Political violence: The research frontier

As a graduate student, two months shy of defending my dissertation proposal, I yanked a first, respectable rough draft off my advisers’ desks and replaced it with something completely new: a pitch to head to Uganda and start a study of child soldiering. My advisers were unimpressed. “This sounds more like a policy report than a dissertation,” said one, “I’m not sure you should go.” No one disagreed the issue was important. But is tackling a humanitarian issue the sensible start for a budding social scientist? It’s a question young earnest scholars ask themselves every year: Can I get my Ph.D. and still save the world?

That is from a review essay I’ve written for Perspectives on Politics, called Children and War: How “Soft” Research Can Answer the Hard Questions in Political Science. It has a few thoughts on the frontiers of research, and some of the ethical and personal quandaries in doing field research on violence.

I thought the issue would be a random grab bag of reviews and articles on random subjects. It is not. The full issue is devoted to new approaches to the study of violence–the research frontier–and the articles are free online (you must click the PDF icons) until July.

Some of my favorite political scientists have articles. Paul Staniland looks at South and Central Asia and rethinks the nature of political order in the midst of civil war. Bakke, Cunningham and Seymour look at infighting and the internal politics of rebel groups. Scott Straus reviews two decades of genocide research. And Charli Carpenter reflects on how human rights abuses get treated in the academy with one of the best article titles of 2012.