Some other projects and ideas related to my core research agenda and wider interests that I am working on and are in the early stages:
Researching civil wars: Aligning theory, methods, and evidence
Paper presented at the ECPR General Conference, August 2018
Abstract: The paper shows how qualitative research in general, and process-tracing combined with fieldwork in particular, can contribute to civil war research by bringing theory, methods and evidence into alignment. It outlines the assumptions and methodological implications of mechanism-based approaches that use the theory and process-tracing practice of causal mechanisms, and then shows how, in combination with a serious commitment to fieldwork, this approach can advance the study of civil wars. Researchers need to: (1) be more innovative with concept formation and ‘casing’ (and, by extension, with research designs) to capture the processual character of conflict dynamics and guide data collection, especially regarding the spatiotemporal scope of cases; (2) theorise causal mechanisms that demonstrate ‘productive continuity’ in generating outcomes, and specify their observable implications and evidentiary signatures for testing; (3) redouble and refine data generation efforts in conflict-affected areas – that is, expend more ‘shoe leather’ in pursuit of good theories and empirical evidence. The benefits of this effort can be maximised by exploiting the advantages associated with fieldwork, not only for generating process-tracing evidence and acquiring deep, context-specific knowledge, but also as a means of improving a researcher’s ability to evaluate evidence, discriminate between competing explanations, and manage the iterative back and forth between theory and evidence. The paper concludes by discussing how to effectively and feasibly evaluate process-tracing evidence, i.e., how to judge the weight, utility, and admissibility of evidence, and the ethics of collecting and using it, in the context of studying violent conflict.
Internal wars and international relations: How does political violence shape international politics from the inside-out?
Paper presented at ISA Annual Convention, March 2019
Abstract: How do internal wars affect international relations? Political violence in civil wars is highly localised; while scholars have identified important connections between on-the-ground manifestations of armed conflict and the high politics of IR and international security, these links remain under-theorised. Most attention has been on influences from the ‘outside-in’ but civil war studies have looked less at influences from the ‘inside-out’, neglecting how dynamics of internal armed conflicts influence international politics, and how war outcomes/post-war settlements shape the international system. The paper explores theoretical developments and empirical insights that may be generated from this approach. The paper has two purposes. First, it is a stock-taking exercise, reflecting on research on the international dimensions of internal war and the nature of the relationship between internal war and international relations. Second, based on these reflections, it tries to lay the groundwork for future research agendas that build on the works discussed. My intended audience is civil war scholars, for whom I have proposals on where their research agenda could go next in their exploration of the international dimensions on internal war, and International Relations scholars, for whom I have proposals on how their research agenda can be informed by scholarship on internal war.
‘New Minorities’ and the Consequences of Separatist Wars: Comparing Gali and North Kosovo
Versions of this paper have been prepared for the ‘Challenges to Global Governance: Conflict, Contagion, and Citizens’ Rights’ workshop at UCL, February 2019; the Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies, June 2019; the CEEISA-ISA Conference in Belgrade, June 2019; and the European Workshops in International Studies in Krakow, June 2019.
Abstract: When separatist wars result in the creation of partially recognised states and other forms of de facto political authority, the conflicts can remain unresolved for decades. While these conflicts usually split along ethno-nationalist lines, with a geographically concentrated minority seeking independence from the ‘parent’ state, an under-researched consequence of these wars is the creation of a ‘new’ minority within the separatist entity who are coethnics with the majority in the ‘parent’ state. With further partition or population transfers generally ruled out as unviable options, the continued presence of these minorities – and how parent state and separatist political elites respond to them – becomes crucial for understanding variation in the consequences of separatist wars (such as post-war violence, stalled peace processes, and IDP/refugee returns). The significance of ‘new minorities’ across multiple issue areas make them a powerful resource for both peacebuilders and spoilers to capitalise on or exploit, while their marginalised political status also means they can be isolated and neglected. To investigate these post-war dynamics, I use a paired comparison and ‘duel-process tracing’ of post-war Gali region (in Abkhazia, populated by ethnic Georgians) and north Kosovo (populated by ethnic Serbs). I show how separatist political elites (in Sukhumi and Pristina) and parent state elites (in Tbilisi and Belgrade) use new minorities as leverage against each other; how separatist elites move between strategies of integration, isolation, and punishment; and how parent state elites move between strategies of contesting separatist control, leveraging the issues for political gain, and protecting their coethnics. I develop a framework for analysing this variation in strategies by showing how separatists and parent states must formulate post-war constrained objectives as alternatives to realising their maximalist aims of full separation and full reincorporation, respectively, and subsequently develop strategies towards the new minority to achieve these objectives. To further explore the links between constrained objectives and strategies, I highlight an ambivalence in the attitudes of parent state and separatist elites between, on the one hand, the people of a new minority and, on the other, the territory in which they reside: in the context of the aftermath of a separatist war, the political salience of – and intrinsic and instrumental value attached to – people and territory, and the extent to which they are perceived to be out of alignment and can be realigned, shapes the way that political elites deal with new minorities.
Peacekeeping and Security in Abkhazia and the Caucasus: The Role of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia
The war in Abkhazia (1992-1994) and its aftermath provide a valuable case study of international conflict management and peacekeeping in times of crisis and transition. This separatist conflict – an instance of recursive secession following Georgia’s independence, and one of the most violent of the wars that erupted as the Soviet Union collapsed – occurred in a geopolitically and strategically important location as the transition from the Cold War to the post-Cold War order was underway but not yet complete. This paper uses the archives of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) to reconstruct the local, national and international dynamics of conflict management and peacekeeping during the Abkhaz conflict. The available documents – covering 1992 to 1998, and which include reports of the fact-finding and planning missions as the conflict first broke out, reports of the military observers, diplomatic cables between the field mission and UN Headquarters, and accounts of the talks between the Abkhaz separatists, the Georgian government, and the Russian and United Nations’ mediators – provide fine-grained detail of developments as they unfolded and insights from the organisational and operational to the diplomatic domains. By using these materials to reconstruct crucial aspects of the case, the paper is able to investigate many vital processes and problems of international relations: the ambivalent involvement of the UN as it sought to engage in a part of the world that had been largely off-limits during the Cold War but while most of its attention was directed to the wars in the Balkans and Africa; the role of military observers, starting from the initial fact-finding mission and trying to facilitate and monitor multiple failed ceasefires to eventually monitoring a Russian-dominated CIS peacekeeping force; the violent emergence of a new – and still contested – security architecture in the Caucasus as Russia adapted to new international borders along its vulnerable southern flank and Georgia fought to preserve the integrity of its post-independence borders; the dynamics of cooperation and conflict between the UN and Russia as both sought to establish their new roles as peacekeepers and security providers in the region while Russia also reasserted its political and military dominance in the South Caucasus; and how the war itself and the subsequent failed peace process exposed tensions between self-determination and territorial integrity and the place these contradictory norms would have in the emerging post-Cold War world order in general and the conduct of peacekeeping in internal territorial conflicts in particular. That this conflict remains unresolved to this day speaks to the importance of the case in understanding the challenges of international peacekeeping and conflict management in the Caucasus and the need to better understand the origins of contemporary security challenges, geopolitical rivalries and contested statehood.
How to Read Fieldwork
Presentation given at the online workshop, ‘Researching conflict: methodological challenges and opportunities’, July 2020
A lot has been written about how to do fieldwork well, but the academic community needs to reflect more on how to engage with conflict and peace research that is based on fieldwork conducted in conflict-affected areas because it raises a unique combination of challenges and problems. In writing up my PhD research – which included fieldwork in Georgia, Abkhazia, Serbia and Kosovo – I found it helpful to think through what a critical reader needs to know in order to fairly engage with my work. This raised many questions that should be discussed more widely amongst academics, such as: How can a reader judge if the research was conducted ethically? What should they know about the difficulties of doing this kind of research? Were any risks justifiable, and do we have enough information to judge (e.g. the experience of the researcher, the treatment of fixers and local partners)? How should the academic community respond to unethical research practices and unjustifiable risk-taking? How much detail is it reasonable to expect that an article, thesis or book should include on how the fieldwork was done and why? What is the specific contribution to knowledge made possible by this kind of research, and does knowledge generated by field research accumulate and generalise?