Author: c.eleanor

And that’s all, folks

It feels a little strange to say, but my thesis — a comparison of the political and militant arms of Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army — is pretty much done.

Oh, there are a few edits left. My footnotes are still in disarray, so those need neatening up, and I’m sure there are typos that still need to be rooted out. But by Friday, those last little issues will be gone, and I’ll have my adviser, Dr. Clarke, sign the final copy, and I’ll drop it off at the Dean’s office. And I’ll be done.

This thesis has been a huge part of my academic experience as an upperclassman at Carnegie Mellon. In the fall of my junior year, I took my first class with Dr. Clarke, where I first began to develop my interest in militant groups. By the spring, I was almost 4,000 miles away in Granada, Spain and trying to plan a substantial self-guided research paper and pick which militant groups I wanted to focus on. That summer — my last summer as an undergrad, really — was spent with my nose in a pile of books and articles as I tried to absorb as much as I could about Hezbollah and the Provisional Irish Republican Army as quickly as I could. I ended the summer with a 20-page rough draft I was pretty proud of. I was about to launch into my fall semester, which I would be spending in Washington, D.C. working at a foreign policy think tank. I thought I’d finish the draft while I was there, and enter my spring semester of senior year with only edits left to do.

Boy, was I wrong about that last part! Over the fall semester, I got virtually nothing of substance done on my thesis.

My D.C. semester was wonderfully challenging. I loved the think tank where I worked, I made some really good friends and I learned a lot. And I could say that all the goings-on of Washington prevented me from working on my thesis, and there would be some truth in that. It was a jam-packed semester. But the real reason I got nothing of consequence done was that I kind of hated my thesis for a while there.

I’m told this is a natural part of the production of any academic work. Maybe it’s like having a kid? For the first part of the baby’s life, you and the kid are thick as thieves. But then the kid hits adolescence and suddenly everything is more difficult because the little bugger just will not stop rolling her eyes at you. Okay, maybe that’s not the smoothest metaphor, but I honestly struggled to feel connected to and invested in my work that semester. I thought my thesis was no good, but since I didn’t really have the time to fix it, that didn’t galvanize me to make it better; it just made me really anxious about having a piece that wasn’t much good be the crowning achievement of my college career.

So I spent my fall semester ignoring my thesis. And then I got back to campus in the spring and continued to ignore it. Because I was sure that my aversion to rereading it and working on it must have been based in some true lack of quality, some egregious hole in my argument that I had registered subconsciously but hadn’t seen yet. But eventually I got to the point where it was due to Dr. Clarke in a week with major edits, and I hadn’t cracked the file open in months.

I printed off a fresh copy, braced myself and sat down with a cup of coffee and a red pen. And there were problems, definite problems – I didn’t really define my research question or thesis statement as clearly as I should have, my Hezbollah section was longer than the PIRA section by a full four pages and I didn’t have a real conclusion as yet. But none of those problems were insurmountable. And so I began to fix them, in that draft and then in the next. And now I’m basically done.

I don’t know if my long dormant months were a necessary part of the creative process, like a caterpillar forming a chrysalis and then popping out a butterfly, or something. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me. It mostly felt like frustration, topped with a liberal dusting of self-doubt. But when I managed to get over myself and settle down to work, I managed to produce a paper that I’m proud of.

The two most important things I learned from this thesis are these: that any creative process, whether it’s for the academic or professional world, will have its fits and starts, and, when in doubt, it’s best to just grit your teeth and get it done. Hopefully, I’ll remember that the next time I feel overwhelmed by a project.

Working on this thesis has been an exciting challenge for me this past year. I’m so grateful for the support that I received from the Dietrich Honors Fellowship staff, especially Dr. Jennifer Keating-Miller, as well as my advisor, Dr. Clarke. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m excited to present my work at Meeting of the Minds on May 4th.

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Final Countdown

Behold! 10 whole pages. Only 10 more to go.

Behold! 10 whole pages. Only 10 more to go.

Hello there, everyone!

So I am entering the final stretch of my summer thesis work, and, truth be told, I’m a little wiped out. This upcoming week is about to remind me of the meaning of “hell week” – I have my final presentation and my twenty-page thesis first draft due Monday, and a test or a project due every day Tuesday – Friday for my other summer classes. On the upside, my thesis work is progressing nicely, and I have 10 pages typed up, and will be able to complete the next 10 by Monday without too much trouble. Though this weekend may be one long stare into the the white glare of my computer screen, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m fortified with snacks and caffeinated beverages and seven-hour study playlists, and this thesis will bow to my will.

My chemically questionable motivator/reward system. I don't know what: 'You could win summer's awesomest party' means, and I've already thrown out the wrapper, so we're going to have to live in ignorance.

My chemically questionable motivator/reward system. I don’t know what: ‘You could win summer’s awesomest party’ means, and I’ve already thrown out the wrapper, so we’re going to have to live in ignorance.

I’m also in the process of planning for my final presentation for Monday. I think of all the Fellows, my project is definitely the most traditional. While the other lovely and brilliant ladies in the program are designing their own studies, producing creative works in various storytelling mediums, and creating new areas of investigation all together, I’m pretty much writing one giant paper about a topic that I think is fascinating. I am not at all trying to knock my work – I think my project focuses on an area that absolutely merits further study and analysis, and is pretty cool in its own right. But while my peers will walk in on Monday and explain their processes in creating their innovative methodologies in their projects, I will be more focused on what I’ve learned and what I plan to say with the knowledge that I’ve gained.

The only problem with that is that it’s taken me two months to develop the vocabulary and the understanding that I have now, and even so, I feel that I don’t have full mastery of either of these two very complex groups. I think you could study either Hezbollah and the IRA for years and still be surprised by them on occasion. And beside that looming learning curve, I believe it will take me at least another semester to fully articulate what exactly I want to say with the ideas that I have absorbed.

So on Monday, I need to walk into a room with twenty plus people, all of whom will be staring at me, and articulate some complex and difficult ideas in ten minutes. And though I have on occasion demonstrated wit, I have yet to mastery the brevity bit that lies at its core. It’s hard for me to keep my accounts of even my simpler opinions to ten minutes, so keeping two months of academic crash-courses down to that and no more will be a pretty trick. But such is life. Part of the reason I started this project in the first place is because I wanted to learn how to explain the complex and difficult-to-understand parts of the world and its foreign policy to people who don’t necessarily have a profound personal interest in those subjects. A key component of explaining anything well is being able to do it quickly and clearly. So, this is good practice.

But to get to the practicing part, I need to finish the writing part. To that end, I’m off. Have a lovely weekend!

Oh, the weather outside's delightful... And I have more thesis left to do. Go enjoy it for me!

Oh, the weather outside’s delightful… And I have more thesis left to do. Go enjoy it for me!

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Outline done – onto the first draft

Hey there, everyone!

My thesis outline is DONE.

Pictured above: my outline of my outline, in all of its flowchart and commentary-laden glory

Pictured above: my outline of my outline, in all of its flowchart and commentary-laden glory

Which I am really, really excited about. And I am about to start actually writing my thesis – my first draft, at least – which is a little surreal, to be honest. It feels really good to have a direction I’m set on and moving in. So let’s talk about where that direction is.

In my thesis, I’m attempting to answer a few simple questions. Why the IRA was able to successful transition from strictly a militant group to a political organization? And: How was Hezbollah able to maintain a dual identity as a militant group and political organization? I’m trying to stick to these deceptively simple questions as much as I can. As a researcher, I have a terrible habit of trying to push my evidence perhaps farther than I should, for example, asking myself questions like: What does that tell us about Westphalian nation-states? It’s not that this isn’t a good or important question to ask; it very much is. Through this project, I’m learning that it’s really helpful to keep your questions tight and grounded in evidence. When you have a vast world of source materials, it’s really easy to get lost.

Here’s a simplified version of the historical chain I’m going to be discussing: The IRA developed as a group dedicated to the

Pictured here, some of the evidence it's so easy to get lost in.

Pictured here, some of the evidence it’s so easy to get lost in.

defense of Irish Catholics from a very pro-British and pro-Protestant government. Armed struggle was always a massively influential part of their ideology. However, in the late 1960s, the British began jailing members of the IRA as criminals, which led them to aggressively campaign for the label of prisoners of war, mostly through prison-wide hunger strikes. The IRA wanted a political label, and had to allow for political action in order to obtain that label. However, in the post-prison years, the IRA returned to violence and force as its primary means of action. This willingness to use force led to a precipitous drop in the average Irish person’s support of the organization. The loss in publicity led the IRA to continue political action once again.

This loss of public support is a fascinating factor in the IRA’s decision to pursue political action. It was far from the only reason it eventually transitioned away from militant action, but it was key. When the group used force and violence, people in Ireland lost faith in it and the cause, which limited the objectives that the group could achieve. In short, violence cost them political capital.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, does not lose political capital with their Lebanese constituency through violence, usually because they direct most of their violence toward Israel. The group formed in 1982 to defend southern Lebanon against the Israeli occupation. Iran and Syria offered the group enormous amounts of logistical and tactical support, which served to encourage the radicalization of Hezbollah’s ideologies. After the occupation ended, Hezbollah rebuilt damaged infrastructure and gained community support through social services. In 1992, Hezbollah won 12 parliamentary seats in the Lebanese government. When Israel invaded Lebanon again in 2006, the group managed to hold them off for a few weeks, which was a major victory in the eyes of the Arab world. This victory won Hezbollah legitimacy in the eyes of all Lebanese, not just their traditional Shi’a supporters. In short, Hezbollah obtained political power by balancing military might and social services.

The chain of historical events that led to both of these groups’ shifting identities is complex and rich. I’m so excited to really sink my teeth into both of these stories over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading!

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Let’s Talk About the Word “Craic”

Hey there, everyone!

This week has been a little crazy for me. In addition to my thesis work, I just started taking two summer classes, one of which is charmingly entitled Physics for Future Presidents. I’ve been trying to stay ahead of my new classwork, and keep to my proposed schedule with my thesis materials. Luckily, I’ve been able to spend time working with some of the other Dietrich Scholars – Lucy Pei and Kaylyn Kim – to help keep myself focused.

This is Kaylyn. You should go take a look at her project! When you're done reading my blog post, that is.

This is Kaylyn. You should go take a look at her project! When you’re done reading my blog post, that is.

This week I started digging my teeth into my IRA sources, and changing tact in this manner has been enormously helpful. When I was only looking at Hezbollah sources, it could be difficult for me to determine which organizational aspects were important, and which ideological threads would be comparable between the two wildly different groups. One of the trends that caught at my attention was the idea of conferring and obtaining legitimacy when one is attempting to lead a militant organization.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the word “craic.”

“Craic,” usually used with the definite article, is a uniquely Irish term for news and gossip, entertainment and fun. “What’s the craic?” is basically a colloquial Irish version of: “What’s up?” The word is actually based on the early English word crack, which was used in England in the same context in the late 1800s. However, as the term died out in England but remained prominent in Ireland, people started spelling it as if it were an Irish word.

(Bear in mind, I learned all this in a tour of Dublin when I was studying abroad last semester.)

Wherever it comes from, “the craic” is now a very uniquely Irish concept. It’s even on T-shirts.

(This is my Dublin souvenir t-shirt. The craic was indeed mighty.)

(This is my Dublin souvenir t-shirt. The craic was indeed mighty.)

While putting a word on a t-shirt doesn’t necessarily indicate a wider cultural trend, I did hear the word when I was in Dublin, and even if it’s more of a tourist gimmick, the combination of English-Irish heritage of the word is really interesting. It’s English in origin and even in its traditional spelling, but now doesn’t even exist there anymore.

For groups like the IRA, legitimacy is of paramount importance. One of their basic justifications for their existence is the idea that the British government imposed partition upon the people of Ireland, and given that that separation between the north and south of Ireland was both imposed by a foreign government and undesired by the Irish, that makes that action doubly invalid. In the IRA’s own eyes, they represent the true will of the Irish people.

All this makes me think that legitimacy is a tricky topic. Having English roots doesn’t make craic any less Irish. While I don’t think that the IRA represented the will of the Irish people as a whole, they absolutely represented grievances that many Irish people felt quite strongly. Both of these instances make me wonder how and why legitimacy gets conferred. How did the term craic survive in Ireland while fading away in the land of its birth? How does a group know – or argue, I suppose – that it represents the true will of an entire nation?

One of the profoundly fascinating things about non-state actors is that they can change and challenge the way we think about non-state actors. We often assume (Western) states are legitimate because they’re simply there. We don’t necessarily think about if they should have the power they do, and if so, why. Legitimacy doesn’t simply emerge from some governmental void; it must be created, and then continually considered and discussed. It must be regarded, to some degree, as the construct that it is.

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The Method to My (Researching) Madness

Hey there, everyone!

So we are well into Week 2 of my thesis work, and I am pretty much up to my eyeballs in texts about Hezbollah and the IRA. In case you don’t know, my thesis will be a comparative look at the political structures of a Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, and a separatist group, the Irish Republican Army. I’ve started with my focus on Hezbollah, and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll move on to the IRA.

This is my preliminary stack. Preliminary. *Sigh*.

This is my preliminary stack. Preliminary. *Sigh*.

My thesis advisor, Dr. Colin Clarke, has very kindly given me access to some of the materials he’s gathered throughout his career as an expert on terrorist organizations. Those are the articles in the green folders the photo above. While I joke about the amount of reading I have to do, the truth is that these documents will be invaluable in hitting the ground running on my thesis. Once I get through these texts, I will have a far better idea of where to look in the wide world of terrorist-organization research for more information. So, thanks, Dr. Clarke!

But of course, the secret to any successful academic campaign is strategic planning. To that end, I’ve laid the groundwork for my 2015-2016 thesis schedule, as well as established my various lines of inquiry. As a researcher, it’s always been important for me to figure out what I’m looking for in a particular topic. In a major research endeavor, the effectiveness of your work does not hinge on how much you know, but rather on if you know which are the important questions to ask. For me, establishing what I’m keeping an eye out for in my mountain of material also helps me organize my thoughts, but more importantly, it keeps me from forming an opinion too quickly. For the next few weeks, I will be doing my best not to form theories, but rather to gather as much information as I can and fit all those disparate pieces together.

ThompsonImage2

This is the first page of my thesis notebook. I color-code when daunted by huge amounts of information.

I’ve established five major categories. First, how the group, be it Hezbollah or the IRA, views politics and participation, and what services it provides to the people in its territory. What does the group give that the official government can’t? Second, how community support and volunteering work. What encourages locals to move from providing things like safe houses or supplies to actually taking up arms and joining these militant groups? Third, leadership and structure. How does the group organize itself? Does it have outside support? Fourth, media and public relations. How does each group disseminate its message? More importantly, how does each group see itself? Fifth, and the most concrete of all: finances. Where are the group’s revenue streams coming from? How is that money distributed?

I’m a curious person by nature. One of the things I have always adored about academics is that it provides me with the opportunity to ask interesting questions. One question that keeps popping into my head as I comb through articles and books on Hezbollah is: What is the nature of territory? What does ‘territory’ even mean? Officially, the Lebanese army controls the nation’s southern border (the one it shares with Israel), but in reality, it hasn’t actually controlled that region for decades. Hezbollah has. So what does that mean for modern nation-states? If Lebanon does not control that territory, but Hezbollah does, does that mean that Hezbollah can be classified as a mere militant group? Or is it something more complex and nuanced?

(Hint: I think it might be something more complex and nuanced. One thing I have learned in my years as a Global Studies major is that when you’re studying human beings and the way they interact with the world, nothing is ever simple.)

Obviously, as my thesis goes on, I will have to narrow down my questions. But for now, I’m enjoying myself.

This thesis brought to you by Carnegie Mellon University. Also coffee.

This thesis brought to you by Carnegie Mellon University. Also coffee.

See you all in two weeks!

Read more about my project.