After almost a year, I am finally starting to scan, georeference, and analyze my participant-mapping survey that I designed and implemented during my fieldwork in Mizoram from February through April 2017.
Method and Process
While my research was primarily interview-based, interested as I am in the narratives used to support claims for territorial autonomy, I also decided that I needed a more comprehensive way to deal with the spatial aspect of the project. While many of the political organizations making these claims have created their own maps, I wanted to get at the popular imagining and understanding of territory and how it related to issues of nomenclature, ethnonyms, and the inclusion/exclusion dynamics that I have written about here. To that end, I printed off 260 maps, and with my team of very talented local research assistants, asked participants to outline the areas where Mizo, Lai, Mara, Chakma, Kuki, Zo, and a number of other ethnonyms, natively inhabited. The maps varied slightly because of technical limitations at the fieldsites, but here is one for Lawngtlai.
Although I also conducted fieldwork in Manipur and various areas of Myanmar, I only used this survey in Mizoram. I did not feel like it would be appropriate for use in Manipur, because of the very active insurgent presence in the state. While I trusted my hosts in Manipur to keep me out of harms way, I did not trust that I could get neutral research assistants, nor could I guarantee that “wrong” answers would not be harmful to participants. There is no insurgent presence in Mizoram, and there is no reason to suspect that such a survey would cause any tension on the ground. In Myanmar, I felt that conducting a survey would draw too much attention from the local authorities, who likely found my activities somewhat suspicious even as they were. There is also enough uncertainty about cooperating with foreign researchers in Myanmar, let alone those asking one to draw lines on a map.
Most participant-mapping exercises are organized slightly differently. Often, groups of individuals are given a blank surface and drawing tool, and the participants complete the map as a group. I would call this the focus group approach. It is very good for creating one or several final products as well as listening to how participants negotiate with each other over contentious areas. However, I chose to use a survey approach for this participant-mapping exercise, for several reasons: 1) My interview data and informal focus groups revealed a lot of the major debates already; 2) I wanted a slightly more quantitative component to my dissertation research, despite finding statistics to often be tacky; 3) I wanted to get at what individual people thought, not what a couple of strong men forced on the group. My research experience in Mizoram, suggests that this is exactly what would most likely happen if I had gone for a focus group approach.
We did this at 5 different sites throughout Mizoram:
Siaha, Mara Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Lawngtlai, Lai Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Lunglei, Mizoram: 50 participants
Kamalanagar/Chawgte, Chakma Autonomous District, Mizoram: 50 participants
Aizawl, Mizoram: 60 participants
Here is a general view of the QGIS Map I have created thus far without the survey data.
While I think I deserve a gold medal for just keeping all these surveys safe and sound over my travels, there comes a time when every PhD Candidate has to actually look at their data. This week, I scanned all the map surveys from Lawngtlai as TIFF files, which are particularly well suited to GIS software. I then georeferenced each map individually, adding coordinate points for Dhaka, Mandalay, and Chittagong, so that my GIS software (loyal QGIS user here) could plot the scans as raster data. As I told my students during our one-week GIS module this semester, raster data is, by itself, a lot less useful than you might think. So, I painstakingly created vector data for all the outlined areas. This whole process took four days, just for the 20% of the data…ugh!
Below is an image of the base map I have created thus far, followed by the same base map with several survey responses uploaded to it.
Regardless of the limited scope, the initial results are fascinating and go a long way towards revealing the unique dynamics of territorial claims by transnational populations and borderland inhabitants.
Here are some of the results I’m seeing so far:
1. Most participants seemed to understand the territories of their group and kin in terms of specific localities. Many participants circled specific cities/towns, even though we asked them specifically to only use those cities on the map as a reference point.
2. There is widespread confusion about who exactly the various ethnic/tribal names refer to.
3. Umbrella terms meant to refer to the whole KCMZ population are not widely understood or used. ‘Zo,’ for example, was used as an umbrella term by only 2 people, and a handful of others said that the term only refered to a specific area of Manipur, perhaps reflecting the connection between the Kuki National Organization and the Zo Reunification Organization Northern Front, both of which are Manipur-based.
4. A surprising number of participants did outline the Chakma Autonomous District (CADC) as a “Chakma area.” While many others put the Chakma in various areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar, a good number seemed fine outlining Chakma territory within Mizoram. Considering that many in Mizoram consider the CADC illegitimate (a view I emphatically do NOT endorse), it was surprising that a number of people placed them in the state. This confirms my general feeling that Lai and Mara peoples are less concerns about the Chakma’s status in Mizoram than Mizos living in the north of the state.
5. Very few participants considered Lai or Mara to be part of the Mizo-fold. In Aizawl, most people I talked to considered Lai and Mara peoples to be ‘Mizo,’ but this is clearly not a view shared by Lai themselves. (The results in Siaha among Mara were similar).
6. No one, repeat, not a single participant, outlined the borders of the territory under the administration of the LADC or MADC as equivalent to Lai or Mara areas. No one! This is HUGE!
7. International and domestic borders are seen as both artificial/imposed and (increasingly) natural and internalized. Many participants recognized that they had ethnic kin across the border in Myanmar, but they were not exactly sure where, and were unsure whether Chin and Mizo where equivalent, or whether all Chin were Lai, and so on.
These are, of course, just some initial impressions. Still, they are fascinating and point to some very interesting theoretical and policy conclusions. But, like a good academic, I shall save that for another day!
Here is the first 1000 words of my dissertation introduction as it stands now. I think it is looking pretty good, all things considered.
The mountainous border areas at the intersection of India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar got a sudden boost in publicity with the publication of The Art of Not Being Governed, in which James C. Scott argues that the highlands of Southeast Asia, for which he borrows the term Zomia, was the world’s largest remaining non-state, self-governing zone until after the Second World War. This book, while perhaps more important to historians and anthropologists than mainstream political scientists, conceptualized hill peoples as “runaway, fugitive, maroon communities who have, over the course of two millennia, been fleeing the oppressions of state-making projects in the valleys- slavery, conscription, taxes, corvee labour, epidemics, and warfare (ix).” Scott goes onto say that “Virtually everything about these people’s livelihoods, social organizations, ideologies, and…largely oral cultures, can be read as strategic positioning designed to keep the state at arm’s length (x).” However, Scott is the first to admit that none of this holds true for the period roughly after WWII, because the state is now free to advance into these mountainous shatter zones through major technological innovations that allow the state access to what used to be impassable and ungovernable terrain. Almost the entire globe is now “administered space and the periphery is not much more than a folkloric remnant (324).”
What happens after the Second World War and the creation of independent India, Burma/Myanmar, and Pakistan/Bangladesh? When non-state peoples are thrust into a state dominated by the very peoples that Scott argues their cultures were designed to resist, what (political) directions are now available for escape? This is the conceptual territory, from which this dissertation starts. Escaping the state means very different things now than it does in The Art of Not Being Governed. Ethnic groups seeking self-government today are doing so in terms of the emerging right to self-determination, political-territorial autonomy, federalism, and other decentralized forms of government. Not surprisingly, it is still in Zomia that we find movements for self-determination at the center of the political discourse, closely and explicitly tied to developing ethno-national identities, insurgency movements, ethnic conflict, and the institutions designed to contain/control all three. Maintain political difference from the plains below remains the guiding precept of hill politics.
The people that call Zomia home continue to debate the terms of their incorporation into neighboring states. While independence movements have all but died away since the 1980s, movements for autonomy, statehood, or other federal arrangements to keep the state at bay continue to dominate the political landscape. The language of ethnic minority rights, nationalism, indigeneity and other forms of cohesive political identity are taken up with gusto as a way to force the state to concede to demands for self-governance and perhaps even attract some international pressure in the process. This language relies on self-determination seeking groups presenting themselves as representatives of long-established ethno-national communities. However, the picture on the ground is wholly different. Rather than established and identifiable ethno-national communities, many people in Zomia hold widely different views on how their chosen identity is inclusive or exclusive of other related communities, and what the terms should be for collaboration between them. This is true for many communities in the mountainous borderlands at the intersection of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh; however, movements coalescing around the the Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zo(mi) supra-ethnic group are especially suitable for studying how national identities have been proposed, contested, and debated in contemporary Zomia, especially at the point in time where James Scott’s analysis becomes untenable. It is here that the process of building a coherent national imaginary is on-going, with little to no signs of a resolution in sight; yet, the political demands on behalf of ethnic groups that have not been entirely imagined or broadly agreed upon continue. Political demands for self-determination coming before a given political identity has even coalesced runs counter to many of the underlying assumptions in literature on autonomy (Safran and Maiz, 2000; Gagnon and Keating, 2012; Benedickter, 2007; Ghai, 2000; and, Weller and Wolf, 2005). It is almost always implicitly assumed that autonomy is granted to groups with at least some level of internal coherence, having passed through the process of nation-building and imagining, and emerging from the other side with political demands.
I argue that, contrary to the assumptions made by much of the literature on territorial autonomy, demands for self-determination do not necessarily proceed the creation of solidified, or broadly agreed upon ethnic or national identities. Rather, it is the process of making, framing, and justifying these demands that actually drives the process of debate and contestation over who is or is not included in the various possible ethnic groupings of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zo(mi) borderlands. The need to frame these debates around the institutional requirements of the state force communities to speak in terms of common languages, religion, ethnic origins, indigeneity, and racial categories, even when these terms are largely inappropriate to the reality on the ground. While the leaders of these diverse social movements might privately admit to the disconnect between their framing and reality, they are reluctant to publicly acknowledge the complexity and ambiguities on the ground. While previous research by James Scott and Willem van Schendel (2002), among others, has shown how these populations operated outside of the state previous to colonial intervention and decolonization, I show how these populations think about their contemporary political struggles, how they simultaneously accept and actively modify the political possibilities of the states they have been incorporated into, and how scholars can best conceptualize conflict and social movements in the new, non-anarchic Zomia.
This is a draft of an op-ed I was working on before winter break. It got lost in the shuffle, but I thought I would publish here for possible reference later.
As fighting continues in Rakhine State, Myanmar, the Rohingya crisis has achieved remarkable international attention. Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State have been denied government services and citizenship, subjected to massive violence at the hands of the Myanmar military and Rakhine/Buddhist nationalists. Many in Myanmar accuse the group of crimes ranging from illegal immigration, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and the rape and molestation of Buddhist women. Recent bombings in Rakhine State have reignited violence in the state, resulting in massive flows of Rohingya refugees in India and Bangladesh. Despite close linguistic and religious connections with Bangladesh, especially so with Chittagong, where most refugees have settled, their position in the state is precarious at best. Many have also sought refuge in India, where they have had better access to relief services, but are still in a precarious position, largely unwelcome, with many calling for their immediate repatriation, despite no signs of improvement in the situation their places of origin.
While the Rohingya crisis is certainly a major tragedy, with strong genocidal undertones and a disturbing glance at the future of ethno-religious politics in a transitional Myanmar, the conflict has not been confined to the dyadic relationship between Rakhine nationalists and Rohingya Muslims. Rakhine state is also home to a significant Chin population. In the past two days, over 1200 Chin refugees from the northern Arakan Hills have entered Mizoram through Lawngtlai, capital of the Lai Autonomous District Council (LADC).
These Chin refugees are fleeing violent clashes between the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) and the Arakan Army, one of the few insurgent groups in the country that hasn’t signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, or been active in political negotiations between Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the military, and the government.
Chin communities in Rakhine State are ethnically closely related to Mizos, and even more so to the Lai communities of Lawngtlai District, seat of the LADC. Despite religious connections through a shared Baptist-Christian faith and linguistic similarities, Chin refugees have not always been welcome in Mizoram. Major clashes have broken out twice in the past two decades, with far-right, conservative elements in the Young Mizo Association and Mizo Student Association (Mizo Zirlai Pawl) accusing refugees of rape, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. Both clashes included the distribution of “Quit Mizoram” notices, a slogan also used by the Mizo National Front during the insurgency period from 1966 to 1987. Recently, relations between Mizos and their ethnic kin in Myanmar have improved dramatically, with the creation of TV documentaries highlighting the similarities between the two groups, and exchange programs encouraging interaction and communication across international borders. However, Chin civil society leaders remain unsure about how long this improvement will last. The LADC has historically been welcoming of Lai/Hakha refugees, but that acceptance has never been tested in so intensive a way.
At present, the Union Minister of India has instructed the Chief Minister of Mizoram, Pu Lalthanhawla, to allow the refugees to stay in Mizoram, and the LADC has been preparing food and shelter arrangements. However, moving provisions in this extremely mountainous state often takes days, even in the best road and weather conditions.
Beyond logical limitations, the influx of refugees comes at a particularly difficult time for the Mizoram state government, which has been dealing with its own refugee crisis in the western part of the state. Over the past couple months, protests have been breaking out against the state’s growing Chakma population, many of whom are accused of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Although many Chakma in Mizoram are indigenous to the area, their is an undoubtable influx of refugees and other types of migrants from the restive CHT. Chakma speak an Indo-European language, far closer to Bangla than the Tibeto-Burman languages of Mizoram. They are also Theravada Buddhists, marking them for extra suspicion in the strongly and reactively Christian state. Tensions between the communities have slowly simmered since the influx of refugees during the flooding of huge swaths of traditional Chakma territory by the Pakistan government with the creation of the Kaptai Dam in 1962, and the insurgent movements in the CHT from 1977 to 1997. This year, tensions took on a more aggressive tone, with calls for massive anti-immigration drives and the immediate forced repatriation of Chakma asylum seekers. Prompted by the inclusion of one Chakma student from Mizoram for a position in the state university, the YMA and MZP have organized protests and threatened violence for what they see as a reduction in the rights of Mizo youth for a population whose residence in Mizoram is commonly seen as illegitimate.
Earlier this year, reports of hundreds of refugees entering Mizoram through Siaha, capital of the Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC) just southeast of Lawngtlai, marked the connection between the Rohingya crisis and Mizoram. While Muslims have been fleeing for the relative safety of Bangladesh, Chin communities caught in the crossfire are fleeing to Mizoram in unprecedented numbers. The LADC has noted that the refugees are settling just on the other side of the border, and that the local police and Assam Rifles are working closely together to patrol the border, with the likely aim to both control the influx of refugees and ensure that the Mizoram does not become a safe haven for the Arakan Army.
The crisis in Rakhine State has far greater repercussions than the already sufficiently tragic circumstances of the Rohingya population. While fighting has more or less ceased in Chin State, Chin peoples in Rakhine find themselves in the crosshairs and cross fire of a conflict that really has nothing to do with them. The repercussions of their fleeing to Mizoram may have pronounced effects on politics in a state that already prides itself on not being welcoming to refugees. Indeed, President Trump’s anti-immigration message is extremely possible in Mizoram, where populist messages and fears of being over powered by outsiders ring true, even if taken outside the US context.
Let's just admit that it is quite impossible to adequately prepare for fieldwork to a place that you have never visited before and few have written on. When I ventured into the borderlands at the intersection of India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, I was ready to learn a lot about life in the hills, about Mizoram's political movements, about Manipur's multiple and overlapping insurgencies, and Chin State's position within a liberalizing Myanmar. I was wholly unaware however, that even finding an adequate name to call this group of people is politically contentious. This is one of the few places that I know of where the basic question of what to call ones' group (ethnic, national, "tribal," etc.) is a political act. It indicates your own geographical position, your political affiliations, and any number of other identity characteristics. These are not small debates, they are central to political movements for autonomy and self-determination; tied explicitly and implicitly to insurgent movements, party politics, identity debates, and civil society.
As part of an article/dissertation chapter on nomenclature and power, I have tried to come up with a basic typology of different ethnonyms and their use across the entirety of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi sphere (itself a rather cumbersome and contentious phrase, which I am shortening to KCMZ in the dissertation).
Here, I call those terms meant to refer to all Kuki-Chin-Mizo peoples without tribal/clan distinctions of geographic specificity as “umbrella terms.” Terms that include all KCMZ peoples, but that are geographically bounded by existing international or domestic/administrative boundaries are “middle-range.” While “short-range terms” can refer to any tribal/clan distinction, on this list I only include those communities that display a large degree of political activity and have rejected both umbrella and middle-range terms. To add another element of confusion, many of the terms used can move between levels of inclusivity/exclusivity.
*This is all based on 6.5 months of intensive fieldwork in the areas inhabited by KCMZ peoples, making use of 100s of interviews, participant-observation, participant-mapping, and archival work.
Zo (1): In its first usage, Zo is used in reference to a mythical progenitor of the nation, and inclusive of all Kuki-Chin-Mizo speaking peoples. Since 2015, some have included Kachin peoples in northern Myanmar in this grouping. This is more often articulated in Mizo as Zo hnathlak, or branches of Zo. This is the usage used most often by ZoRO (Zo Reunification Organization), which aims to reunite the Zo people culturally, socially, and politically. ZoRO’s northern front in southern Manipur uses the term exclusively in this sense.
Zo (2): In its second usage, Zo is used to mean highlands, highlander, or related to highlands (i.e. as an adjective). This is most often encountered understanding of the term in Mizoram, and used by the Mizoram branches of ZoRO. It is inclusive of all Kuki-Chin-Mizo speaking peoples, and occasionally Kachin people as well, although I can find no example of Kachin using the term themselves. It does NOT refer to neighboring communities, such as Bru, Chakma, and Naga.
Zomi: As an umbrella term, Zomi is used in Manipur and northern Chin State as an alternative to Zo (1). It is used explicitly as an alternative to Kuki in Manipur and to Chin in Chin State. Supporters of this term argue that Zomi is an indigenous ethnonym and, as such, is more appropriate than the supposedly foreign Kuki. Supporters also argue that Zomi is not dominated by a specific subgroup, tribe, or linguistic group; therefore, it has the most opportunity to unite a diverse range of people.
Mizo: Although more often used in the middle to short range, Mizo is occasionally used as an umbrella term, more or less synonymous with Zo (2). This usage was most popular during the insurgency in Mizoram, led by the Mizo National Front (MNF). This is rarely encountered, but the political and economic success of Mizoram as a state and the common use of the Mizo language as a lingua franca play a major role. Chakma activists fighting for basic political rights in Mizoram have recently referred to themselves as Mizo, in the sense of highland-dwelling peoples, translating the term Jumma Jati from Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Kuki: When used as an umbrella term, Kuki is in direct conflict with Zomi. The Kuki National Organization (KNO) uses the term as both an umbrella term and a middle-range term. Supporters of this term note that Kuki is more recognizable and more widely used than Zomi. They point to its use in the Manipuri Chronicles as evidence of its long-term application to their community. In the KNO’s chronology, Kuki precedes the use of Chin and Mizo, a chronology largely supported by the available evidence.
Chin: While no one denies that Chin is a Burmese word, the indigenous communities of Chin State use the term usually unproblematically. Its use as an umbrella term is rare, but it is occasionally heard.
Tlangmi: This is a rather under-utilized term, meaning something like Mountaineer. Its exact application is difficult to delineate, but it is normally used as a depoliticized version of Zo (2). In theory it could, but rarely does, apply to other highland dwelling peoples, including Nagas, Khasi, and Kachin/Jingpaw.
Zomi (1): In Chin State, Zomi is used as a middle-range term to refer to all Kuki-Chin-Mizo speakers in Chin State, only. This sense of the term is used by some Zomi organizations in Chin State and the Kalay-Kabaw valley. It use is largely confined to a community also termed Tedim (Chin).
Zomi (2): In Manipur, Zomi can be used to refer to Kuki-Chin-Mizo (hereafter KCM) peoples in Manipur only. While many supporters of the term might hold onto Zomi as an umbrella term, they recognize the difficulty of changing the nomenclature across state or international borders; therefore, they have scaled back the application of the term for practical considerations.
Mizo: In Mizoram, many will argue that Mizo can be applied to all KCM speakers residing in Mizoram, especially if they can speak Mizo in addition to whatever their mother language might be. Most often, the majority Lushai residing in central Mizoram apply this term to smaller communities, often without their consent.
Kuki: Much like the Zomi supporters, Kuki users usually apply the term Kuki to all KCM speakers in Manipur. This is done for practical purposes, with groups like the KNO noting that they felt they needed to focus on their communities in Manipur first, and let the next generation worry about unity across state/country lines. This restriction in usage comes after the Mizo Peace Accord, which effectively ended irredentist movements by these communities.
Chin: In Chin State, Chin is almost always used in the middle sense to refer to those KCM communities in Chin State and adjoining areas of Myanmar.
Lai: In Chin State, Lai can be used as a synonym with Chin, with some arguing that other tribal names are actually sub-divisions of Lai. Much of this appears to be the result of confusion, because of Lai political dominance in Chin State. It is unsurprising, therefore, that only Lai-speakers use Lai in the middle-range, whereas all other tribal groups use it is a most more restricted sense.
Zomi: While Zomi ideally refers to a middle-range or umbrella term, most of the people who have adopted this term are from a particular linguistic/cultural group: Paite in Manipur and Tedim in Chin State. While its use as a short range term in Manipur is rare, in Chin State and the Kalay-Kabaw valley, it is very common, especially for outsiders to refer to a Zomi language or Zomi people as a subgroup of Chin.
Mizo: Those communities not part of the Lushai tribe/clan or whose first language is not Duhlian, usually use Mizo to refer specifically to those people specifically, and almost never to themselves. While the term emerged as an umbrella term, after the insurgency period in Mizoram, its usage was restricted. Smaller, non-Mizo communities have to further restrict the term to maintain their own identity. These include Mara, Paite, Hmar, and Lai in Mizoram.
Mara: Mara language speakers living in Mizoram largely reject the term Mizo as a middle-range term, seeing it as a threat to their linguistic and cultural distinctiveness. Previously, the term Lakher was applied to community, but it was later rejected as a Mizo-imposed term, with Mara replacing it in all official contexts. Mara have a degree of political influence in Mizoram through the Mara Autonomous District Council (MADC).
Lai: While Lai are dominant in Chin State, in Mizoram they represent a minority population currently experience of a significant amount of linguistic shift, with many young Lai only fluent in Mizo. Politically, many Lai reject the term Mizo as a middle-range term. Like the Mara, they were previously called Pawi by Mizo speakers. They also have a degree of power in the state through the Lai Autonomous District Council (LADC).
Paite/Tedim: Paite and Tedim refer to the same linguistic group, known as Paite in India (foothill dwellers) and Tedim in Chin State. In both countries Paite/Tedim have largely adopted the term Zomi, but some maintain the use of Paite or Tedim, especially in Mizoram, where Zomi sounds distinctly Manipuri in origin and irrelevant to Mizoram’s political/demographic concerns.
Hmar: Hmar (meaning “north”) are a diverse subgroup of the KCM peoples, and have many political divisions. Hmar living in Aizawl and surrounding areas often accept Mizo as a middle-range term, while Hmar in the northern areas of Mizoram, far removed from the state capital, have at various times asserted their rights as a distinct community. A short-lived insurgency movement resulted in the creation of the Sinlung Hills Development Council (SHDC) as a step towards a Hmar Autonomous District Council in the north of Mizoram. There are Hmar armed groups in Manipur fighting under both Zomi and Kuki groups, as well as under their own name. In Assam, Hmar insurgents demand separate recognition as well, without any apparent reference to KCMZ unity.
This is, of course, just a first attempt, and given the complexity and confusion on the ground, let alone those that an outsider brings to the situation, I am sure there are things that can be phrased more elegantly, and perhaps even options that I have missed. This confusion and the contestation embedded in these terms is likely why I have seen no such attempt at this kind of nomenclature/ethnonym categorization before. Still, the categories seem to make sense and may, with some revision, be a useful resource for others working in similar areas.
Do let me know what you think!
Over the past 3 weeks, I have been working hard to gain a basic understanding of how to use geospatial analysis and GIS software for my research on territorial autonomy/ethno-federalism in Bangladesh, NE India, and Myanmar. To that end, I decided to work with QGIS, an open source GIS software. I am using the QGIS training manual alongside a course from Geo Academy, to learn the basics this summer, and hopefully continue onto to advanced/professional competency by the end of next academic year.
In addition to the tutorials and guided exercises, this week I began work on my own project. I combined data on ethnic groups from the "Georeferencing of Ethnic Groups" dataset (GRED).* I added administrative boundaries from DIVA-GIS.
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. Not only am I just beginning to scratch the surface of what I can do in QGIS, but the GRED is somewhat limiting on its own. This data was created through digitizing the Soviet "Atlas Narodov Mira" (Atlas of the Peoples of the World), published in the late 60s. Not only is it outdated, but I find it extremely doubtful that it would have been accurate in places like Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), NE India, or Myanmar. Is one really to believe that Soviet ethnographers had access to all the nooks and crannies of the world? Furthermore, can we really buy that where the researchers had access they always learned the truth about a given group and its borders? Clearly not. However, it is perfectly reasonable to take this a starting point, which is exactly what I plan on doing.
In subsequent versions of this map, I plan to add data about language groups from Ethnologue's World Language Mapping System (assuming I can get access through IU), data obtained though participant mapping during my fieldwork (AY 2016-17), as well as basic demographic data from national census, etc.
In terms of display, I can't get all the ethnic groups to show up in the JPEG file I have attached here. I will also add some bordering states back in, to make sure that it doesn't look like the subcontinent and Myanmar are an island, surrounded by ocean.
Furthermore, there are some immediately apparent errors. For example: in Bangladesh, Chakmas are not mentioned, and Marma seem to be listed as "Burmese"; in Burma, Arakan/Rakhaine are listed as "Burmese"; in India, Lushai is used in place of Mizo. Some of these omissions have some historical underpinning, but many others are simply wrong. There are also many other errors that I will be working on, but I wanted to specifically note the above to make clear to all the readers that this is NOT AUTHORITATIVE!!!
Now to the actual map:
* Weidmann, Nils B., Jan Ketil Rød and Lars-Erik Cederman (2010). "Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset". Journal of Peace Research, in press.
I would love to here comments on things that I could do to make this map more useful as well as connect with other social scientists studying ethnic conflict through the use of geospatial analysis, GIS software, etc.
I recently came across and article in The Atlantic, which reported that Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev had suggested that perhaps the suffix –stan was responsible for Kazakhstan’s low global profile. He mentioned Mongolia, as a country that continues to attract international attention despite its still small economy and population. Perhaps a name change would help Kazakhstan develop a stronger international profile, he mused.
There is really only one good Russian response to this: Здравствуйте! ('hello' or in this case more like a saracastic 'good morning'). On the one hand this could just have been a interesting idea that the President was playing around with, which has no serious implications for the future of the country or his perception of its position in world affairs. On the other hand, it could point to some serious misconceptions on Nazarbayev's part.
Let's start with the statement that Mongolia has somehow benefited as a result of not being called something like Mongolistan. But, for every available economic indicator, Kazakhstan greatly outperforms Mongolia. This is, naturally, to be expected. Kazakhstan is a oil producing state, has a much larger population, and was more developed at the dissolution of the Soviet Union, giving it a greater starting point. Just looking at FDI, Kazakhstan hosts a huge figure at $111.5 billion, while Mongolia stands at just $4.5 billion! Anecdotally, it is more that clear enough that many more businessmen, students, policy makers, and analysts take a direct interest in Kazakhstan than in Mongolia when it comes to current affairs (naturally, I would suspect that Mongolia can command more than its fair share of historians). While it is beyond the scope of this casual blog post to offer a full comparison, I feel confident in saying that Kazakhstan's international profile is significantly more pronounced than Mongolia's.
That said, I would suspect that Nazarbayev was more concerned with a different kind of indicator, namely something more related to soft power. (I detailed Mongolia's «small power» here). In this case, Mongolia is certainly outperforming Kazakhstan, and it has nothing to do with a little Perso-Turkic suffix. Mongolia is a proven democracy, and has consistently shown its committment to engaging with the international community and improving its own democratic credentials. While Mongolia has eshewed further deepening its relationship with the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan is part of the Eurasian Custom's Union and CIS, tieing it to the Russian Federation. While Mongolia has sought to further its relationship with the European Union and North America, Kazakhstan remains a difficult partner because of its authoritarian political system and continued abuses of basic civil/human rights. Even with these limitations, Kazakhstan does enjoy good relations with the E.U. and the United States, but the relationship remains limited, largely as a result of Kazakhstan's own domestic and foreign policy choices. While Mongolia has sought to rise above its own geographical position, Kazakhstan's leadership continues to avoid a more balanced relationship with the Russian Federation, to the direct detriment of its other foreign policy goals. (In fact, Kazakhstan's political system is also a key reason for the underdeveloped nature of Kazakhstan-Mongolian relations, outlined here).
At the end of the day, Kazakhstan's economy is stronger and its economic ties to North America and Europe outperform Mongolia on most indicators. If Kazakhstan has any lessons to learn from Mongolia it is that democracy matters as much as a domestic policy as a lever for diplomatic relations. Democracy matters, names and suffixs don't.
I was recently unfortunate enough to watch a ridiculous youtube video on the worst college majors. I had hoped that it would be balanced and perhaps offer ideas on how less employable disciplines might be combined thoughtfully with more “practical” majors/minors. Rather, it quickly became a rant about the danger of Gender Studies, how such a course of study is biased (see my thoughts on “bias” here) and encourages “wasteful entitlement programs”. While I don’t want to diverge into my policy positions (although clearly me and youtube advisor-man are not in agreement), I did want to take the opportunity to jump into another part of my autobiographical series of posts. As I become increasingly skeptical of “disciplines” and the logic of studying political science divorced from the other social sciences, I have also realized that my approach to scholarship, analysis, and even my personal choices have been largely shaped by the skills developed in USC’s Gender Studies Department.
My first Gender Studies class was taught by Louis Banner and dealt with gender and sexuality in American history- pretty much your typical broadly organized freshman seminar, paired with am introductory writing class. Pairing a Gender Studies class with a course on basic writing really combines the best of both worlds. Gender Studies, more than other majors, is largely structured around the development of critical thinking skills: questioning deeply held social norms on how things “are”, “are supposed to be”, and “should be” but in a context that every person is intimately familiar with. More than that though, I was forced to start articulating my own ideas and spelling out the logic of critical thought in a more or less coherent manner. Needless to say, after the class I was the most annoying student in every other class I took, constantly questioning the logic of IR theory, liberal feminism, and so on. At family gatherings I would go on ad nauseam on “social constructions”, queer theory, LGBT rights, heterocentric norms, and so on (and on and on and on).
The problem with casual students of Gender Studies, and perhaps with the way the discipline in taught at an undergraduate level, is that we seem to stop at the basics. It does not take any real brilliance to pick up the vocabulary of oppression, privilege, or social justice. I remember feeling that I had learned the secrets of the universe. After all, when you can theorize your own disadvantage and the privilege of others, what could you possibly learn from continued reading, or (dare I say it) real life experience?
The good thing about Gender Studies classes, is that in the end you can count on someone even more out-of-sync/hyper-theoretical to challenge your own stances. I remember hearing a student use the idea of internalized oppression to deny the agency of non-European peoples. It was argued that all sexual relationships between white and non-white peoples are based on oppressive power relations that effectively deny non-white choice. The argument eventually took a turn for the worse when in addition to denying agency and the continually victimizing the non-European person, the student took the argument further by suggesting that only Europeans can “other” people. Clearly, if this is the culmination of a Gender Studies education than Mr. Youtube-Guru above might have a leg to stand on.
Luckily for the rest of us, Gender Studies doesn’t stop at the ridiculous musings of some insight-lacking undergraduate. Indeed, my example is clearly dramatized and exaggerated to prove a point. The problem with Gender Studies is that students might stop taking on new ideas too early, missing the crucial insight to find the nuance in the writings they read as freshman. For me the biggest take ways from Gender Studies were the issues of agency, victimization, voice, gendering the other, and questioning current conditions and the limits of the possible.
The skills, vocabulary, the thinking skills imparted by Gender Studies continue to inform my approach and engagement with my areas of interest, even though I don’t characterize myself as a Gender Studies student. It is also this background that makes me question the logic of disciplinary political science, and –without any atmosphere of superiority- sets me apart from many other people in the discipline.
Gender Studies as a system of critical thought trains students to look at issues from multiple vantage points. How and by whom have women been historically constructed? How have these views changed? What can we learn from the nature of the changing discourse on the feminine versus the masculine? Does this change imply a socially constructed world that is far more flexible than we assume? It doesn’t take too much thought to push this kind of thinking into an analysis of political phenomenon, even if gender and sexuality are not the center of one’s interest. (Although, I am given to believe that gender, sex, and sexuality, ultimately inform far more than we are aware of, even when we take on questions of foreign policy, war, etc.).
As I continue my reading of critical International Relations, indigenous policy, and asymmetric foreign relations, I am increasingly referred/referring back to ideas crucial to the study of gender, including voice, agency, and hegemony. For example: How has the international state system been historically conceptualized? How have these views and the system itself changed? Doesn’t this inherently unstable system require analysts to look outside of state structures and look for new ways of more ethical international organization? Who is in charge of defining “ethical” in the first place?
Gender Studies might lend itself to bad analysis and lazy thought by allowing students to stop too early with cheap terms such as “oppression”, “inequality”, and “privilege”. At the same time, I find it doubtful that most people are able to stop at this irresponsible logic for very long. Most people will be pushed forward by counter arguments and the reality of the world they will have engage with. For most of us Gender Studies is a very approachable way to develop key critical thinking skills that can inform how we see and engage with the world far longer than our formal education.
Gender Studies, far from being useless, can be incredibly rewarding for many students. While I wouldn’t recommend it is a stand alone major, I would highly encourage all students to take at least one class in the discipline, and would even argue that it should be made a mandatory part of general education requirements.
…or rather how biased do you have to be in order to expect a balanced reporting of the issues to always result in a conclusion that makes neither side out to be the bad guy?
I have long been disturbed by what I perceive as a spreading idea that unbiased reporting (I am taking reporting in the broadest definition) on an issue will yield a result that is “balanced and fair.” I’ve recently heard this in relation to the Circassian genocide in 1864, the Russo-Chechen War in the 1990s, and in reference to Uighur history in Chinese Xinjiang.
The argument usually goes something like this: “So and So’s book/think-tank, etc. is so unbalanced and incredibly biased, because they only show one side to the conflict”. This really just comes down to an inherently biased expectation that readers seem to be infected with from high school: unbiased and fair reporting always means that both sides are wrong/both sides are in the right. We expect unbiased reporting to mean that there is no clear bad guy, no villain, no unjust, rather both sides have a justified and credible story to tell.
This is so far off point it is just plain stupid. I am sympathetic to the fact that every problem of substantive impact is complicated with overlapping concerns, histories, and motivations. I am also sympathetic to the fact that it is sometimes too simple to just cry wolf and run away from the complexity of problems (I do it myself for short blog postings!). What I am not sympathetic to are those that find it even simpler to assume that there is no one in the wrong in the first place. This, as far as I am concerned, is academic escapism, designed to perpetuate the status quo and inherently coercive in that is denies rights to victims by avoiding identifying a victim and perpetrator in the first place.
The Chechen War in the 1990s is a good example, where people will often accuse a number of writers of being unbalanced in their assessment of the conflict because they point the war crimes of the Russian side more often than those of the Chechen side. More often than not this will come from students of contemporary Russia, who seem to feel that anything that paints the Russian government and Russian military as the perpetrators of mass killings and war crimes is somehow biased. If a recent facebook argument involving myself and a Russian acquaintance is any indication, it is as if such people feel that accusing a Russian institution of criminal activity and actions comparable to genocide is the same as accusing the whole of the Russian people of this action. Well, lets just be clear that I do not blame the entirety or even the majority of Russian people for tragedies in Chechnya. But lets also be clear that all the evidence I have come across shows pretty clearly that in Russo-Chechen relations, it is more often the Russian side that has taken the more deplorable approach first.
The logic will then invariably turn into something like this: Yeah, well let’s talk about the American crimes against its own indigenous peoples. This statement is not meant to lead to any debate, but is rather meant to silence the so-called biased party. Let me be clear (again) that this is a major question that needs to be addressed in US society, but also lets point out that the US has admitted to these crimes, rather than shy away by shifting guilt to someone else. It is a rare and ultimately inconsequential psychopath that would try and justify American actions against indigenous peoples.
This brings me to my point: We have to stop assuming that a balanced and fair reporting of a story will always look a certain way, and leave the reader with the idea that there is no clear guilty party. The truth is that we are more comfortable without a guilty party, because it means we can write off an incident as just too complicated to take on. In reality, there do exist real cases where real crimes are committed against peoples. Americans have no problem with admitting our own country’s guilty in the genocides against Native Americans, and for good reason: we are clearly the guilty party. Lets not assume that incidents abroad will always be more “balanced” and “fair”, and lets not assume the balanced and fair reporting will always look a certain way.
At the end of the day, that is the worst bias of all.
I have started reading a book entitled Autobiographical IR, I and IR edited by Naeem Inayatullah, in which a number of IR scholars from around the globe present deeply personal autobiographies of their personal connections to their research, motivations, and moral points of view. In short, it is a rare, truthful look at the personal side of the profession- a side that is often covered up to present a lie of objectivity and the presentation of true fact. More on critical approaches to IR and Political Science later; for now, I thought I might try my hand at this exercise in a shortened version here. While the book might only take established scholars on for its material, I thought looking at my own autobiography as emerging scholar have completed only one semester of a PhD program at the young age of 26 might be informative and being the process of truthful and open research from an early point. That said, here we go!
“I’m Scottish, English, Italian, and Polish,” I proudly declared one day to my best childhood friend in 6th grade. We were on our way to lunch, and were waiting in line to wash our hands in the basement, before going to the gymnasium/cafeteria. It was one of those classic old school houses: two stories high, brick, with a steel tube-slide as a fire escape out the second story. I felt very multicultural, so a 6th grader in a school with a total of about 40 pupils, K-8th grade in rural Montana.
“Well, I’m part Mongolian and Estonian!” my friend replied. Now he could never be trusted 100%, and I was sure this was some crazy joke.
“Those aren’t even real places!” I confidentially declared. After all, Estonia sounded like a made up place, and Mongolia, that was only in storybooks, right?
Fast-forward 13-14 years, and suddenly Mongolia is incredibly real for me, maybe too real, even. I speak Mongolian, I lived in the country for over 15 months over 5 trips, and written two theses on the country’s foreign relations. Estonia remains a little more elusive, but has generally factored into my research as an example of a small and internationally engaged state. Surely the more than a decade in between must have been formative in this regard.
I’m sitting on a plane seriously doubting my decision to study aboard for a year in Russia as a high school junior. My mom had brought me to the gate, and she parted from me bawling, as mothers are want to do. It certainly was a strange decision to make, and I had no background or substantive education to prepare me for what I was up against. My impression remains that most students that study aboard at any point in their academic career, and especially high school students, come from at least modestly well-off families. Study aboard organizations are often proud to highlight the number of students that receive some sort of financial aid, but let us be clear, not being able to afford a $10,000 price tag for a year abroad (that was in 2004, I doubt the price has been stable) is a very different thing than not being able to afford the gas money to get to the airport. And yet, here I was going to Russia. Why? Two reasons: 1) I saw a Russian dictionary in a bookstore, and thought it looked cool; 2) It seemed far more interesting and unique than Spanish, which was the only foreign language offered at my high school, sort of post-comm chic, if you will. And so it began, a series of fortunate coincidences motivated by not excepting economic limits (often not as heroic as it might sound) and refusing to go with convention.
Mongolia was really just a continuation of that theme, at first. It sounded cool, I had access to student loans (regrettable, yes; unhelpful, no), and I thought it would make me stand out later in the job world. So, I paid an organization to let me work for free as a summer intern. Yes, that’s what I said, paid to let me work for them! In reality, I was terrible intern, so it might have been a fair deal after all. I thought I would spend a couple months in Ulaanbaatar, and then never return!
In no time at all, though, I had caught the Mongolian bug, and pursued every opportunity to get back. Eventually, I developed real research interests, but at first, it was all about hanging out, learning Mongolian, and making friends along the way. I became intoxicated (figuratively?) with the culture, people, countryside, and the general struggle of living in UB and traveling outside the city far earlier that I became captivated by nationalism, foreign policy, indigenous rights, and irredentism. There is a certain level of truth to admitting that our research interests can be real, even when our initial case study was the result of youthful chance and thrill seeking.
I’ll stop here for now, having come to an impasse. However, I think this might be a nice project to prolong a bit, so stay toned for additional installments.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a lecture by Dr. John Mearsheimer entitled Can China Rise Peacefully? Many of you will know that Dr. Mearsheimer has been making this same talk for a good number of years, and I suspect the structure has varied little in that time. Suffice to say that he believes China cannot rise peacefully, but that conflict will likely stop short of a WWIII-type scenario.
For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the first part of the lecture where he presents structural realism. Mearsheimer, like most scholars of International Security, is primarily concerned with great powers. That said, I think that one could use structural realism to look at small state security concerns with some notable adjustments.
As summarized in his lecture, structural realism makes 5 assumptions about the nature of world politics:
1. The international system is populated by states in anarchy
2. All states have some offensive power
3. While states can know the capabilities of other states, they cannot know their intentions
4. The principle goal of states is to survive
5. States are rational actors
These 5 assumptions entail 3 important behaviors:
1. States fear each other as a result of anarchy
2. States understand that they live in a self-help system
3. Power is necessary for survival, which means that states will want to be a regional hegemon and ensure that other regional hegemons do not emerge
This argument generally makes sense to me as far as it can be applied to great power politics. (Note that I am not saying the theory holds true in all situations, just that from my perspective the argument is sound and I could imagine it truly representing international politics). However, for non-great powers, the assumptions and behaviors fail in several respects.
First, in claiming that all states have some kind of offensive power, Mearsheimer seems to assume that such power is considered useful by states in that it can mitigate the vulnerability of anarchy. For many small states, this is simply not the case. Mongolia, for example, has little need for offensive power. There is really no military option that could protect Mongolia if Russia or China decided that their interests would be served by negating Mongolia’s independence. Of course, there is really no foreseeable scenario in which I can imagine China or Russia making overt moves against Mongolian sovereignty, but the possibility does exist. As a result of this inherent vulnerability, the Mongolian armed forces are being reworked into a peacekeeping force for international missions, and maintaining the ability of offensive (or defensive for that matter) military projection solely in domestic contingencies.
Second, while I agree that states exist in a self-help system, where they cannot take for granted any outside support and maintenance of their sovereignty, I do think that this needs to be considerably nuanced for application to the system’s smaller members. I would argue that international cooperation could mitigate some of the dangerous anarchy that small states find themselves in. The Baltics, for example, as EU and NATO members have some insurance that their independence will be respected in these organizations and that that any countries that might seek to challenge their autonomy (ahem…Russia…ahem) would meet resistance not only from the states themselves, but by the E.U. and NATO as well. The system might be self-help in the long term, but this can be mitigated by active foreign policy making on the part of small states.
Thirdly, becoming a regional hegemon is simply not on the agenda for any small state, and perhaps not for any non-great power. Mongolia is not going to be a great power without some major, magical, globe-shifting miracle that collapses the international state system as we know it.
With that, here are my revisions to the theory of structural realism to account for the unique position of small states in the contemporary international system:
1. The international system is populated by states
2. Small states will maintain defensive capabilities to the extent they may actually be useful.
3. While states can know the capabilities of other states, they cannot know their intentions
4. The principle goal of states is to survive
5. States are rational actors
1. Small states will fear their primary security threats, but will want to cooperate with other states (w/o fear)
2. The system might be self-help, but cooperation can mitigate some of the insecurity.
3. Instead of seeking regional hegemony, small states will support multipolar regional development.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.