ISRF Bulletin Issue 1: Beyond 'Interesting'

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b u l l e t i n

Issue I

Beyond ‘Interesting’ Value and Impact in the Social Sciences

Edited by Fraser Joyce

Table of Contents

from the director of research




The Value of the Social Sciences


Political Entrepreneurs and Civil Wars


The World Seen from China


From Cold War to Third Force


from the director of research Dr. Louise Braddock


or the Independent Social Research Foundation, ‘independent’ has more than one meaning. The ISRF is independent in that it is constrained only by its mandate to support, at all times ethically, individual scholars to do their own research, independent of larger agendas and of received approaches. In seeking out research which challenges established viewpoints, it is interdisciplinary across the range of the social sciences, and suggests radical new solutions to problems. Finally, we aim to support scholars whose work might not otherwise secure funding. Thus, the ISRF is committed to that pre-eminent academic value, independence of mind. One way to show this is to present the work we fund, choosing an informative but undemanding format that will help readers curious about the ISRF to find out about work in progress and, for those sympathetic to our aims, to follow what we do. What seemed suitable was the device of a ‘noticeboard’ – something to glance at, in both electronic and printable form (perhaps a ‘tablet-oid’?) – in which to post short, accessible pieces. The easy-access format would also, we thought, serve a ‘newsletter’ function for our former, current and future Fellows, allowing them to follow each other’s work, following up at the same time on encounters at the annual Workshop.


EDITORIAL Fraser Joyce ISRF Editorial Assistant


elcome to this inaugural issue of our new thriceyearly ISRF Bulletin, which we have introduced as a way to celebrate and circulate the innovative interdisciplinary research conducted by the foundation and its Fellows. Each issue will be themed around a topic, methodology or debate of interest within (and across) the social sciences, and will consist of a number of short articles produced by our Fellows based on their research. One of the ISRF’s key objectives is to look beyond what is inherently ‘interesting’ about a topic and imagine how exploring social, cultural, economic and political phenomena from an interdisciplinary perspective could have tangible impact on the world beyond academia. With this in mind, this issue will consider the real-life values of interdisciplinary social sciences research. It contains four articles on this theme, three by our Fellows Pál Nyíri, Andrea Ruggeri and Olly Dowlen, and one by Charles Stewart, Professor of Anthropology at UCL. The Fellows’ articles provide an outline of their projects before suggesting how their research could have wider implications beyond academia. Each, though only coincidentally, is sited within areas which might traditionally be categorised as ‘Politics’, but take place at three different levels. Andrea Ruggeri’s essay on ‘political entrepreneurs’ in civil wars could not be more timely. The ongoing conflict in Syria and the need for the international community to establish reliable focal points for intervention in the face of violence and factionalism highlights the importance of understanding the figures driving the fight for change, including their motives and their power to influence others. We move from violent diplomacy to ‘soft power’,



as Pál Nyíri’s essay on the new Chinese media investigates the attempts of the Chinese state to establish a network of foreign correspondents across in Europe and Africa. Some commentators view Chinese ‘expansion’ with caution, but could an increased understanding of the work of these agents and their interactions with their host nations lead to amiable, more informed relations between China and the West? Finally, Oliver Dowlen’s essay on sortition – the practice of selecting citizens at random to act in positions of public responsibility – considers whether this ancient democratic practice could have practical value in today’s political landscape, particularly in light of incidents (such as the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009) which have been perceived as ‘betrayals of public trust’. While these articles demonstrate that it is relatively straightforward to champion the value of an individual project on its own merits, Charles Stewart’s essay reveals that it is much harder to ascertain the value of the social sciences as a collective. Here, its power may stem from its ability to reveal ‘occluded aspects of the present’ by allowing researchers to interrogate the inner-workings of current events and everyday experience. Together these articles ask – and go some way to answering – several vital questions. How important is the role of the individual in instigating change in the context of wider socioeconomic or political events? Is it enough to study current events as they pass us by, or is the benefit of hindsight paramount? And how can taking an interdisciplinary approach achieve a more comprehensive insight into societies, governments and communities both large and small?


The Value of the Social Sciences Professor Charles Stewart ISRF Academic Advisor, Professor of Anthropolgy, University College London


he UK government line, followed by major research funding bodies such as HEFCE and the ESRC, declares that the value of all academic subjects should be measured by the beneficial ‘impact’ they have on society. I am all in favour of impact as a value, yet it is not always apparent which studies do have impact, when this impact is felt, or where. The importance of a particular research project may only be realized when a subsequent thinker takes the findings and develops them in an unforeseen way. Granted the difficulties entailed in recognizing impact, especially on a short time scale, I would draw attention instead to another criterion of valuable social science research: the ability to make the unseen seen. The various social sciences do this differently. Economics and sociology use survey and statistical analyses that identify previously unrealized trends; through ethnography, disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and cultural studies render fine-grained accounts of how otherwise invisible persons and groups view the world; while psychology and linguistics explore the infrastructure of the mind and the implicit rules underlying conscious social action. In short, the social sciences reveal occluded aspects of the present. Although some might say that the job of the social sciences is to project the future so that we can prepare for it, we can only do this if we first diagnose the present. There is plenty of theory in all of the disciplines, of course, but theory is a non-fiction endeavor; it aims at illuminating observed



or predicted data. The present is the real laboratory of the social sciences, and empiricism their strength. Pál Nyíri’s project to study the reporting of Chinese journalists posted in Europe and South Africa exemplifies the diagnosis of the present, while highlighting one of the paradoxes of this enterprise: the present is by definition continuous. How the journalists will adjust to life in London or Johannesburg, and what they will write are matters not yet known. Nyíri has identified an emergent area of activity with important consequences since these reporters will contribute powerfully to forming Chinese views of the West. This project gives further meaning to the term ‘unseen’ in that it visualizes a social phenomenon that has barely begun – the not-yet seen. It is anticipatory social science that models the news media it intends to study by displaying a sense for where news is about to happen. Andrea Ruggeri’s project on political entrepreneurs also delves into a fluctuating present. The fall of Colonel Gadaffi supplied data on the matter of how leaders of local factions make the transition from military commanders to electable representatives in a political framework. Syria’s ongoing civil war furnishes a parallel case, where Western countries are presently debating which factions to back. If any insights can be derived from Libya’s move from conflict to relatively stabilized political arena they would be extremely valuable for Syria. Analysis of one society may not be transferred wholesale onto another, but predecessors provide some starting points for debate and conceptualization. The present and future have been mentioned already, but this example raises the matter of history. In his proposal, Ruggeri himself suggested that historical examples of civil wars such as that in Lebanon in the 1970s could also be drawn upon comparatively for ideas. What role might history play in social science research? The ESRC does not count history as one of its core subjects, but research on historical societies may, nonetheless, provide elaborate parallel cases and stimulate



insights into contemporary societies that are every bit as productive as those produced by current research. The political scientist Oliver Dowlen does just this by taking note of the ancient Athenian practice of electing officials by lot, or ‘sortition’. Dowlen sees the potential for obviating excessive factionalism in the transition to new democracies in cases like Zimbabwe and Kenya. Personally, I would be very interested to see a sortition model discussed as a possible reform to the US election system that would eliminate protracted primary elections and the mindboggling wastage of money in campaign advertisements. The past does have something to teach the present, not just in offering alternative models, but in helping us to reconsider structures that we take for granted. Jonathan Hearn’s ISRF project takes on the idea of ‘competition’, which lies at the heart of liberal economics as the guarantor of a free marketplace. An historical account of competition beginning with the rise of the modern state shows that competition, far from being a simple natural condition, has perennially been engineered by the state to occur as a matter of principle. Hearn’s study emboldens us to question the obvious, and possibly to think otherwise, at the inevitability and the real benefits of competition today. What is valuable and what is ethical and what creates value? We are back to the diagnostics of impact, but also on to Juliane Reinecke’s ISRF project to study gold. Is it always worth the listed commodities trading price per ounce, or are there circumstances when gold is so unethically acquired that it cannot be sold at the market rate? If gold, the standard of monetary value, is not always gold, then what havoc might this play with our whole scale of value? To leap from one arena of value to another, I would say that the value of social science lies in its asking just such questions about the apparently unthinkable, the emergent, the pending and the unseen. Society might not be able immediately to supply the answers or smoothly deal with the situations identified as arising, but we do better for having a chance to think about matters sooner rather than later.


Political Entrepreneurs and Civil Wars Professor Andrea Ruggeri ISRF Early Career Fellow, University of Amsterdam


hy do civil wars occur if they are so costly? Why do people become rebels when they could stand by and await the final outcome? Are some rebels more important than others? In this brief note I summarize the preliminary theoretical and empirical results of my research into political entrepreneurs and civil wars. I claim that the study of these important actors can enhance our understanding of civil-war dynamics and provide further answers to the aforementioned questions. This research project is interdisciplinary, linking political science, psychology, economics and sociology. It is also one of mixed methods, analyzing both quantitative and qualitative data to evaluate theoretical arguments. Political entrepreneurs are crucial due to their use – within the context of political engagement – of mechanisms which can be understood through well-established models of micro-economic behaviour: discovering private preferences; framing and coordinating expectations; and the use of persuasion, manipulation and punishment. I will first introduce the concept of political entrepreneurs; second, show how such entrepreneurs can put social mechanisms in place; and, third, review some empirical results on different cases relevant to these dynamics. I conclude with some final remarks highlighting how this research can improve our knowledge of conflict prevention and conflict resolution.



Why ‘Political Entrepreneurs’ and Not Just ‘Leaders’? Biographies and sociological studies have focused on rebel or revolutionary leaders. However, the internal organization of rebel groups is more nuanced, with lower-level leaders playing a crucial role in the dynamics of civil war. Such a distinction is best captured by viewing individuals involved in or leading up to civil wars as not only leaders but ‘political entrepreneurs’ who engage and initiate processes of organization and mobilization. These actors motivate, connect, inform, and lead other actors involved in civil war dynamics. The term ‘political entrepreneur’ is used to stress two main aspects of civil-war mobilization and organization. First, the crucial role of these entrepreneurs is not that they are leaders, in the sense of individuals at the head of the organization (often entrepreneurs are not such formal heads of organizations); it is instead that they link the leadership with the grassroots. Therefore, I highlight a difference between the roles of leader, political entrepreneur and the grassroots. Second, the label echoes the Schumpeterian entrepreneur; the actor who manipulates demand or necessities of citizens through the creation of a supply of new ideas. Moreover, the ‘creative destruction’ (or, perhaps, ‘destructive creativity’) is central for political entrepreneurs: they need to be extremely creative in order to put their goals into place through a range of mechanisms, but by doing so they can be equally destructive of existing orders. Political Entrepreneurs and Mechanisms of Mobilization I have stressed in my recent research the importance of conceptualizing rationality in civil war not only as goal-oriented utility but also as in-process utility.1 Put in other words, in non– routine politics, and especially just before and during a civil war, process-utility plays a distinctive role. Given the high uncertainty of the medium-term politics, citizens will shift from goal-oriented utility, where they aim for a final goal as a result of their actions, to in-process utility where actors focus on the benefits resulting 1. A. Ruggeri. (2012) ‘Gramsci’s Persuaders: Studying Collective Mobilization’, International Studies Review, 14, 677-681. 12


from their actions while they are ongoing. In this context political entrepreneurs are important because they facilitate this shift. They manipulate actors’ strategies taking advantage of contextual emotions; they link and broker rebels; and they reveal private preferences. Empirical Material In my ongoing research of the Italian Civil War, 19431945, I am exploring the role of political entrepreneurs for violent mobilization and after violent conflict. 2,3 Using micro observational data, we found that the local mobilization of the resistance was heavily influenced both by a pre-existing network of political entrepreneurs, which can be seen as an element of political opportunity structure, but also by the emotional and community-level experiences of the regime’s defeat. The mix of the presence of political entrepreneurs and the possibility to rationalize the mobilization within a unique emotional setting explain local mobilization of resistance against the Fascist and Nazi forces. We have corroborated our theoretical claims also using other primary sources, such as private diaries, and interviews with resistance survivors.4 Focused on the same case study, we have explored how mobilization during a civil war can influence politics following violent conflict. The selection and survival of some political entrepreneurs during the harsh fighting and the organizational skills they acquire during the conflict can improve their political capacity even in the aftermath of a civil war.5 Moreover, my research on the 1975 Lebanon civil war shows how political entrepreneurs link unconnected citizens and provide an ideological framework that shifts material issues, based on divisible goods, toward indivisible principals. This mechanism of conflict mobilization and diffusion influences the level of violence, 2. S. Costalli and A. Ruggeri (2013a) ‘Structures, Emotions, and Armed Mobilization: The Italian Civil War 1943-1945’, Manuscript, Catholic University of Milan and University of Amsterdam 3. S. Costalli and A. Ruggeri (2013b) ‘Do Bullets affect Ballots? The Italian Civil War and Election 1943-1948’, Manuscript, Catholic University of Milan and University of Amsterdam 4. Costalli & Ruggeri (2013a) ibid. 5. Costalli & Ruggeri (2013b) ibid. 13


as the manipulation of motivations for fighting using pre-existing ruptures exacerbates the animosity between combatants. 6,7 Hence, political entrepreneurs hoping to maximize the number of their fighters can use a framing mechanism, a destructive byproduct of which is to increase the violence of the conflict. Additionally, in a recent research on the first months of citizens’ mobilization against the Syrian regime in 2011, we found that local political entrepreneurs coordinated citizens and were strategic in organizing protests spatially in order to avoid state repression and increase mobilization.8 Final Remarks The project I have sketched above is still very much work-inprogress: the theoretical framework is developing and I am adding empirical elements step-by-step. Nevertheless I suggest a few important mechanisms of political entrepreneurs in civil wars. First, they connect people who otherwise would not be aware of the existence of other possible rebels. In fact, a key barrier to rebellion in authoritarian states is the tendency to hide and not share private preferences in public. Second, political entrepreneurs, through framing and the manipulative use of emotions, can increase mobilization and conflict intensity. Third, political entrepreneurs are fundamental in the post-conflict context. They have the “know-how” and “knowwhom” to organize politics after violence. This means, given the recent experience of the so-called ’Arab Spring‘, that we need to know how political entrepreneurs can influence both during violent insurrection as well as in the fragile aftermath when countries seek stability and reforms. Hence, in order to improve our understanding on conflict prevention and conflict resolution we need to disentangle the theoretical puzzles on 6. A. Ruggeri (2010) ‘Geografia Politica del Conflitto Libanese’ in S. Costalli and F.Moro, Le Guerre Dentro lo Stato [Civil Wars] (Milano, Italy: Vita e Pensiero) pp.155-180 7. A. Ruggeri (2012) ‘Political Entrepreneurs: Violence Diffusion and Escalation’, Manuscript, University of Amsterdam 8. S. Du Maine and A. Ruggeri (2012) ‘Protest, Concession and Repression in Syria: Divergent Strategies?’ Manuscript, University of Amsterdam 14


political entrepreneurs and develop better empirical study of the roles that such entrepreneurs play.


The World Seen from China Professor Pál Nyíri ISRF Mid-Career Fellow, Professor of Anthropology, VU University Amsterdam


or the first time, Chinese media are building a network of foreign correspondents. These reporters – at least those of them whose main job is not government propaganda, and perhaps even some of those – write for a young Chinese middle class, which believes it has the right to exist as a body of ‘informed citizens,’ in the phrase coined by Alfred Schutz in 1964. These correspondents will have a major impact on shaping both Chinese views of the world and, if the government’s plans succeed, views of China in the world. The emergence of China as a global political and economic power is arguably the defining feature of globalization in the early 21st century. Particularly since the beginning of the current recession in 2008, Chinese investments in oil, gas, mining, hydropower and manufacturing overseas have rapidly expanded, as have other inroads into cultural industries, such as the purchase of the second-largest U.S. cinema chain by a Chinese company, Wanda. Partly in response to the negative publicity of these projects (which Chinese commentators largely ascribe to Western media bias), partly in line with a pursuit of ‘soft power,’ and partly stemming from the commercial interests of Chinese media companies, the 2010s have seen an unprecedented overseas expansion of media corporations. In 2012, the government issued a policy document entitled ‘Some opinions on accelerating the expansion of our country’s news media and publishing industry abroad,’ which sets the goal of creating by 2015 a group of ‘internationally competitive... corporations for expansion abroad’



employing 100,000 ‘internationalised news media and publishing personnel’, which would use ‘developing countries as a base.’ In the same year, China Central Television, Beijing Review, and China Daily have all set up bureaux in Africa, triggering a debate in Western and African media about the impact of Chinese media expansion in Africa. But as with other aspects of Chinese investments in Africa and elsewhere, this debate is currently conducted in abstract terms and very little is known about the actual operations of these companies or how their staff work. Discussion of the growing global presence of Chinese investment has so far focused on the political and economic impact of this process on the countries affected by it. In comparison, little attention has been paid to the mobile vanguards who are behind this process. These vanguards mediate Chinese globalisation – business practices, labour standards at manufacturing, mining and construction sites, and expectations of modernity for the surrounding rural populations in their host nations, but also shape changing views of the world in China. Going beyond the assumption that the Chinese media’s overseas expansion is simply a matter of state politics, this research views journalists as members of a particularly influential and rapidly growing group which alongside entrepreneurs, managers, engineers, volunteers and tourists make up a new globally mobile Chinese elite. The project will entail a mapping of Chinese media’s foreign correspondent networks, followed by in-depth interviews with correspondents for a range of media, including those regarded as ‘official’ – such as the Xinhua news agency, China Central Television, China Daily, and Global Times – as well as those seen as ‘commercial,’ such as Caixin, 21st Century Business Herald, and the news portal These interviews will be supplemented by a close reading of various – formal and informal – texts produced by these journalists and by ‘following’ them on social media, notably the micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, the most popular Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Ideally, physical



shadowing of 5-6 correspondents on selected assignments will also be part of the research, and collaborative writing will be part of its outcomes. Anthropologists and reporters share the goal of reflecting on the world around them, and this project should ideally offer an opportunity for both to reflect on these shared interests and address audiences they normally do not reach. Finally, I aim to interview China-based foreign desk editors to whom these correspondents report. Through this ethnographic study of Chinese foreign correspondents, I aim to interrogate whether this round of globalisation, undergirded by an economic-growth gospel and aspirations of international power, may also be helping produce and transmit cosmopolitan sensibilities, or alternatively – and perhaps simultaneously – entrench dominant nationalist views of the world that have been challenging the government to take more decisive action against China’s perceived enemies. Ultimately, by shedding light on how correspondents aim to mediate the world to their audiences in China, the project hopes to contribute to a better understanding of where actually existing cosmopolitanism may be heading as Western elites increasingly lose their ability to define it. Can newly mobile Chinese elites be agents of conviviality, and on what terms? While it is now clear that greater exposure to lifestyles and opinions outside China has not in itself resulted in a rapprochement between dominant views in China and the West, this project will help develop an understanding of whether a more conscious, reflexive and public engagement with the world may play such a role. This is a question of potential relevance not only for academics but also for policy makers and the general public.


From Cold War to Third Force The Rediscovery of the Randomly-selected Citizen Dr. Olly Dowlen ISRF Early Career Fellow, Visiting Research Fellow, Queen Mary, University of London


s regards the story of my research I find the idea of the ‘real-life value of the social sciences’ a little confusing. This is because I didn’t start from within the social sciences looking for a real-life application for my research. On the contrary I started with real political problems and went to the academic milieu as an environment in which they could be investigated with rigour and in the company of those who had travelled, or were still travelling, some of the roads I needed to take. My ISRF project is an exploration of the value of using political institutions made up of randomly-selected citizens in the consolidation of democratic regimes. The use of lotteries (sortition) to select citizens for public office played a major role in ancient Athenian democracy and was re-discovered by the popular republican communes of late medieval Italy. It survives in the institution of the randomly-selected jury. What first drew me in this direction was a late Cold War perception. This was that the democratic agenda, formally in the hands of the poor and those seeking a better life on their behalf, had, by the late 1980’s, become the main line of rhetoric for the rich nations of the world as they opposed those who



– however imperfectly – sought greater social equality and a just distribution of the world’s resources. This started the search for some way in which representative democracy could be extended and developed and made more universal, vital and relevant. The idea of randomly-selected citizens came from a proposal made in the mid 1990’s by Dr Keith Nilsen, secretary of the Labour Committee on Democratic Accountability of Secret Services which suggested that secret service monitors be chosen by lot. The aim was to establish impartial institutions in a world dominated by covert factionalism. These and other real life problems provided the impetus for my study of the political potential of sortition of which the ISRF project forms one part. While we now know the full extent of the political use of sortition in Ancient Athens and much of its medieval deployment, relatively little written evidence survives to explain exactly what role it played in those ancient and medieval republics. Those accounts we do possess, moreover, either omit to explain the purpose of sortition (Aristotle in Politics) or focus on negative arguments such as the denial of moral choice or the dangers of selecting unsuitable candidates (Guicciardini’s Del modo di eleggere gli uffici nel Consigli Grande and Xenophon’s Socrates in Memorabilia). If we wish to assess the prospects for its modern use, therefore, ‘sortition theory’ has to be built from the bottom up – by intelligent reconstruction based on the qualities of the lottery process itself and the political contexts in which it operated. A lottery is an ancient human invention that evolved to serve a variety of social purposes. It is characterised by the exclusion of all human attributes from the central decision-making portion of the procedure. I call this the ‘blind break’. In any successful application of a lottery it is the blind break that does the work. In terms of its decision-making role, the most important of these exclusions is the faculty of reason: the act of weighing options. The lottery, however, also excludes emotions: anger, love, hate, fear, desire, prejudice, and so forth. Because it excludes flawed



reason along with well-made judgements, we can think of a lottery as ‘arational’ rather than ‘irrational’. When examining the historical uses of sortition from this perspective it quickly becomes apparent that the major political value of this mechanism lies in its capacity to inhibit those who wish to gain power through partisan political appointment. Thus it can be used to reduce corruption, both on a limited scale and as part of the larger task of reducing the build-up of potentially harmful concentrations of factional power within the body politic. It was these conclusions that made me look again at the possible uses of sortition in modern circumstances such as in the creation of stable, inclusive political systems. My work in the current project focuses on two transition scenarios that went seriously wrong: those of Kenya and Hungary. In Hungary the 2010 landslide victory by the Fidesz party initiated what can only be described as a one-party takeover of the state. In Kenya, electoral violence in 2007-8 escalated to the point that civil war was only narrowly avoided by international diplomatic intervention. In both these examples trust in the impartiality of key state institutions was lost as they became subject to partisan capture and control. With this in mind part of my study explores the notion of impartiality and the idea that there is a requirement for impartiality, not just in transitions to democracy but as an integral part of the political process itself. This operates in a triadic form with one grouping, institution or series of principles operating as the impartial apex by and through which the claims or views of two or more rival parties can be mediated. It would seem sensible to use randomly-selected citizens where this type of impartial institution is required. In the case of Kenya and other countries potentially subject to factional or electoral violence, a ‘third force’ of active citizens taking impartial roles (such as election monitoring) could become a vital stabilizing factor.



In more developed democracies, greater citizen participation could help close the gap between professional politicians and the public. Elements of direct democracy such as frequent referendums could be useful in this respect, but a complementary measure could be provided by the deployment of randomly– selected citizens in a variety of state rather than governmental roles - roles in which they would act as guardians rather than decision-makers. A group of, say, 24 randomly selected but suitably paid and trained citizens could ‘monitor and assist’ the work of the elected MP. This could involve running a website on the MP’s activities, organising public meetings, receiving petitions, or monitoring visits to Parliament. Two recent events indicate the potential value of such an arrangement: the Parliamentary Expenses scandal and the Hillsborough Inquiry. In respect to the first case the citizen group would have oversight of their MP’s expenses. In the second, and in possible similar cases, groups of citizen monitors from different constituencies could link up to maintain pressure for prompt and thorough action. Once we grasp the basic principle of making a positive virtue of the blind break, sortition can begin to be seen as an option for solving an increasing range of political problems – particularly those where some level of impartiality is required. My view is that consistent use of this mechanism could have profound implications for the relationship between citizens and state in the modern world. For this reason alone it is worthy of greater critical attention.


This issue features: Olly Dowlen Pál Nyíri Andrea Ruggeri Charles Stewart

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