Saturday, November 4, 2017

Starting Points Revisited

A friend asked her friends for copies of their dissertation proposals as she teaches her graduate students how to propose.  So, I skimmed mine as I was attaching it to an email to her.  The timing of all of this is pretty good, since one of the classes I am teaching this semester is aimed at getting NPSIA's students to the starting line of their dissertation--a completed proposal.

As I skimmed, I had some reactions. 
  • Damn, that was a long time ago.  I defended the proposal in June of 1991 so it seems very dated.  It starts thusly:
The capture of the capital of Ethiopia by Eritrean separatists and other groups may lead to an unprecedented event in Africa: a successful secession.  A similar event may be occurring in Somalia as rebels have taken control of the northern part of the country, declaring independence as the new sovereign state of Somaliland.  Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's breakdown seems imminent as Hungary provides small arms to Croatian separatists.    Finally, though the Gulf War ended, the Kurdish struggle for autonomy has continued.  These events demonstrate the tenacity of ethnic conflict and the nature of such conflicts to draw in other states.  In the post-Cold War era, the international consequences of ethnic conflict need to be studied. 
"Yugoslavia's breakdown seems imminent...."  Maybe.  "Kurdish struggle for autonomy has continued.  What is old is new again.  I have to say the last line of the intro para is about as perceptive as anything I have ever written.  Indeed, the IR of ethnic conflict was about to become a thing, and I said so in 1991.  I have gotten a lot wrong (facebook reminds me that I predicted the outcome of the 2016 on this date last year).
  • So much use of the L word: literature.  Ug.  Since then, I have become a forceful advocate for not thinking about one's lit review as a lit review but as building blocks.  I didn't know better.  I was so young.
  • In my attempt to be a good social scientist, I came up with a 3x3, not quite realizing that a 2x2 was what I needed:

  •  Looking back, I realize that I have remained very wedded to two core logics that were the starting point of my dissertation: that when two parties compete for the same group, it will lead to outbidding and thus extreme stances on policies (political Units per Communal Group > 1) AND when a party seeks support from multiple ethnic groups (one political unit and multiple CGs), the party will have to moderate its claims and avoid appeals to a single group.  Indeed, much of my understanding of last year's election harks back to these two ethnic political logics that apparently have shaped my destiny.
  • The methodology section was a pack of pie crust promises!  
    • No quant study.  Indeed, numbers only came back into my work a few years after I finished my dissertation as I discovered a collection of data that would be of much help--the Minorities at Risk Dataset.
    • My proposed list of case studies was far from what I did.  I proposed studying a bunch of individual countries over time to see what varied.  What I did mostly was study a handful of secessionist crises and compare how a dozen or more countries reacted to the particular crisis... with one exception.  I did study Somalia's support for irredentism over time, which dropped out of the book but became an article.
Anyhow, it is time for me to read a former student's book manuscript, based on her dissertation which I do remember, based on her proposal, of which I have little memory.

Thanks for joining me in today's trip via the wayback machine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mine is the final comment on your 2016 election prediction. Where's my prize for coming closer in my prediction than you or Steve Greene? :) (I guess my prize came yesterday with the 2017 results and the small glimmer of hope they provided.)