In our regular faculty spotlight, we highlight the diverse array of multidisciplinary Tufts faculty whose research, teaching, and external work engages with the theme of organized violence. This week:
Department of Political Science
International Relations, Security Studies
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004
Can you tell us about how your research, teaching, or other work intersects with organized violence and its impacts?
I am finishing a book on the security-related effects of unverified information, such as rumors and conspiracy theories; previously wrote a book on the strategic creation and exploitation of refugee and IDP movements; and co-authored and co-edited a third book on the politicization of crime and conflict statistics (including claims and denials of genocide). I also have a side field survey research project on the adoption and dissemination of rumors in conflict areas (in south and southeast Asia). Teaching: I teach courses on the causes (and international responses to) civil wars as well as on unverified information in international politics (see above). Off-campus: I episodically consult for various organs of the US and foreign governments about internal conflict and mass population displacements; and I previously and currently serve on boards of directors for relevant NGOs. I am also now co-teaching another somewhat relevant course; namely, Ethics and International Relations with Professor Ioannis Evrigenis.
Do you have any current projects, research or otherwise, on this topic?
I am working on finishing up the first of the books mentioned above. As the project has come to fruition, I would describe it as follows:
The book is a multi-method, cross-national study that explores why, when, and under what conditions, contested sources of political information—such as rumors, conspiracy theories, myths and propaganda, sources I collectively refer to as “extra-factual information”—materially influence the development and conduct of states’ foreign and defense policy. Case studies are drawn from Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, from the late 19th through the early 21st century.
Why did you first become interested in studying organized violence and its impacts?
Although I did not have an inkling at the time that I would grow up to study such issues professionally, I have been deeply interested in what drives people to engage in mass killing since I first read The Diary of Anne Frank in grade school.
Do you think there are any personal or professional challenges unique to teaching, researching, and working in the field of organized violence?
While I don’t know that they are unique to the study of organized violence, there can be noteworthy material, ethical, and logistical challenges associated with conducting fieldwork in conflict zones, with gathering data about sensitive topics and with protecting researchers and subjects in unstable environments.