Thursday, April 19, 2018

URSP Student Arjit Roshan Researches the Common Patterns that Led to the Intensification of Ethnic Cleavages in the United States and Yugoslavia

On August 12th 2017, I witnessed the United The Right rally in Charlottesville. At the time I had been reading “White Rage” by Carol Anderson and had become very interested on the issue of intensifying racial cleavages, and particularly white nationalism in the United States. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered the story of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and drew some interesting parallels between the factors that caused ethnic boundaries to become more salient in that country and our own. By October of the same year, I had the idea of writing a research paper on these parallels, and with guidance from my professor, Jack Goldstone, I submitted the proposal to OSCAR.

My proposal was accepted, and I’ve spent this semester reading an enormity of material. While a lot of my peers in OSCAR are doing lab work, my research is entirely done at my desk or the library. I look at a great deal of sources, from documentaries and books to economic reports and journal and newspaper articles. Throughout the process, my ideas have developed dramatically. Initially I was very interested in specifically analyzing the role of decline in class boundaries and labor organizations in both countries, but after more reading I have developed a more holistic understanding of what factors lead to the intensification of ethnic cleavages. My mentor, Jack Goldstone, told me I shouldn’t be so concerned about drawing broad nomothetic conclusions but focus on making “thoughtful analogies” and comparisons. With this advice, my paper has evolved. A lot of what I’m trying to do is tell a story, one both digestible to an interdisciplinary audience and one that has meaningful conclusions that meaningfully contribute to the study of ethnic cleavages.

Finding the common patterns that lead to the intensification of ethnic cleavages through my research has been the easy part, telling the story in a way that is both easily understood, creates a compelling narrative on ethnic conflict, and emphasizes those common patterns has been difficult. This project has challenged my skills in composition more than anything else. What has helped me is the saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme; I remind myself that I’m writing a paper on the elements of the Yugoslavian and American experience that rhyme. Among these are uneven regional development, economic displacement, competing visions of the country’s foundational character, and massive demographic change: all factors that I argue make ethnic and cultural boundaries more functional for elites to activate and therefore more important (often much more important than we’d like) in our lives.

OSCAR’s commitment to making our projects approachable to an interdisciplinary audience has made me re-envision scholarship and made me determined to make a paper that follows that goal. The existing literature on ethnic conflict is often jargon-heavy with complex competing theoretical frameworks, early on I was very concerned with matching what I thought were the conventions of the discipline and following some “template.” However, through OSCAR’s mission statement and guidance from my mentor, I’ve rethought what my goal ought to be: to write a paper that tells a story that everyone can understand and learn from. I’m excited to share my first draft with my professors, friends and old teachers and hear what they think. Eventually, I plan to submit this paper to several undergraduate journals.