Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lit Review Update 14

Christmas was really bad for productivity. I'd hoped to have more done by now. Still, I haven't given up the ship. I just need to keep plugging away. I have done other work in the meanwhile, mostly for the Antioch class, but I hate falling behind on this. My dissertation has to be priority.

Mann's Chapter 4 really is more case than it is theory. I just don't have any more colonial cases in the remainder of the books. I may throw it in with the "Early Ethnic Cleansing" chapters in Mann and in the Bell-Fialkoff book. It probably won't go in the theory section of the lit review. This chapter was pretty heavy. The mark-up took me about five hours. So I'm moving at nine pages an hour or so. I think that's right. I need to time myself next time. And that wasn't without interruption. But my focus wouldn't be that much better if I weren't interrupted. I'm not the worker I used to be.

Plug and chug. Gotta plug and chug.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lit Review Update 12

In a sense, it's harder to argue with a text that you actually like. Certainly, I find Mann much more engaging than Staub, especially when it comes to empirical analysis. His weakness so far is that he's not as good a theorist as he is an empiricist. While he's boundlessly more organized than Staub (not necessarily an achievement, but let's give credit where credit is due--he's about as together as we might expect from a solid academic writer), his theory is not as well-distilled as it might be. I'm about three pages into his second chapter. It looks like a normative theory developed from and given in conjunction with an empirical account of the development of democracy in Western Europe. The writing is very breezy and, naturally, as the subject is quite thorny, the text has already raised a few red flags. I don't think he sees concepts as clearly as he should if he is to understand the full consequences of his argument. It's still early, however. He may yet bowl me over. Mann definitely keeps me quite interested. He's a good deal more fun than Staub.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quick Notes on Staub

First, it’s always important to judge a book by its cover, so let’s consider what really counts—the title. The Roots of Evil is fairly quotidian in comparison with Chirot and McCauley’s delightfully effusive choice of Why Not Kill Them All?, but certainly it’s far catchier than anything I’ve dreamed up. Hemmingway used to leaf through the Bible to find titles when he was drawing blanks. Perhaps I’ll do the same. I wonder if I might find something creative in military memoirs? Something with blood and passion, and yet a sense of humor. Perhaps I can find something with a Desperate Housewives feel to it? Something akin to Gretchen’s splendid Better Homelands and Watchtowers.Obviously I’m not going to leave the reader uplifted; it’s just not that kind of book. That said, Shakespeare always had some comic relief in his darker tragedies, and I feel the right title might serve to punch up this otherwise morbid subject.

What would Marc Cherry do? Better, what would Bree Hodges do? That woman can slap an upbeat façade on any situation. This is exactly the sort of sensibility I need.

At any rate, we can’t dwell on aesthetics forever. Staub does have a theoretical approach that we ought to consider. He’s a psychologist. And indeed, the theory portion of the book is a fantastic review of a great deal of psych literature. I’ve pulled up a few items to read later in the day. His basic argument is that ethnic cleansing is caused when (1) the psychology of living through hard times meets (2) a culture conducive to outgroup derogation that serves to target frustration, (3) leaders willing to command the use the technique with followers sufficiently disciplined to use it and (4) a lack of external intervention.

The Psychology of Living Through Difficult Times

While Staub does mention that people must feel threatened for this technique to be used, he seems very committed to a real experience of widespread suffering for the technique to make sense. I tend to think that phrase “threat perception” works better, as I believe that clever leaders can manufacture the perception of threat where actual threat may not exist and that plain bad luck can also lead to this perception in the absence of any real threat. To Staub’s credit, he does mention threat several times. Yet, the text makes clear that is looking for “hard times” akin to his master case of Nazi Germany. Certainly, the Weimar Republic is rather well-known for its hard times. Few could imagine it an upbeat and secure environment in which to have lived. There are least, we must give him his hard times.

The idea is that people experience threat due to hard times and instinctively seek self-protection, both of the body and of the constructed self (of identity). Indeed, trauma theory gives us good reason to argue that individuals may often not only mistake the constructed self for the physical self, but actually will, on occasion, place the survival of the constructed self above the physical self (i.e. martyr themselves rather than give up their self-concept).

The types of threat that Staub is concerned with are collective threats, and it turns out that experiencing threat collectively has a dynamic that differs from experiencing threat alone. First, when one experiences threat, one becomes more pro-ingroup and have a greater need for ingroup connection. When the source of threat can be targeted to an outgroup, members of the ingroup become hostile to the outgroup. A combination of two phenomena make groups likely to support genocide. The first is “scapegoating”—a strategy of reassuring oneself of one’s own agency by blaming a convenient other for whatever bad times one is experiencing. The other is “just world thinking” in which individuals believe that the suffering of others exists because, by and large, it is deserved.

By far, his comprehensive review of elements in the psychology literature on bias and how these elements come into play during political conflict is by far the most useful contribution Staub makes. He is unique among the other authors in this literature review in his attention to the micro and macro psychological issues involved in genocide.

Culture Conducive to Outgroup Derrogation

I’m less impressed by his analysis of cultural causes of genocide. I have always disliked “cultural” analysis because many analysts who use the concept revel in its vagueness. They believe strongly that one must immerse oneself in the given culture and, once one has a feel for the culture, one can speak about it with some authority. I cannot trust this approach. I tend to prefer a clear indication of a specific norm that is causal. I want to know the genealogy of that norm and see some sort of measure of how widespread that norm might be in a given time and place. Moreover, I would like a clear indication that the norm is causal. Staub does mention that “Unproductive research approaches and excessive initial expectations have reduced interest in the notion of national character,” (p. 51) but then goes on to mention that many psychologists (Milgram, Maslow, Beatrice and John Whiting, etc.) have nonetheless found uses for culture. That said, he makes no discussion of the proper method by which norms or symbols can be isolated as a variable.

I’m afraid that this lack of sophistication shows. He likes to talk about “monolithic” as opposed to “pluralist” cultures. He conflates cultural diversity with political freedom and cultural uniformity with authoritarianism. He believes that pluralist societies are more likely to act to prevent ethnic cleansing, offering no evidence to support his claim. In his study of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, he calls the Ottoman Empire a monolithic culture, a claim that, to be frank, is ludicrous. I am not particularly convinced that any culture is intrinsically authoritarian or, for that matter, democractic. My instinct is that his cases will find authoritarian, monolithic culture wherever he needs to find it.

Leaders Willing to Use the Technique

Staub does admit that understanding leaders is important for understanding genocide. That said, he laments that the Nuremburg trials were a missed opportunity to advance the study of the genocidal leader’s mind. His preference is to look at followers and make inferences about leaders from studying the followers. While I don’t doubt looking at antisocial behavior and “fanaticism” might help us understand leaders, he doesn’t seem concerned with looking at anything as mundane as biography. Again, here we mostly see psychological analysis of what helps individuals kill other people. I found the lit survey useful. But he never goes beyond surveying the psych literature. I anticipate that the cases are going to show a lack of historiographical sophistication.

A Lack of External Intervention

I do think that external pressure might help stop nefarious plans for genocide. That said, Staub really doesn’t offer any evidence to support this claim. He simply asserts it. He is also actively interested in creating a more caring, pluralistic world rich in “transcendence opportunities” and run by “compassionate institutions” as the solution to avoiding further genocide. Further, people should become less materialistic. The notion that even the wealthiest democracies in the world seem to have fallen short of these goals and that most of the world is not likely to witness anything like the idealized society that he describes does not seem to dawn on Staub. His grasp of the political is weak at best.

Scientific Ethical Neutrality and Moral Argument

Topics like genocide and ethnic cleansing are especially thorny ones for a social scientist to tackle. Social science as a technique rests on ethically neutral interpretation of social action. Genocide, however, is viewed ethically as a crime of the most grievous order. Presenting an ethically neutral argument about this sort of topic requires great consideration of matters of tone. Moreover, simply dropping ethical considerations is not an option. All knowledge is intended for a knower who may likely be called to act upon the knowledge the scientist provides. It seems to me unconscionable to create knowledge and not address the moral implications of that knowledge, especially on an issue of the highest moral gravity.

Yet, it seems to me equally unconscionable not to separate the tasks of the scientist and the citizen and make clear to the reader when one is engaged in the tasks appropriate to the former and when to the latter. Staub, however, does not “change hats” if you will, when speaking as scientist and citizen. This is quite clear at the beginning of the book, when he describes evil not as a question of moral intention, but rather as an empirical category, comprising “the destruction of life, dignity, happiness and the capacity to meet basic needs” (p. 25). Genocide is studied as a crime with the full presumption of the moral meaning of the act. Staub also designs his theory to maintain accountability. Evil can be found in leaders, peoples and cultures and must be found accountable in all three. He is particularly concerned with he seems to believe is the nascent desire for people in hard times to throw themselves into a totalizing identity, abdicating their individual moral accountability. I must admit, I find his moral views naïve.

On the whole then, the book is good for its psychological lit review. He makes a poor historian and a poor political scientist.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lit Review Update 11

I’m delighted to say that I have finished reviewing the theoretical portions of Staub’s The Roots of Evil. I’ll pick him up again as I wind my way through the cases.

Next on the menu, Mann.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lit Review Update 10

I realized that when I made the table originally, I have accidentally skipped to the end of Chapter 6 and thought that it was the end of Chapter 5. I've separated the two chapters. I knocked out Chapters 6 and 15 today. Two more to go.

I'm half tempted to punt the last two chapters and move on to the next author. I photocopied the theory chapters from Mann already. I could easily move on. Chapter 16 in Staub looks like it will be a totally gratuitous chapter that reads something like, "See, now that I've read all this psych, I can not only explain genocide, but knock out the cause of war in a single chapter." [Flex intellectual muscles here]. The last chapter looks more useful. I'll probably try slogging through them both tomorrow. I have real life crap to do this afternoon.

So much of coping with my version of MS is, like the recalcitrant algebra student, learning not to skip steps. I used to be good at distilling knowledge accurately and quickly in my mind. Take out that RAM chip though, and all you can do is chip away at it.

Writing is now baseball. It's stats and averages and chipping away at it quietly. I've got to learn to see the joy in it.

NOTE: I think I may just punt the last two theory chapters from Staub. Skimming through, there doesn't seem to be much there. I'll check again in the morning when my head is clearer.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lit Review Update 9

Three more theory chapters from Staub to go. Then we move on to the theory of the next book, which is Naimark. He's an historian and doesn't really have a theory. But to the extent that each author has a generalizable view, I want to know it. Then I figure we make a list of ethnic cleansings that each writer brings up and pull in all source material about that incident from the other books and few others besides.

I figure that the lit review should have a section going over their overviews. Then, I should go cleansing by cleansing. The finished product should give the reader both a clear idea of the state of the social sciences on ethnic cleansing and a quick comparative look at some of the most important cleansings of the past century. All of this, naturally, should pave the way for my book. After all, that's what a lit review is almost always about.

It's a rather vain business I find myself in. The things we do to stay a teacher...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lit Review Update 8

UGH. Too tired to keep plugging away tonight. More forthcoming.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lit Review Update 7

Since I don't really need my laptop to teach when I'm a TA (no lecture = no powerpoint), I often just bring material to mark-up during the gap between my sections. It's easier than hauling and setting up my laptop to work. So today, I finished marking up Chapter 4 of Staub.

Staub is one of those "throw the kitchen sink at 'em" kinds of writers. He spits out endless detail with lackluster organization. Why pick a causal factor? Throw in anything at all that might be causal. He assumes that if he pumps out enough information, like a machine gunner, he'll eventually hit the target. Who cares which bullet was the right one, so long as the target is dead? I feel riddled with bullets.

Tonight, I'll see if I can finish off the outline for at least one of these chapters.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lit Review Update 4

I’ve realized that I’m going about this all wrong. I’m going to hold off on generating that blog entry for the Armenian Genocide. It doesn’t make sense to start there, just because I’m done with note-taking for it. That’s the old Talal, trying to go for a quick kill, trying to create the all-important feeling of momentum. This is baseball, not football. There is no momentum. It’s antithetical to the game. It’s about stringing together small actions into a larger sequencing structure. It’s about statistical consistency, not momentum and passion.

I need to look at the bigger project. The truth is that I don’t have a mechanism for evaluating the three accounts of the Armenian Genocide that I’ve read, because I really haven’t done much with the theories in defense of which the original texts were written (when there was a theory—Naimark is a descriptive historian). I need to have each theorist very clearly spelled out in my mind. Then, I can evaluate how each theorist does with respect to each case.

Second, I’m starting a literature review that I will use in the theory chapter. This isn’t the theory chapter. I can’t keep thinking I can just distill as much as I need out of the source material and create a complex but compact document. That would require a great deal of short-term recall. I’ll get lost and the whole thing will fall apart. I need to write a lit review, then distill that written review to create part of the theory chapter. No skipping steps. In the process, I’ll read a lot about several ethnic cleansings.

So theorists we’re looking at will be: Ervin Staub, Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, Stuart Kaufman, Michael Mann and Zeynep Bulutgil. Two historical tours of ethnic cleansings, by Norman Naimark and Benjamin Lieberman will help provide case material. We’ll read through the theory chapters for each, and then go through the case chapters cleansing by cleansing. If I find shorter historical chapters that aren’t in these sources, I’ll include them in the case analysis, but I’m not going to run out and get books. This lit review has to be written by January.

Tomorrow evening, we start with the theory chapters from Staub.


Grading was actually done in the wee hours of the morning on December 1. After pushing so hard, I naturally crashed afterward and only posted it now. Now back to the write-up for the Armenian genocide.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Damn, this is dragging on. I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Ugh. I hate being behind. The essays are always a bitch.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I'm not even going to feel slightly glum over needing to crash for the next four days on grading. I was very productive dissertation-wise last week. So I'm going to make breakfast, hit the gym, shower and then do the short answers today. Essays always take more time, so they get Saturday and Sunday. I'll plug, chug and print on Monday, return the papers on Tuesday. So let it be written; so let it be done!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lit Review Update 3

The Naimark chapter went by fairly quickly. I need to start grading now. Then I'll do a quick write-up on the Armenian genocide. Look for that early next week. Then, on to Nazi Germany.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lit Review Update 2

I'm starting the Naimark tonight. I got all the Nazi case material copied this morning at school.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lit Review Update 1

Both of the Armenia chapters in Mann are done. In the next few days I need to finish the Naimark and the Staub chapters (both much shorter and less detailed than even a single Mann chapter). Then I’ll do an intermediate write-up for the blog and move on to the Nazis.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Starting a Lit Review

My time in Tel Aviv has dealt me a significant reversal. I’ve had to punt on my old thesis. I initially thought that Lebanon’s consociational constitution served to accentuate confessional identity in Lebanon, making it easier to objectify people. As objectifying people is a requisite for killing them, I postulated that in a civil war, Lebanon was more likely to have ethnic cleansing than Jordan. Jordan, after all, has spent most of its history denying any identity differences between its citizens. Sadly, the samples I was able to photograph from an-Nahar don’t back me up. In the few years prior to the outbreak of the Lebanon 1975-1990 Civil War, I found only one headline that dealt with confessional identity. This was a purely administrative article announcing that the Druze personal court would open two weeks later than the other person courts that legal season. The predominant local identities were all economic: workers, teachers, unionists, etc. In contrast, a few days after the `Ayn Rumaniyyeh Massacre, the papers began talking about Christian parties. As far as I can see, ethnicity is salient only after the war begins.

My goal is to have a new theory chapter by New Year’s Day. Ideally, I can convert that into a proposal, but I want the theory chapter first. Proposals have proven more difficult for me until I have a clear picture of the project. So let’s build the theory chapter. The goal is to map it thoroughly. I need to acknowledge that I can’t allow my brain to organize spontaneously behind my imagination. I am no longer capable of thinking at several levels simultaneously. I can get all the divine influence the muses want to send me and the truth is that I can’t channel it all. I simply cannot organize it quickly enough for it "flow" from me. I can only manage the flow of imagination in dribs and drabs. Writing cannot be ecstatic or charismatic anymore. I have to force myself to plod without getting depressed and without losing focus. Writing isn’t ecstasy anymore. I have to find some reason to like it again.

The most difficult part of every theory chapter is damned lit review. So let’s make a laundry list of what we need:

  1. I’m hoping the strength of my interpretive approach will be clear when I go over the largely contradictory literature on ethnic cleansing. Most of these models are attempts at being necessary and sufficient models. I need to review these works and show their shortcomings.

  2. A review of the psychological problems, particularly the ingroup/outgroup dynamics, associated with killing as a task.

  3. Material to draw on that demonstrates the normative problems of dealing with ethnic cleansing as a topic. I need to find pieces that I don’t like because they are so focused on morally condemning the act of ethnic cleansing that they can’t be troubled to understand it.

  4. Part of my argument suggests that ethnic cleansing is rare enough an activity that making a statistical model would be difficult Some people have taken this tack, but I’m not sure that it’s true. I need to know this literature.

So I'll go in order, find pieces for each part and report back here. Let's see how it goes. I warned anyone who might be reading that this is the most boring blog ever.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Note to My Committee

Esteemed Committee Members,

Shabat Shalom from Tel Aviv! My partner Craig suggested that I actually write and tell you that I’m here, trying to gather a newspaper sample for my dissertation. This seemed wise, as I only had a chance to talk to Ellis about it before I left. Craig and I arrived about a week ago. I have spent my weekdays at the Arab Press Archive at Tel Aviv University.

The plan, you may recall, was to collect a sample of 2400 articles, 300 for before both civil wars, 300 for during and 300 for after. Each packet of 300 was to he half domestic policy articles and half were to be domestic policy editorials. I rigged a fun method that did not use a flash that I hoped would allow me to get a massive article dump while I was here. That mechanism, if you’re curious, is depicted at this link.

The Problem of Acquiring the Sample

Sadly, they are as intolerant of non-flash lighting as they are of flash lighting (although, curiously they allow photocopying and scanning, which also uses light) and have express rules against copying a whole page at a time. After a (nonetheless very pleasant) week here, it is apparent that my dream of doing a massive sample absorption that I can sort out once I get home is simply not going to happen. I have to select the articles and copy them while here. I’ll get the build-up to each civil war before I return to Seattle if I’m lucky. I’m going to have come back. This means that I still need to learn how to write an effective grant application before I graduate.

The Problem of Editorials

But other difficulties arisen. Empirical reality is regrettably messy. My initial plan was to look at domestic policy pieces and (1) tally how often pieces discuss community identity as opposed to sub-group identity and (2) look for objectifying language, outgroup derogation, etc. The problem is that I was very naïve in assuming that there would actually be domestic news and domestic policy editorials. This is not really the case in Jordan. I’ve read through several issues of ad-Difa`, a privately held Jordanian daily. Ad-Difa` doesn’t really cover much local news. Most news articles and virtually all editorials are foreign policy pieces.

What domestic pieces exist fall into three clear genres: (1) The Royal Watch Piece (i.e. the King or Prince Hassan Went Here and Did This Today—Isn’t That Exciting?), (2) The Development Narrative Piece (i.e., the government has built new roads and/or is trying to improve public education) or (3) General Announcements (people’s marriages, deaths, the names of all the students in the country who passed their tawjihi, etc.). There are occasional pieces associated with local government. What seems conspicuously lacking is really, any reference to conflict at the domestic level. Society, to the extent that society is depicted at all, it is, by and large, depicted as unified and unproblematic. Now, it’s not Syria. No one here is being made the mouth ridiculous truisms, i.e. “Hafiz al-Asad is nation’s best pharmacist” or show up in mass demonstrations chanting what they do not believe. Nonetheless, the country will have a civil war in 1970 and there is no trace of dissent in the news of 1967 and 1968.

Now, while ad-Difa` is a privately owned paper, it is one of the few privately owned papers that survived the 1967 War and did this mostly by toeing the government line. I imagine that, when I get to it, ad-Dastur, the state organ, is going to look a lot like ad-Difa`. Ad-Difa` certainly looks like recent copies of the English-language daily The Jordan Times. You can check them out at this link. It's depressing how little has changed.

I think the media in Jordan reflects a government line. It’s not Syria, don’t get me wrong. They don’t simply fabricate news. A limited civil society exists in Jordan. Public opinion is a limit of sorts on the monarchy. But clearly public discourse is limited and, ideally, the state shapes the discourse and not vice versa. It is clearly the intent of the state that most citizens be depoliticized. Pan-Arab issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict probably distract from domestic policy and serve to unify the citizens the way local sports coverage unifies the fans.

While I haven’t started sampling it yet, I’ve looked through an-Nahar, one of Lebanon’s most famous newspapers. The editorials do occasionally talk about something other than foreign policy, although foreign policy is a great cause célèbre in Beirut, too. Nonetheless, domestic policy news pieces show up by page 2. Moreover, there is conflict. Lebanese politicians do have at one another. For what it’s worth, politicians are making consistent appeals for public support. An-Nahar does contain occasional domestic editorials, but these are more sparse. I don’t think I can get one from every issue I randomly sample.

I had initially wanted to include editorials because I thought that the language might get more objectifying there. But that will never happen in Jordan, which never disembarks from the unity bandwagon. Given these difficulties, unless any of you can suggest why I should keep them, I think I want to punt on editorials and focus on news coverage. I think my best shot at p<0.05 is in having a 300 article sample for each period. I think the genres are different enough that I'll skew the outcome if I make a single, split sample. Doing a sample of 300 each for each period is unrealistic, given my working constraints. Please tell me what you think.

The Structure of Civil Society and Its Impact on the Model

One of the elements that I find more difficult to deal with in this project is the conception of civil society. I talk about two methods of recognition. The first is consociational, where sub-groups are formally recognized as equal but separate communities. The second is universal, in which all individuals within the state are recognized as equal individuals without reference to other forms of identity. But both the United States and Jordan use the universal recognition. Their civil societies, however, are very different.

During my prospectus defense, Steve asked me if my theory could explain ethnic cleansing in Stalinist Russia. After a few months of reflection, I realized that my theory wasn’t particularly helpful for understanding ethnic cleansing in ultra-authoritarian states, because in those states a single leader had so much power that the decision to perform ethnic cleansing is essentially the personal decision of a largely unconstrained leader. That said, the more the political sphere was open to the participation of multiple persons, the more useful my theory would be. Simply put, my theory rests on the assumption that leaders have to “sell” something like ethnic cleansing to their followers. While civil war is indeed a time of crisis in which the usual rules do not apply, I’ve held that the “normal” condition is sort of an anchor for behavior. Yes, you exceed the normal during a civil war, but those actions are constantly judged against the normal. So the more power in the ruler’s hands, the more ethic cleansing is a personal preference and the less the recognition narrative matters. The more power is enmeshed in a civil society that requires consent, the more the recognition narrative matters, as the leader must be seen to live out the narrative.

After seeing the newspapers, I’ve wondered if Jordan is too authoritarian to be a viable model. Jordan does formally recognize citizens as equal individuals. But Jordan’s civil society is not exactly free or open, either. It may well be that Jordan doesn’t participate in ethnic cleansing because the king is very powerful and he personally isn’t into ethnic cleansing. That said, he won the civil war, but barely. He isn't powerful enough to be an al-Asad or a Saddam. Moreover, there have been other crises such as the 1989 fuel riots that forced a short-run pluralization in the state. While Jordan doesn’t have many policy debates, it does have a civil society that is occupied by more than just the king. I still balk at classifying it with Syria or Ba`thist Iraq. I feel that I can still sell this.

Any feedback? I could really use some.



Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Problem of Jordanian Editorials

Ugh. More sampling issues. I just finished polling editorials from ad-Difa` in post-war 1967. Virtually none of them deal with domestic issues. And ad-Difa` is the privately owned newspaper. Of course, it is a privately owned newspaper that survived the post-’67 War establishment of martial law by toeing the government line. I did not anticipate this in my research design. Reality is fuckin’ messy.

This makes me wonder if I should tally editorials together with articles at all. Right now, I am sampling the top domestic policy article (usually short and buried somewhere after p. 3 of a six-page newspaper). If there are no domestic policy editorials to sample, should I allow them to be tallied together? My target was a combined 300 pieces per survey, as that is the most likely minimum number to give me p ≤ 0.05. If I can't combine them as a single survey, then I'd need to do a separate 400-piece survey for each. I really can’t envision doing 300 articles and 300 editorials for each period, with six total periods. I need to graduate. Should I just dump the editorials?

I guess I need to start looking at Lebanon. I need to know the look and feel of a Lebanese paper before I can make a decision.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sampling Issues

Kirk sent me an e-mail asking about my sampling issues. I thought I might start writing about them here. To see the problem, you’ll need to know a bit about my argument.

What The Hell Are You Trying to Prove?

Er, test. We never prove. We only test hypotheses. My dissertation is a theory about ethnic cleansing during civil war. I argue that places that recognize sub-group identity and lend it legitimacy by granting it representation are more likely to wind up with ethnic cleansing during a civil war than are places where sub-group identity is officially ignored and the state pretends that society is composed of atomized individuals. The logic behind my thinking is that human moral sensibilities are inherently context-driven. Very few people believe that any specific act is universally wrong or right across time and space. We look to context to determine what actions are appropriate in given circumstances.

Killing someone is always a difficult act for individuals who are not psychopaths. To kill someone requires objectification. For a normal person to kill someone, you can’t stop and think, “This guy is just some other guy like me. He’s a human being who had a mother, too.” You can’t pull the trigger. You have to objectify them. You can’t view them as the same as you.

In countries where sub-group identities are a daily part of the deal, individuals spend most of their day “slotting” people. They are always conscious of out-group identity. When you spend all day slotting people as a matter of business, then you get used to it. This makes objectification easier. Moreover, your moral obligations within civil society are constructed as being different toward different people based on group identity. In countries where the government doesn’t operate under the assumption that everyone belongs to a group and that is the natural way to do business, there exists a polite public fiction that everyone is the same and differentiating between groups is rude. That fiction serves as a barrier of sorts for ethnic cleansing. If you’re already divvying everyone up into in-group and out-group all day long, you’re a step closer to the sort of objectification needed to kill. It’s an easier sell for politicians who need your support.

The Jordanian Civil War didn’t have ethnic cleansing. The Lebanese Civil War did. Both civil wars had similar causes—the destabilizing presence of armed Palestinian guerrillas. Levantine Arabs are very culturally similar. Jordanians and Palestinians are for all intents and purposes the same people. Same dialect, same food, there was no distinction between them at all prior to the British drawing a line between then in 1921. There’s a little more cultural distinction between Lebanese and Palestinians/Jordanians. But not much. So virtually everything is the same except the state and its system for recognition. Lebanon distinguishes between groups. The whole system is built on it. Jordan doesn’t formally distinguish between groups. The whole system is built on pretending there's no difference. So we have a natural experiment of sorts.

How Are You Going to Prove (er,Test) It?

Well, the lack of ethnic cleansing in the Jordanian civil war is a matter of record. Yes, civilians got killed, no one claims it wasn’t bloody, but these were mostly collateral damage in an attempt to root out the guerrillas. Jordan did not become Rwanda. Ethnic cleansing begins in Lebanon almost immediately after Ayn Rumaniyya. We can draw on secondary historical sources for evidence.

The question is finding a way to trace the causality. There’s a lot of psych stuff I can draw on. Moreover, there’s media stuff I can use to show how the press shapes public discourse and how the state creates the framework of basic assumptions the media run with. But what I need to prove is that public discourse in Jordan and Lebanon are shaped the way that I say that they are. So for this, I am gathering a sample for what is called a content analysis, a statistical study of the properties of given texts.

On the basis of my argument, I make the following predictions about Jordan and Lebanon newspapers from the period:

  1. At all times discourse about domestic politics in Lebanon will make more references to sub-groups and fewer references to Lebanese as a whole than in Jordan.
  2. In both countries, we should see a rise on objectifying language used to describe sub-groups the closer we get to civil war, sustained objectifying language during the civil war and a slow decline in objectifying language after civil war.
  3. Nonetheless, the extent of objectifying language will remain lower in Jordan during all three periods

The Sampling Problem

I have selected two major newspapers for each country that were in publication prior to, during and after the civil war. For Jordan, I selected ad-Difa` (The Defense) and ad-Dastur (The Constitution). For Lebanon, I selected an-Nahar (The Day), al-Hayat (Life) and as-Safir (The Ambassador). I spent some time with an online calculator that suggested to me that with a sample of 300 articles, I could probably get the coveted p=<0.05. So for each period (before, during and after the civil war), I will sample 300 articles, for a total of 2400 coded articles for the damned project. Half of each sample will be domestic politics news articles (150) and half will be domestic politics editorials (150). This way, there is a chance that I can differentiate between the two genres, as I imagine the more objectifying language will crop up in the editorials.

I’ve just surveyed the Arab Press Archive’s holdings for ad-Difa` and ad-Dastur from the dates June 21, 1967 (the day after the loss of the 1967 War) to August 31, 1970 (the day before the start of the Jordanian Civil War). This period contains a total of 1,168 days. Both dailies publish every day of the week including Friday, so we should expect both papers to have that many issues. The Arab Press Archvie has 804 issues of ad-Difa` from this period, 68.84 percent of the estimated population, and 722 issues of ad-Dastur, 61.82 percent of the estimated population.

My first problem is whether I should take 150 articles and 150 editorials from a combined pool of 1,526 issues of both papers combined, or if I should sample 75 articles and 75 editorials from ad-Difa` and 75 articles and 75 editorials from ad-Dastur. Ad-Difa` is a privately held paper that had its origins in the Palestine Mandate, but was published from Amman after 1948. Ad-Dastur is a government-run Jordanian newspaper. These two papers had the highest circulation in Jordan at the time. As ad-Dastur is a state newspaper and the Hashemites were avid state builders, you would expect it to virtually never distinguish between Transjordanians and Palestinians. Ad-Difa` would be more likely to not toe the line, but it’s important to note that the papers survival in the period we are studying rests on it not rocking the boat too much.

So should I split the sample, or take from a pool? Right now, I’m splitting the sample. Kirk said he’d look at what I’m doing and give advice, as his work often rests on getting random samples. Anyone who wants to pipe in is more than welcome.

Reading through al-Difa`

One of the things I’ve noticed as I read through al-Difa` is it’s genuine lack of domestic political coverage. Granted, I’m reading September 1967 right now, so you would expect foreign policy to predominate. Jordan has just lost a war and the whole West Bank in the process. Domestically, you would expect little participation. Jordan is under martial law. But still, I’m floored by just how few articles deal with domestic issues. I expected sub-group references to be muted. But to be honest, reference to even a general public is muted. The press in Jordan so far seems to represent to the public what the state is doing. The public itself isn’t really covered. It reminds me of Habermas' description of the Château de Versailles, with the whole point of the edifice being to represent the king's power to the people, not the people's opinion to the king. I think of Gretchen working at King Abdullah II’s press office and rather wonder about her take on this. It also makes me think of Ellis' fun class studying Arab monarchy by reading Shakespeare, as those plays are a good English source for understanding monarchy. I wonder if Jordan being a monarchy might undermine the comparison I'm drawing. Still, Jordan isn't Syria.

Lebanese politicians, spewers of endless bullshit that they are, nonetheless address constituencies. I’m not seeing much of this in the Jordanian press as I read.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Okay, I've been feeling better physically. Let's see if that can translate into real work.

I did a lot of brainstorming on "Faith, Epistemology and the Ideal-Type of the Sacred" last term. I realized I had two problems. The first was that, prior to MS, I had gotten used to being good enough that I could skip steps, like a smart algebra student. It had been so long since I'd done the steps, I'd forgotten there were steps. I kept trying to solve problems in my head. What I realized was that I did know the steps. I basically ask myself the same questions I ask students to help them flush an idea out of their minds.

The second problem is the cause of the first. The reason I could do it all in my mind is because I had more working memory. I could ask a question, remember it while I answered it, keep the answer in my mind, criticize it by asking a new question, rinse, lather repeat. That required me to hold a question in my mind and then answer it. Writing the question down allowed me to look at the question, so I didn't have to keep it in my recall. Rather, it was in my recall, but seeing it was a constant reminder that refreshed my recall whenever it started to sputter. Sadly, that happens all the time. I could focus most of my working memory on answering the question. Writing the answer allowed me to criticize it without holding it in working memory the same way. Basically, the trick is to do your dialectical thinking on paper or the screen. SHOW YOUR WORK. DON'T SKIP STEPS. Welcome back to fuckin' algebra.

So I think I solved the problems of the paper last term. When I was timelining last year, a progress chart helped keep me on track. Let's see what it does this year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Facing Down My Demons

A few years ago, Mary Pepping, a neural psychologist, told me that I was choking. That while the brain damage to my frontal lobes had seriously compromised some of my executive abilities, it was not possible that they had compromised them as badly as they had on the battery of tests she had given me. Simply put, if I was as bad at sorting as the test made me look, there would be no way I could do as well as I did on the parts of the test that I aced. Instead, she suggested that I had "an unwitting tendency to channel somatically my distress at not being able to perform the tasks" at which I am impaired. This is a clinical, perhaps more gentle way of saying that I was choking.

And I have been choking. I have not written a successful paper since the spring of 2005. That paper, while it achieved its goals, at 45 pages at space-and-a-half was far too long. I have been trying to gain control of my writing since, and have failed repeatedly. This has taken a terrible toll on my self respect.

Well, I've learned a lot over the past four years. I've learned about the normal problems of scale that any imaginative graduate student has to conquer. I've learned about my very sad organizational abilities and how to work ways around them. I've learned about my difficulties managing my emotions. So I'm facing down one of my incomplete papers. It's called "Faith, Epistemology and The Ideal-Type of the Sacred," also known as "the Plato-Weber paper." I'm going to try to face this one down. Maybe I'll make it, maybe I won't. But I'm going to try again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Newspapers are Still Stored on Paper!

I finally sent off an e-mail to Haim Gal at the Moshe Dayan Center and just heard back from him. Most of the newspapers in the Arab Press Archive are recorded on paper! I'm really and truly floored. Well, the good news is that I won't have to buy the damned microfilm reader. I think I may have to buy a really good digital camera or two. If I can figure out how these sorts of things might work, Craig and I can photograph the articles.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Trying to Get to the Arab Press Archive

I'm trying to get back on top of my research efforts again. I really want to graduate. This is a current draft of my proposal. Craig and I are going to try to go to Tel Aviv in September. I'm wondering if it can work that quickly.

Buy a microfilm scanner. These fuckers are expensive (like, $6000 expensive! Plus I need a new laptop to use the damned thing). There are cheaper ones, but they're bulkier and slower. This model I could keep with me on plane. Here's the sales pitch:

Ellis has suggested that I ask Joel Migdal to write a letter of introduction for me to the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University. Hopefully, they would issue me a research invitation and this would help me get through my interview with the Shin Bet at Ben Gurion Airport. Craig and I need ticket money (I'm guessing this will cost the two of us about $4000) and then room and board. I'm going to e-mail the Binational Fulbright Commission in Tel Aviv and see if they can recommend something. Alain McNamara, who runs the Binational Fulbright Commission back in Amman used to provide information to other researchers even if they weren't Fulbright Fellows. Perhaps they will be as kind.

I have to keep myself focused and together. That's so damned hard for me. We'll see what can be done.