From our friends in the Political Science Department:
“State Failure and War in the Middle East: A Conflict of Our Times”
Wednesday 18th January
11:45 AM – 12:45 PM
*Sandwiches will be provided
Please join us for a lunchtime talk with William Reno, Professor of Political Science & Director, Program of African Studies, Northwestern University. Professor Reno will speak about his ongoing research in the Middle East. A leading expert on political violence, the organization and behavior of insurgent groups and the politics of authoritarian regimes, Professor Reno is the author of Corruption and State Politics in Sierra Leone (Cambridge University Press, 1995), Warlord Politics and African States (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998) and Warfare in Independent Africa (Cambridge University Press, 2011). He visits Swarthmore from Iraq.
Political Scientist Dominic Tierney and Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 recently led a discussion on the media’s responsibilities in times of war.
The discussion followed The Body of An American, which explores the friendship of photojournalist Paul Watson and playwright Dan O’Brien (played by Harry Smith and Ian Merrill). Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.
Swarthmore’s zeal for interdisciplinary studies and collaboration took center stage at the Wilma Theater earlier this month, when Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney and Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 guided a lively discussion on the media’s responsibilities in times of war.
The discussion followed a performance of The Body of an American, which explores the international repercussions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. The image skewed the perception of the U.S. intervention in Somalia and may have dissuaded its leaders from intervening in catastrophes such as Rwanda, Tierney says.
“The play deals with important issues about the power of photographs in wartime, which resonates with my teaching and research,” says Tierney, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and an official correspondent of The Atlantic. “I was excited to participate.”
One of the actors in the play, Harry Smith, is a friend of Tierney’s. He recommended him as someone who had researched the events in Mogadishu and could lend context to the performance. In what Bang-Jensen deems a “funny coincidence,” it was she who called Tierney to arrange the collaboration.
“I sent him the script in advance so he could get a feel for it and see the connections to his own work,” says Bang-Jensen, who works in the Wilma’s artistic department. “There are different levels on which to interpret the play: How do we come to terms with the idea that war lives inside all of us, and how can we solve these internal wars before we can solve global ones?”
The play centers on photojournalist Paul Watson, who is haunted by what he believes he heard the soldier say right as he took the prize-winning photo: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” Playwright Dan O’Brien, also obsessed with the notion of hauntings, heard Watson tell the story on the radio in 2007, and a friendship bloomed between them. Written by O’Brien and directed by Michael John Garcés, the production runs through February 1.
Tierney’s appearance followed the January 16th performance, which drew a young and socioeconomically diverse audience (thanks partly to the WynTix program that offers $10 tickets to students and theater employees). With the Charlie Hebdo attack in France fresh on everyone’s minds, the audience pondered the media’s obligation to citizens.
“It’s the constant question of how the media can give outsiders a more nuanced view of what’s happening,” says Bang-Jensen, “going beyond these images that often only tell one part of the story.”
Also lending context to the performance was an exhibit of wartime photography in the lobby. It included the work of David Swanson, an embedded correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in Iraq in 2004 and the husband of Laila Swanson, assistant professor in set and costume design for Swarthmore’s Department of Theater.
Swarthmore’s connections to the Wilma don’t end there, however. Madeline Charne ’14 has been an intern at the theater since June, and Matt Saunders, assistant professor of design and resident set designer, has designed sets for its productions such as Age of Arousal and Angels in America.
“I feel very lucky to be a part of this wonderful melding of worlds,” says Bang-Jensen, who majored in English literature with a theater minor at Swarthmore and then traveled for a year as a Watson Fellow. “It’s so exciting to engage these fellow artists at the professional level, and for these academic conversations to carry beyond the classroom and manifest as art.”
The Arab Spring, Four Years Later: Hope or Despair?
Lecture by Dr. Sean Yom, Temple University
Monday, Oct. 6, 4:30 p.m., Kohlberg Scheuer Room
Four years on, the Arab Spring had generated wildly contrasting outcomes. From democratization in Tunisia to authoritarian revival in Egypt to civil war in Syria, the regional wave of popular protest has certainly washed away the foundations of the old order.
Can democratization spread to other countries without incurring the risk of war? This lecture aims to answer this question, giving a bird’s eye view of different processes and events from a political scientist’s perspective.
Sean Yom is Assistant Professor of Political Science (comparative politics). His research broadly focuses on authoritarianism and development, and he is now finishing his first book on state-building and political order in the post-colonial Middle East.
Since 1945, most major American wars have ended in regret. The era of U.S. power has also been a time of military frustration, stalemate, and loss, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. What should we do when a conflict becomes an unwinnable war? Can we cut our losses and leave without seeing everything we fought for crumble into ashes?
The stakes are incredibly high. How wars end, and the U.S. exit strategy from conflict, may decide the fate of thousands of American soldiers, impact America’s reputation and global image, cast a long shadow over the home front, and shape the future of the allied country.
Based on interviews with dozens of leading generals, ambassadors, and secretaries of state, this book project provides a guide to handling military failure and escaping from a quagmire. The talk will explain how the United States can avert military disaster, negotiate with opponents, withdraw its troops, train local forces, bind the wounds of veterans, reconcile with enemies, and remember military loss in ways that foster national learning and renewal.
Michael Walzer, emeritus professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey is one of the most renowned living political philosophers.
Walzer’s pioneering work on justice, communitarianism, just war theory, and Jewish political thought has illuminated a variety of intellectual landscapes for decades. Walzer has also been a co-editor of the democratic socialist journal “Dissent” for nearly half a century.
He is the author of dozens of books including “Spheres of Justice,” “Just and Unjust Wars,” “Exodus and Revolution,” and most recently “In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible.”
Michael Walzer will offer a Q & A session at 4:15 pm in Kohlberg Scheuer Room. The Q & A will center on questions offered by students who have been reading his work in their classes, but all interested members of the Swarthmore community are welcome to attend.
Sponsored by the Religion Department, Department of Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.
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.
[This event has been postponed. Stay tuned to this blog for updates.]
COMING TO TERMS WITH RUTHLESSNESS: Human Rights Violations, Moral Outrage, and the Role of International Law
Brad Roth ‘84
Professor of Law, Wayne State University
Monday, October 29, 2012
Professor Brad Roth, Swarthmore Class of 1984, teaches political theory and international law at Wayne State University. His recent book, Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement (Oxford University Press, 2011), applies principles of political morality to the relationship between international and domestic legal authority.
Sponsored by Departments of Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies, and History
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland at the invitation of a former and dear Peace and Conflict Studies faculty member at Swarthmore, Dr. Jeffrey Murer. Jeffrey sends his greetings to everyone at Swarthmore, and I made sure to let him know that we miss his contributions to our program. However, we are, of course, pleased to have him as a professional colleague at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of St. Andrews.
When he left Swarthmore, Jeffrey joined the School of International Relations at the Univeristy of St. Andrews where he teaches both undergraduate and graduate students and advises Ph.D. students. He has also been conducting extensive research on radical youth in Central and Nordic Europe. See The European Study of Youth Mobilisation. (Also see the full pdf report)
As part of my visit, I had the opportunity to participate in a master class with Jeffrey’s students on research methodology in conflict and post-conflict situations. I felt right at home. Given what I knew about Jeffrey’s reputation for teaching at Swarthmore, I was not surprised to find that his students are smart, engaged, and very thoughtful. We had a difficult time ending our two-hour class because the conversation was so good! I learned a lot.
Many thanks to Jeffrey Murer and all of the faculty and students in the School of International Relations.
Drawing together a panel of 22 high-profile experts from the worlds of policy, academia, and journalism, The Iran War Clock reflects the average of each contributor’s estimate that war will break out in Iran in the next year. Based on this number, the Clock is adjusted so that the hand moves closer to, or further away from, midnight.
The aim of the project is to estimate the chances of war while producing a more informed debate on this highly-charged subject.
“Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Iran War Clock is correct in March 2012 and there’s roughly a 50/50 chance of war,” Tierney explains. “Americans need to have an accurate view of this reality. If they wrongly thought there was just a 1 percent chance of conflict it could be dangerous. And if Americans misperceived and felt there was a 99 percent chance of war, this could also be hazardous.
“When you approach the cliff edge,” he says, “you need to know how far away the precipice is.”
In a Sunday interview with MSNBC’S Alex Witt, Tierney discussed what he called the “dream team” of panelists working on The Iran War Clock and explained the methodology behind it.
Three students provided research assistance: Jonathan Emont ’12, an Honors history major and political science minor from Ridgewood, N.J.; Lorand Laskai ’13, an Honors political science major and a course history major from Berkely Heights, N.J.; and James Mao ’12, an Honors political science major and economics minor with a course major in economics, from Beijing, People’s Republic of China.