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.