How Swarthmore Built My Dataset
by Amelia Hoover Green ’03
It’s almost time for my ten-year Swarthmore reunion! When people ask me about having kids — a seemingly inevitable, if highly uncool, side effect of being a decade out of college — I will probably point them toward my only child (so far), the Armed Group Institutions Database (AGID; see our project page here: http://rkthb.co/11859 and watch the video at the bottom of this post). I’m currently an Assistant Professor at Drexel University, where I work on topics in human rights and armed conflict.
The AGID comes out of my sense that political science research has done a pretty lousy job integrating insights from other disciplines. My conviction that we ought to be better at interdisciplinarity is, as one of my Ph.D. advisors correctly stated, “such a Swat thing.” That’s certainly true — I don’t think I’d have read across so many fields without my liberal arts background. It’s equally true, though, that researchers who are stuck inside disciplinary boundaries often get the answers wrong — no matter where we went to college.
The particular set of findings that spurred the development of the AGID is from social psychology. I frequently summarize social psych findings on violent conflict (and violent behavior) as follows: War is bad for your brain. Armed conflict situations are full of stimuli that, experiments show, make people more prone to violence: fear, uncertainty, sleeplessness, general stress, insecurity, glorification of violence, alcohol, drugs, highly traditional masculinities — you name it, war’s got it. Looking at it from that perspective, the puzzling question isn’t “Why do armed groups commit so many human rights violations?” but rather “Why do some armed groups commit so few human rights violations?”
That’s where the AGID comes in. My work suggests (again, borrowing from researchers in psychology, sociology and behavioral economics) that groups that cultivate a strong positive identity around civilian protection, whether by informal methods or formal education, should commit more carefully controlled patterns of violence against civilians. Once complete, the AGID will allow us to test that theory (and along the way will provide a wealth of data about armed group structures that’s never been gathered in one place before).
Interested in getting involved with this research? There are lots of ways to do so. As you may have noticed from the project page (http://rkthb.co/11859), this project is partially crowd-funded, which means that we’re actively looking for help from folks who like science and/or human rights. (Honestly, who doesn’t like science and human rights?) $14 pays for an hour of my research assistant’s work; $110 pays for a whole day. If you don’t have money but you do have time (and you’re an undergraduate who wants to see how cutting-edge social science research works), try your hand at some volunteer data-gathering. Have questions? Just write me: firstname.lastname@example.org.