustomed to the pain.  My executioners and I stayed still for a moment.  I felt no pain, I was simply terrified.

Just as I decided from the silver coin in my pocket that they weren’t going to kill me, they suddenly released me.

Why was Black released?  He had passed the ordeal: the practice worked such that a suspect was subjected to predetermined level of pain, known only to the torturers.  If s/he did not confess, she was deemed not guilty, and another suspect would be subjected to trial by ordeal.

Here is how that unfolds in My Name is Red.

They removed the viselike contraption that had actually done little damage to my head.  The executioner who had pinned me down stood up without even a hint of apology.  I donned my shirt and vest.

There passed a long silence.

At the other end of the room, I saw Head Illuminator Osman Effendi.  I went to him and kissed his hand.

“Don’t be concerned, my child,” he said to me.  “They were just testing you.”  …

“Our Sultan has ordered that you not be tortured at this time,” said the Commander.  “He deemed it more appropriate for you to help the Head Illuminator Master Osman find the rogue who’s been killing His miniaturists and they loyal servants preparing His manuscripts.”

You see, Black was one of several painters (miniaturists) working in a shop on book projects commissioned by the Sultan.  Two members of the shop, one a Master, had been murdered, and the Sultan was, in effect, deputizing Master Osman and Black to conduct an inquiry to determine who was the guilty party.  The Commander continues.

You have three days in which to interrogate the miniaturists, scrutinize the illuminated pages they’ve made and find the sly culprit.  The Sovereign is quite appalled by the rumors being spread by mischief makers about His miniaturists and illuminated manuscripts.

Why?  Because the government had no police force and no prosecutor/court, murder investigations and prosecutions took place on an ad hoc basis.  Given the absence of modern institutional solutions to homicide alternative systems were necessary.  The ubiquity of trial by ordeal–in some times and places conducted under ad hoc authority, and in others, under an institutionalized court–in the absence of modern police and courts is fascinating.

Equally interesting, I expect you will agree, is the rest of Sultan’s solution to the homicide problem in his polity.

Within three days, if you fail to produce the swine along with the missing page he stole–about which much gossip is flying–it is Our Just Sultan’s express desire that you, my child Black Effendi, be the first to undergo torture and interrogation.  Afterward, let there be no doubt, each of the other miniaturists will have his turn.

Everybody knows that when a crime is committed with Our Sultan’s wards, regiments and divisions, the entire group is considered guilty until one morning one among them is identified and turned in.  A section that fails to name the murderer in its midst goes down in the judicial records as a ‘division of murderers,’ including its office or master, and is punished accordingly.

To summarize, in the Sultan’s realm the problem of homicide was addressed via a mixture of ad hoc investigations, trial by ordeal, and self policing motivated by collective punishment.  One need only have been a tweenager (middle schooler), not a rational institutional theorist, to understand why such a system is more brutal, and a less effective deterrent, than the flawed, but superior, “monopoly” alternative.

Pamuk’s scene wonderfully captures why, as Pinker explains, the government’s claim on a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of coercion, enforced via the creation of professional police and courts, has dramatically reduced the homicide rate in our species.


[1] Pamuk wrote the novel well before Pinker even thought of pursuing the project that produced his book.

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Your Field Needs a MINDfields Project, and You Need to do It


Christian Davenport conceived the MINDfields project a number of years ago: a video interview project to document and archive the lived experience of senior scholars in his field.  As explained on the project’s homepage, The MINDfields project:

conducts interviews with senior conflict, violence and peace scholars.  The interviewees reflect on the trajectory of their research agendas during the arc of their careers, thus providing a unique perspective on conflict and peace research unavailable elsewhere.  

It was inspired

in equal parts by Charles Tilly’s concern that new generations of researchers enter the profession with limited appreciation and understanding of the intellectual past of conflict scholarship, the scholarly community’s response to Tilly’s passing in 2008, and the Iconoclasts series on Sundance Channel.

I am calling on tenured faculty in other fields to launch similar efforts for their communities.  We have structured MINDfields as a DIY project where we use our phones or a cheap video camera, and then post the result to YouTube.  Production quality thus leaves much to be desired, and we’ve had audio issues, blah, blah, blah.  You can adopt DIY, or commit some sort of resources and produce a higher quality output.  It’s up to you.

We have also adopted a structured interview approach where

We Just Turn on the Camera, ask Six questions and Life Happens (more or less)

* What research of yours are you most proud of?

* What led you to undertake the research project for which you are most widely known?

* Looking back at the evolution of the field over the course of your career, what do you think should have received more attention?

* Are there any approaches, theories, topics, etc. that you believe should have received less attention from the community?

* If you had done an interview like this when you were in mid-career, who would you have liked to interview?

* What do you think are the most exciting or promising areas in current research? Future research?

You can adapt/adopt that or create your own (un)structured interview process.  It’s up to you.

I am sure there are other efforts out there, but the only similar project I know of is the Parents of the Field project of  George Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis & Resolution.

So this is a call to get off yo butt, coordinate with a colleague or two, and build some community.  Do it!


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Wolfording: An Explainer

What the hell does is mean to Wolford?


While experts bitterly dispute[1] the the authenticity of the original Wolford post, is widely agreed that the practice is a social media post (generally to Facebook, but also Twitter, Instagram, or other platforms) featuring a book and an alcoholic beverage, frequently, though not necessarily, in a public house / bar / lounge / restaurant, and generally while traveling.  Scott Wolford, a member of an obscure coterie of academics known as political scientists, is responsible for establishing the practice.  Hence the moniker.

It is unclear who was the first to copy the practice, thus launching the meme, but several examples follow.














Below: a partial gallery of originals posted by Wolford himself.
















[1] As is well known, the most intense academic disputes involve the most arcane and smallest of stakes.


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Democracies Violate Rights Fighting COIN Wars

`We put a wrap on the Spring slate of CC Virtual Workshops discussing an interesting paper by Adam Scharpf that begins with offers the following figure as a puzzle: why would democracies and autocracies violate rights at equal levels when engaged in counter-insurgency when the former violate rights at substantially lower levels when not engaged in COIN operations?


Jessica Di Salvatore, Shanna Kirschner, Jonathan Powell, Jacob Shapiro and Juan Tellez served as discussants of the paper, “Regimes, Organizational Rivalry, and Repression in Counterinsurgency Wars,” and we had a fun, stimulating discussion. You can watch the video here.

Scharpf argues that slack is greater within coercive forces in democracies compared to autocracies, which permits inter-service rivalry to generate human rights violations in the COIN campaigns of democratic countries to rise to the level of those committed by autocratic regimes. That is, Scharpf argues that interservice rivalry produces a focus on short-term measures of “success” by commanders, which we can summarize as a “body count” premium. In autocratic countries leaders need not restrain commanders from a body count approach, beyond limits placed by international scrutiny. As such, violations will be substantial. But the need to “coup-proof” leads autocratic leaders to use coercion as a means to sustain leadership (e.g., bloody purges), and this limit on agency slack among coercive agents in autocracies prevents them from violating rights wantonly (due to international pressure). For democracies, however, both domestic and international pressure incentivize executives to limit rights violations during COIN conflicts. However, they are unable to “discipline” coercive agents like autocrats can, thus where inter-service rivalry exists, the can get a little out of hand.

Put another way, Scharpf expects the median level of rights violations to be equal between autocratic and democratic countries fighting insurgencies, but the former to have lower variance than the latter. The following figure shows that this is the case.


As always, there are measurement issues. Scharpf needs to interact a measure of democracy with a measure of inter-service rivalry. To do this, he creates a dichotomous indicator of rivalry from Pilster & Böhmelt‘s effective number of services measure for the former and selects the Polity dataset for the latter. Both indicators received attention within the CCVW group. Scharpf recognizes that the Pilster & Böhmelt data is a proxy indicator, and the limits that creates for the internal validity of his inferences. Suggestions for alternatives included construction of either a fractionalization or polarization index using the Pilster & Böhmelt data or using a mass killing indicator such as UCDP’s one-sided violence or the PITF Atrocities data.

Other issues concerned the use of democracy itself. Earlier work by Davenport, Armstrong and Moore as well as Conrad and Moore revealed similar dynamics to the Scharpf piece but they paid a bit more attention to the measure of democracy employed. For example, Vreeland has definitively shown that using Polity without extracting the influence of civil conflict on the measure is highly problematic. Additionally, the VDEM project identifies 7 different types of democracies and 300 measures. Gone are the days of just using Polity without confronting this variation. There was a concern that democracies were less likely to see insurgencies and that this selection bias would need to be addressed.

Concerning COIN there was also some discussion about how this was differentiated from/overlapping with state repression. Do not both involve police raids, curfews, interrogation, torture and mass killing? If so, then how could one separate discussion of COIN from repression? Related as civil war involves repressive action/COIN, does focusing the analysis on repression during civil wars muddy the waters even further?

Shapiro explained that he was not persuaded about the internal validity of the inference, and encouraged Scharpf to invest more effort thinking carefully about the joint parameter space of the independent variables, and how he could use that information to identify some specific cases to study qualitatively to really nail down the agency slack—rivalry process generating a focus on body counts. The advantage of this approach is it severs the project’s dependence upon the Pilster & Böhmlet measure as a proxy for a concept it doesn’t measure well, and further permits direct (qualitative) measurement of the other moving parts ignored in the regression equation.

The downside to Shapiro’s recommendation is that such a study would be vulnerable to the retort: “sure, but how do we know those aren’t outlier cases?” Shapiro would explain that is why selecting the cases based on relevant values from the joint parameter space is so important. What we enjoyed about this exchange is the improvement in the quality of this sort of discussion relative to what we would have expected when we entered the discipline back in the 1990s. To his credit, Scharpf wants both external and internal validity. His current paper seeks to score high on the former, but scores low on the latter. The Shapiro proposal would score high on the latter and low on the former. Whether he pursues a multiple paper route or a book project, Scharpf (and the rest of us!) will do well to pursue more than one design to test the implications of his theory, and a single paper does not have the space to do so effectively.

A number of other interesting issues we do not touch on here were raised, and we encourage you to watch the video.

In wrapping up the Spring 2016 CCVW we wish to thank everyone who participated. We are delighted to see so much interesting work being done, and to be able to play a role in both community building and strengthening individual projects. Please keep an eye out for our Fall 2016 Call for Papers in June. We look forward to another great slate of workshops and continuing to learn a great deal about conflict and peace, have some fun and (of course) shake things up a bit.

@engagedscholar & @WilHMoo

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