“Ill-Prepared: International Fieldwork Methods." 2023. With Stephanie Schwartz. Qualitative and Multi-Method Research 21(1): 1-8.
Political science values international fieldwork as a source of academic credibility, particularly for scholars studying violence and related topics. Yet the training for conducting this type of research remains piecemeal. In this paper, we present the results of a targeted survey of International Relations and Comparative Politics faculty and graduate students on their attitudes towards, and preparation for, international field research. We find a prevalent belief that fieldwork is highly advantageous for scholars of violence. At the same time, most graduate students have not had formal training in conducting fieldwork, instead relying largely on peers and junior women faculty for informal advising. These dynamics endanger scholars and the communities in which they work and perpetuate inequalities within the discipline. We argue that treating fieldwork preparation as methodology will improve safety and research quality, and have distributional benefits, promoting consistency in access to training and valuing the work that goes into providing it.
“How the Tigers Got Their Stripes: A Case Study of the LTTE's Rise to Power." With Mario Arulthas. 2021. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. DOI: 10.1080/1057610X.2021.2013753.
Over the course of six months in 1986, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) eliminated their rival militant organizations, despite being significantly outgunned and outmanned by some of these groups. Relying primarily on contemporaneous accounts in Tamil and English, this article traces the process by which the LTTE became the primary avatar of Tamil nationalism, and explores the question of why consolidation unfolded so violently in this case. We argue that the answer lies in the LTTE’s successful portrayal of this violence as order-upholding rather than destructive, and attribute their ability to do this to the fact that much of the population perceived the LTTE as the most legitimate user of violence among the militants.
“The Things They Carry: Victims’ Documentation of Forced Disappearances in Colombia and Sri Lanka.” 2020. With Roxani Krystalli. European Journal of International Relations 27(1): 79-101.
Survivors of systematic violations of human rights abuses carry with them the evidence of their victimization: photographs of the missing, news clippings, copies of police reports. In some contexts, collecting and preserving these documents is part of an effort to claim benefits, such as official victim status or reparations, from the state. In others, it serves as a record of and rebuke to the state’s inaction. In this article, through a comparative case study of victim mobilization in Colombia and Sri Lanka, we explore how these dynamics play out in contexts with high and low (respectively) levels of state action on transitional justice. Drawing on in-depth fieldwork in both contexts, we examine grassroots documentation practices with an eye toward how they reflect the strategic adaptation of international transitional justice norms to specific contexts. We also examine how they organize relationships among individuals, the state, and notions of justice in times of transition from war and dictatorship. We argue that, beyond the strategic engagement with and/or rebuke of the state, these documents are also sites of ritual and memory for those who collect them.
"Does Type of Violence Matter for Efforts to Mitigate Mass Atrocities?” With M.P. Broache. 2020. Journal of Global Security Studies 6(1).
Preventing and mitigating mass atrocities is a critical challenge in international security. But international interventions to stop mass atrocities have met with mixed success, and the academic literature offers limited guidance on how to improve this record. We argue that more attention must be paid to the nature of violence, specifically whether violence targets identity groups as such or political opponents of the perpetrator more broadly. Using Krain’s (2017) data on interventions and mass atrocities, we test for heterogeneous effects of interventions by violence type. We find that while anti-perpetrator military interventions can reduce the severity of identity-based violence, non-military actions have negligible effects. By contrast, in cases of politicide, “naming and shaming” is effective, while military intervention is not; neutral and pro- perpetrator military interventions and economic sanctions are ineffective regardless of violence type. We conclude that intervention strategies should be more narrowly tailored on the basis of violence type.
“Human Rights Half Measures: Avoiding Accountability in Post-War Sri Lanka.” 2020.World Politics 72(1): 121-63.
Why do repressive states create human rights institutions that cost them money and political capital but fail to silence international criticism? The academic literature assumes that states engaging in disingenuous human rights behavior are hoping to persuade (or deceive) liberal Western states and international advocates. But if human rights promoters in the West are the target audience for the creation of these half measures institutions, the strategy appears puzzlingly miscalculated. It reveals that the repressive state is sensitive to international opinion, and often results in increased pressure. The author argues that states engaging in human rights half measures are playing to a different, previously overlooked audience: swing states that can act as veto points on multilateral efforts to enforce human rights. The article illustrates these dynamics with a case study of Sri Lanka’s response to international pressure for postwar justice. The author shows that although the creation of a series of weak investigative commissions was prompted by pressure from Western governments and ngos, it was not an attempt to satisfy or hoodwink these actors. Instead, it was part of a coalition-blocking strategy to convince fellow developing states on the UN Human Rights Council to oppose the creation of an international inquiry and to give them the political cover to do so.
“Deploying Justice: Strategic Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence.” 2018. With Meredith Loken and Milli Lake. International Studies Quarterly 62(4): 751-64.
Why do governments and militaries publicly condemn and prosecute particular forms of abuse? This article explores the Sri Lankan government's decision to promote limited legal accountability for state-perpetrated rape committed in a country otherwise renowned for widespread impunity. We argue that rather than representing a turn against impunity, the symbolic stance against conflict-related sexual violence in a small number of high-profile cases served an explicitly politico-military agenda. The state deployed legal accountability in specific cases to garner political legitimacy among key domestic audiences. The Sri Lankan government drew on the symbolism of female victimhood to mobilize support at a time when support for military counterinsurgency was waning. We show that governments can uniquely instrumentalize sexual violence cases to establish moral authority and territorial legitimacy. Through an examination of the domestic legal response to state-perpetrated human rights abuses, we illustrate the many ways in which women's bodies—and the law—can be mobilized in war to serve military ends.
“Ethics Abroad: Fieldwork in Fragile and Violent Contexts.” 2018. With Milli Lake. PS: Political Science & Politics (2018) 51(3): 607-614.
As the volume of field-based research on fragile or violent contexts increases, it is hard to ignore the fact that such settings pose challenges that are not present elsewhere. Access to new political spaces in which to answer pressing social science questions, the availability of cheap labor, the ease of access to powerful figures, and the excitement of “the field” attract social scientists to these settings. However, they often constitute permissive environments in which researchers can engage in conduct that would be considered deeply problematic at home. Based on extended research in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and interviews with social science researchers, this paper explores and critically assesses research practices employed by foreign academics in these contexts.
"Managing Expectations: International Criminal Trials and the Prospects for Deterrence of Mass Atrocity." 2013. International Journal of Transitional Justice 7 (3): 434-454.
Despite high hopes that the proliferation of accountability mechanisms represents progress toward the maintenance of international peace and security, claims about the ability of international criminal prosecutions to prevent future atrocities remain largely unexamined. Criminal deterrence depends on the certainty and severity of punishment, and the absence of "overwhelming incentives" to offend. In this article, I survey social science findings about the logic of mass atrocity commission and conclude that international prosecutions are too infrequent and the punishments too mild to affect the decision calculus of perpetrators who use violence against civilians for tactical advantage.