Summer Funding and Research in Serbia

serbia-flag I am thrilled to report that I have received generous summer funding for travel to and research in Serbia

My sincerest thanks to the reviewers at the Buffett Center for International and Comparative Research and the Dispute Resolution Research Center at the Kellogg School of Management for allowing me this opportunity.

I am working hard on cultivating on the ground contacts but if you, dear readers, know anyone with whom I should be in touch, please let me know! I have also included the basic elements of my project proposal after the jump. Comments, as always, are greatly appreciated.

Exclusive Histories, Disputed Lands: Ethnonationalism in Territorial Conflict

I am a third year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University. In October I passed my major qualifying exam in International Relations and in December passed my minor qualifying exam in Comparative Politics. I will defend my Thesis Proposal in May 2009. I am applying for a Dispute Resolution Research Center Award to travel to the Balkans in July and August 2009 to conduct field research on the contentious political status of Kosovo in Serbia. This contributes to my dissertation project on the politics of irredentism in Serbia, Israel, and Armenia. My research focuses on the role claims to territory on the basis of historical habitation by ethnic kin (what I call ethnohistorical claims) play in conflict protraction and resolution. This expands upon research I conducted for my masters thesis entitled, “Disputed Territoriality and Ethnohistorical Claims: Understanding Intractable Territorial Conflict in Israel, Serbia, and Armenia.” In February, I presented this work at the annual conference of the International Studies Association in New York City.

For the study of irredentism, Serbia is a fruitful case. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia, it has been inconsistent in its pursuit of territorial revisionist claims vis-à-vis its neighbors. Most notably, Serbia demonstrated little opposition to the secession of Montenegro in 2005 while it has persistently rejected independence for Kosovo despite strong international support. As such, I ask two questions about contemporary international conflict involving territorial revisionism:

(1) Why do some states engage in persistent irredentist behavior towards territories outside of their internationally recognized borders in the absence of clear economic returns or national security benefits?

(2) What accounts for variation exhibited by irredentist states when either retrieving or maintaining control of territories of national salience outside of their recognized borders?

Despite increasingly credible international commitments to the inviolability of existing borders and decreasing material and strategic returns to territorial conquest, some states persist in pursuing territorial revisionism incurring significant costs that seem to far outweigh even the domestic political benefits accrued through popular irredentism.[1] The high costs associated with international isolation or military intervention and active resistance to rule by inhabitants mean that instrumentally rationalist explanations do a poor job of accounting for prolonged claims and occupation of territory that is internationally recognized as part of another state.

Conflicts over national identity and ethnic self-determination are among the most intractable.[2] Irredentists often claim that their objective is to incorporate territory occupied by an ethnic cohort suffering under “foreign” rule or to reclaim territory to which they believe they are historically entitled.[3] But neither the political discontent of ethnic kin nor unrequited claims to ancestral lands is sufficient to explain conquest or persistent efforts to retrieve or control territory.[4] Would-be irredentist states exhibit considerable variation in how and when these claims are asserted and maintained.

These conditions suggest at least three testable hypotheses regarding ethnohistorical claims:

(1) Although the pursuit of territorial revisionism by state-level actors is frequently correlated with exogenous territorial shocks, ethnohistorical claims are not dependent on such shocks for their emergence or popular expression in political discourse. Moreover, the degree to which these claims are advanced and pursued domestically are largely unrelated to the intensity of external sanction.

(2) The resilience of these claims is highly correlated with the degree to which the physical artifacts and locales around which such claims are constructed occupy a prominent place in the commonly accepted national history.

(3) Elite appeals to historical territorial entitlement lack mobilizational salience except where these sites are already central to popular constitutive ideas of national identity.

I test these hypotheses through in-depth case analysis to trace the causal processes by which ethnohistorical claims emerge as important factors in determining the possibility and appropriateness of compromise over contentious spaces. The first hypothesis is falsified if it can be demonstrated that ethnohistorical claims are highly correlated with the incentives and punishments imposed by exogenous actors, and if sudden shifts in a territorial status quo are alone sufficient to spark state action to capture, control, or actively repress populations in target territories. Determining the role or lack thereof played by ethnohistorical claims in precipitating territorial shocks can be evaluated by measuring the presence and intensity of political discourses justifying revisionism. In order to test these propositions, I rely primarily on data drawn from archival materials and secondary historical accounts.

Investigating the second hypothesis requires an in-depth study of historical sites within disputed territories to understand the way popular narratives surrounding them contribute to national identity and negotiation intractability. Because not all sites are equally important in the constitution of a mainstream national narrative of territorial entitlement, it is possible to construct ordinal continuums of the symbolic salience of these sites. I propose to do this by examining language used in public speech, newspapers, and popular press as well as personal interviews with local experts including government and security officials, academics, and activist leaders to describe the nature of claims to these territories. If language highlighting historical entitlement and historical or uninterrupted occupancy is either lacking or ephemeral, it is highly likely that the argument can be falsified. If however such language is consistent and sustained throughout all four mediums, the explanatory power of ethnohistorical claims is compelling.

The third hypothesis follows from the second. Conflict provides significant incentives for politicians and social elites to capitalize on claims to sites already central to the national discourse. This is true regardless of the actors’ own evaluation of the legitimacy or validity of these claims. If these figures invoke narratives of clear historical salience but fail to generate public mobilization or meaningful discussion in the mainstream press, the hypothesis is clearly falsified. This is also true if public figures’ attempts to instrumentalize non-salient historical narratives or invent new ones result in successful public mobilization.


[1] (Zacher 2001; Holsti 2004; Mueller 2004).

[2] (Diehl and Goertz 1988; Carment and James 1995; Saideman and Ayres 2000)

[3] (Burghardt 1973; Murphy 1990; Chazan 1991; Newman 1999; Ambrosio 2001; Yiftachel 2002)

[4] (Lustick 1993; Carment and James 1995; Saideman 1998; Ambrosio 2001; Yiftachel 2002; Goddard 2006; Hassner 2006/07)

2 Responses to Summer Funding and Research in Serbia

  1. Avi says:

    My younger brother Jody is very well connected and probably knows at least three or four very important Serbians. You guys should connect.


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