Some Observations on Development and Migration

This week I was the featured writer for the Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik/German Development Institute’s Current Column. I shared my thoughts and observations on how development and technical cooperation can support livelihoods in countries where people may otherwise migrate, often taking on extraordinary risks, to seek work and economic opportunities. Es gibt eine Deutsche Version hier.

Enjoy, and thanks to DIE-GDI for posting it!

Genocide Studies and Prevention special issue on tech and atrocity prevention

The latest issue of Genocide Studies and Prevention features a special collection on technology and genocide/atrocity prevention. I had the good fortune of being asked to write the closing article, a short synthesis of the fascinating collection of articles covering a range of issues from technical challenges to legal and ethical considerations.

It’s a solid collection, and wades into core issues in the tech for atrocity prevention space that demand further multi-disciplinary attention. A special thanks goes to Douglas Irvin-Erickson at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution for asking me to contribute!

Development, Economic Aid, and Forced Displacement: An ISA Panel

A few colleagues and I are organizing a panel for next year’s International Studies Association meeting in San Francisco on forced displacement, state fragility and international development. We have a few slots open for those who may have a paper that fits the theme – if you have something you’d like to present I’d love to hear from you!

Below is the panel title and abstract:

Panel: Development, Economic Aid, and Forced Displacement

The rapid changes in global political, environmental, and economic systems have strongly impacted patterns of migration, notably manifesting in an increase of people displaced by conflict, climate change and economic shocks. This panel addresses the role that economic aid and development policy play in stabilizing forcibly displaced populations, analyzing migration and displacement dynamics at the local, regional, and global levels. Specific topics include cross-national statistical analysis on the impact of economic aid on migration patterns, regional analysis of intra-African migration policy, case studies of aid impacts at the local level in Southeast Asia, and meta-analysis of how the international studies field conceptualizes state fragility and forced migration. The panel adds value to the wider field of international studies by presenting local, regional, and global analysis of the interplay between the global development and migration fields, using multiple methods that can inform future research and public policy discourse. It also speaks directly to an issue, forced migration, that will become an increasingly important as nations and international organizations adapt to a world marked by rapid political and economic change, the decreasing influence of borders, and increased mobility of citizens.

If you’re interested in having a paper included, please email me with questions or a title/abstract (200 words or less) at: Charles.Martin-Shields[at] by May 29. It should be a fun and interesting panel, and we’d love to have you join us!

Going From Science March to Political Impact

I was at the Bonn/Köln iteration of the March for Science and it was a good time. But as I watched the marches around the world, especially in the U.S., my thoughts turned to how to create further action. Large turnout in cities populated predominantly by people who already value science and empirically-based policy making can only go so far. A few quick thoughts going forward…

  1. Get involved in local politics. This is a goal I’ve set for myself, at least as much as I can as a non-citizen in the country I work in. It’s amazing how much physical and social science training can be put to use in local settings. For example, everything I know about collective action problems is not only useful in studying participatory governance in developing countries, it’s also applicable to town and city government. If you’re in the Earth sciences, get on the planning board or an Earth-science relevant area of local government.
  2. Once you have achieved joining the local government *do not turn into a know-it-all*. I have expertise in collection action problems; my job is not to remind people how dumb we are as a species for falling into the normal collection action traps. My job is, understanding those traps and knowing how they work in theory, to help the rest of my town hall compatriots manage them. This isn’t a lecture hall, it’s participation in governance.
  3. Think about how to broaden the base. Yes, a march is good and snarky signs are funny, but at some point people in districts in other parts of the country will elect representatives. As scientists, we have to make science valuable to people, so that they don’t elect charlatans who would take us back to the Middle Ages to line their pockets with a few bucks from lobbyists. One way to do this is to make the history of applied science, and the collective role of society and government in that history, central to any argument about the value of science in public policy. As scientists this starts with us – we have to be fluent and engaging in not only explaining the practice of our work, but the history (social, political, economic) of how our work fits into society. I read a great book on the history of urban planning in New York City a while back; there was a lot of detailed analysis of the engineering science, but it was written wonderfully. I had no idea how interesting, both from a social and chemical standpoint, concrete was. Making interesting what seems banal to non-scientists  would go a long way.
  4. If you have tenure, run for office. It’s hard as hell getting an academic or research career started, so if you are established and have some clout and job security, take advantage of your privilege and get involved in politics. Younger researchers will model this behavior as they become established as well.

That’s I’ve got at the moment (well, lots more, but it’s only a blog post). Be excited about science, be excited about it’s role in society, and don’t forget: People often vote on emotion. Empirics are good, but an engaging story will go a long way, too.

Education and National Strength: A good take

Anthony Eames, a doctoral candidate in history at Georgetown University, wrote a superb defense of the role of education in supporting strategic strength and the importance of government investment in that enterprise. As an academic who also works in policy, I’ve always believed that government investment in education (especially the humanities) leads to a stronger society.

What I find most compelling about his argument is that he cites not only the importance of tech and math education (which is important), but also the value of the humanities, and comprehensive primary through secondary education.

Frankly, it’s not possible to be a strategic power in the modern world unless there is significant government investment in education, from elementary through graduate school. It’s also not enough to put all the resources into STEM; the arts and humanities are a necessary component of a well-rounded education that supports an informed, critically-thinking citizenry.

If the U.S. wants to be a world leader in anything, whether it be security, economic growth, innovation, or good governance, it will have to do away with its current strategy of self-defeating cuts to education and research funding.

New Publication! “PeaceTech: The Liminal Spaces of Digital Technology in Peacebuilding”

I’m excited to share a new collection of essays published in International Studies Perspectives that I produced with Pamina Firchow, Roger Mac Ginty, and Atalia Omer. Our essays cover a range of issues in using technology for peacebuilding and stabilization, and add to the growing body of work being done on how digital technology is affecting how we engage in social processes, contentious politics, and community-level peacebuilding.

Happy reading, and looking forward to others’ opinions and takes on the Forum!

Processing the Election

After an absolutely searing U.S. election season, Donald Trump has won. This result has defied everything we thought we knew in political science, from how parties manage themselves and their candidates to how likely voters will make selections. It also laid bare things that we’re going to have to figure out as Americans. I’ll just give a few overarching takes on a few topics, since it’s all rather early days and I think everyone, on both sides of the aisle, are disoriented and exhausted.

What will Trump do? This is by far the question that most animates my fear and anger over this election. Fundamentally, I don’t know what Trump will do policy-wise. And it’s not just culture-war issues – I’m deeply concerned about how Trump will manage the boring but elemental aspects of public policy. Would he allow bondholders to take a haircut on their Treasury bonds? This is the kind of boring, in-the-background policy issue that could irreparably wreck the global economy and for the first time I see a president-elect who I don’t fundamentally trust to handle these decisions. I could have my mind changed (I don’t think he’s not smart enough to handle them), but in terms of temperament and outlook I have yet to be convinced.

What does this mean for political science? I saw a Twitter post the other day that I responded to:

My response was that at times political science feels like it has increased its focus on quantitative methods and experiments, especially econometric and regression techniques, and is engaging in methodological navel gazing. Daniel Drezner, a Tufts professor who is one of the most active academics at engaging with people through non-academic media, has also lamented what he’s seen as a retreat form theorization in political science. I like doing quant research as much as the next person who likes doing quant research, but I also think much of the debate in political science is being stunted by an increasing lack of qualitative research. I’ll write another post about what I saw missing in the models and survey techniques used during this cycle, but for research that I think speaks to what I think really animated this election I would suggest reading Matthew Desmond’s ethnographic work on poverty in the United States. It’s my hope that this election cycle jolts political science out of its quantitative gravity well, reinvigorates the demand for good qualitative and mixed-method research, and increased theorization.

What’s a bizarre way Trump could be a good president? I’ve read a few things basically saying he might be a functional president. I can’t disagree with those, but I also think there’s something else at work here. I don’t get the sense that Trump has a personal political center of gravity – my perception, having watched him, is that he’s a performer that reflects and acts on what he sees and picks up on from audiences. If the loudest of the audience members are the KKK and white nationalists, that’s what he reflects (which is terrifying). If the loudest though are the people who voted for him and aren’t racists/misogynists/anti-semites etc, people who have fundamental and valid fears about being left behind who were willing to ignore all the terrible things the candidate animated, and they demand that he rebuke the worst of his following and actually find ways to mend bridges he might reflect it. This might actually lead to some progress. Alternatively, I might have totally misjudged him (wouldn’t be the first time this cycle a political scientist was wrong) and he’s actually a dedicated fascist/white nationalist demagogue. *I really hope that’s not the case.*

What’s a surprising way this election has increased my political dialogue? Since the end of the election I have spoken with family members for the first time in months (or years in some cases) about what their political wants and desires are, and been able to articulate my political position to them as well. We actually all listened to each other and while some threads got a bit contentious people were actively keeping it civil. I brought up why an African American, Latino, Female or LGBT voter might be both terrified at the outcome, and could right now be very distrusting of someone they know who is otherwise outwardly decent and voted Trump, and I think this resonated with my more conservative family members. The quid pro quo is that I’m willing to hear them out too. This is corollary to the previous paragraph; most of your friends and family aren’t KKK supporters, Karl Marx incarnate, or the Illuminati. There’s a lot more political overlap between Americans than I think we’re generally led to believe by our Facebook/Twitter echo chambers, so now is as good a time as any to reach out.

In the end, the best I can do is appeal to the best in us. We’re all going to need it.