RPP #5: Research Puzzle Proposal

I am proposing to research the divergence of post-war narratives because I want to find out what explains the increased diversity between them [consolidated narratives] in order to help my reader understand how they can be politicized. Essentially, I want to understand why social narratives split in both positive and negative directions, and how they can be rewritten to impact policies aiming towards ethnic reconciliation.

Though slow in their development, individual beliefs and thusly narratives, are not stable.[1] As discussed by many scholars in sociological and psychological fields, narratives, like most things produced by and from humans, are inherently dynamic, in that they have the capability to change and develop over the course of time.[2] However, despite their moldability, when integrated into society,  or socialized, these seemingly dynamic entities adopt what Daniel Bar-Tal calls “durability”.[3] This durability of social narratives is defined by their long-term significance as an aspect of identity in society, and in our case, within a specific ethnic group. Alongside Bar-Tal is Shenhav, who further emphasizes the idea of durability under the title “core element” of a social narrative, an aspect of a narrative that remains durable and lasting despite the increasing divergence around it. [4]

However, what happens when this core element shatters?

Scholars tend to agree and understand how these core elements develop and continue to persist, which is primarily through an amalgamation of communicative institutions such as mass media, family, peers and education/pedagogy.[5] However, this consensus of durability does not, and for the record, cannot exist. At some point, there must be a line where the divergence of a narrative completely shatters the core element. We see this perhaps most drastically in the case of ethnic conflicts, where the core beliefs of certain groups are contested and change drastically. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, groups lived as neighbors and friends, but there was a sudden turn in this core element, with a major structural crisis, institutional factors that promote ethnic intolerance, manipulation of historical memories by political entrepreneurs to evoke resentment, and hate towards the ‘other’ – among other factors – caused an eruption of mass hatred and ethnic cleansing.[6] And in the aftermath of it all, a new core element evolves around the idea of reconciliation and, ultimately, justice. [7]

The divergence of the core element of narrative is significant in that as we’ve seen, it can impede upon a society’s capability to redefine and reconcile itself after change. Narrative is essential to our society, it is in school books, what we hear on the news, and influences who define ourselves as, and when these core elements break, we see monumental change, almost suddenly.

Therefore, I want to explain why what social scientists have traditionally named “durable” can no longer be considerably named so. But also, what explains this lack of durability? Why are these core elements considered such in literature? Why are we now seeing this breakdown, or has this been going on throughout history?

Most scholars answer these questions through the divergence of the components narrative alone through the idea of “reform” and change post-conflict.[8] These schools of thought, as they were, related to institution reform, educational reform and demographic reform. The institutional reforms debate between how influential external influences and internal influences are on their core elements – such as the Dayton agreement’s influence on the decentralization of Bosnian cantons or if it was more caused by domestic factors within specific governing bodies. Essentially, they debate what causes more of a rift in narratives. Then comes education reform, divided between the pedagogy of language and history. Language scholars argue that the distinction of language in classrooms, and thusly separation, is what causes a shift in their core narratives, whereas history argues that textbooks, that houses the narratives of their and other groups can cause great rifts.[9] Finally, is demographic reform. The demographic debate, though rather rare, cites that the separation or integration of certain groups in society, depending on who you talk to, is what leads to this divergence.[10]

The current situation pertains to this core element of reconciliation among social groups who have snapped a core element – through civil or ethnic war and genocide. In Bosnia specifically, the goal is for the people to reconcile, but there are some people who say that it is an issue and others who do not wish to see in as an issue. This is primarily emphasized by the “two schools under one roof “policy, that has endured since the early 2000s and despite a call for change, has only changed in one canton. [11] Education is one of the communicative institutions that influence the development of this core element, but people are divided around it, and it is thusly fracturing. [12] Whereas in Rwanda, the schools are not segregated, but still have a hard time teaching history and contest that. What happened in this narrative formation that caused this riff here but not there? I intend to look deeper into other case studies beyond Rwanda after this posting to understand more of these divergences. It is essential that we understand this lack of durability, so that we can thus see when it happens to us, and hopefully, how we can fix it, and begin to repair countries impacted by this breakdown.

General question: What explains the lack of durability in post-war narratives?

Case-specific question: What explains the lack of durability in the reconciliation narratives of post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina?


[1] Daniel Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society (Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc, 2000): 69.

[2] Shaul R. Shenhav, Analyzing Social Narratives (London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge, 2015), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970. 3.
Abelson, Robert P. “Beliefs Are Like Possessions.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 16, no. 3 (1986): 223–250.
Labovitz, Sanford, and Robert Hagedorn. “Measuring Social Norms.” Pacific Sociological Review 16, no. 3 (July 1, 1973): 283–303.

[3] Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society. 69

[4] Shaul R. Shenhav, Analyzing Social Narratives (London, UNITED KINGDOM: Routledge, 2015), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970.

[5] Bourdieu, Pierre, and Jean Claude Passeron. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage Publications, 1977.

[6] Bojana Blagojevic, “Causes of Ethnic Conflict: A Conceptual Framework,” Journal of Global Change & Governance 3, no. 1 (2009): 3.

[7] Sarah Freedman, My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, ed. Harvey Weinstein, vol. 1, 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 305–307.

[8] B. Baliqi, “The Aftermath of War Experiences on Kosovo’s Generation on the Move – Collective Memory and Ethnic Relations among Young Adults in Kosovo,” Zeitgeschichte 44, no. 1 (2017): 6–18.

[9] L.L. Kasumagic-Kafedžic, “Exploring Challenges and Possibilities in Pre-Service Teacher Education: Critical and Intercultural Pedagogy in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in Challenges Associated with Cross-Cultural and At-Risk Student Engagement, 2016, 42–62.

[10] I. Moore, “Linguistic, Ethnic and Cultural Tensions in the Sociolinguistic Landscape of Vilnius: A Diachronic Analysis,” in Expanding the Linguistic Landscape: Linguistic Diversity, Multimodality and the Use of Space as a Semiotic Resource, 2018, 229–263.

[11] “‘Two Schools Under One Roof’ – The Most Visible Example of Discrimination in Education in Bosnia and Herzegovina” (n.d.): 52.

[12] Bar-Tal, Shared Beliefs in a Society, 67.

Research Portfolio Post #4: Article Comparison

In his article, “The Aftermath of War Experiences on Kosovo’s Generation on the Move — Collective Memory and Ethnic Relations among Young Adults in Kosovo,” professor Bekim Baliqi emphasizes the role of violent experiences on the “born during the war” generation, and thusly, how these past events have shaped political attitudes and ethnic relations towards an increase in ethnonationalism.[1] He begins by examining prominent theories underlined by both sociological and psychological scholars, with emphasis on the concept of “post-memory” – referring to the passage of second-hand memories through the generations, and how their consolidation greatly decreases the likelihood of reconciliation and transitional justice in present-day Kosovo.[2] The author argues that these consolidations of memory, formed from individual narratives, prominent in both private and public life, have a great influence on group resentment and thusly, prompted political decentralization post-war.[3] The text utilizes historical context to these consolidations and grounds them in a content analysis of relevant sociological & psychological studies, policy papers, reports on events, and governmental strategies surveys. His methodology, however, primarily leans towards ethnography and record-based analysis, citing data from former students, residents, and state-run surveys and comparing them cross country.

The second article “Public Education and social reconstruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina & Croatia”, takes an outside perspective by tackling the impact imposed by the Dayton Agreement, as opposed to memory directly. They begin by introducing their survey subjects, questions and variables utilized, with the dependent being cooperation among groups and the independent being the opinion of focus groups, administrators, demographics and textbooks used, among others.[4] Through these, they argue that the decentralization imposed by the Dayton Agreement has left education to the discretion of local governments, and thus perpetuates the ethnic divide in and out of school.[5] The text supports this evidence through an ethnographic based survey method – interviewing and underlining the ideas and answers posed in specified tables throughout the chapter. [6]

Though their scope is quite different, the two articles connect under a topical umbrella: institutional reform, both through internal and external forces in their respective areas. These articles thus form one of the “hammers” used to crack the core element of their narrative: reconciliation.[7] I intend to use both articles as a means of confirming the role of institutional reform in narrative development and as a guideline for examining other cases, as well as helping further flesh out this “core element” within identified social narratives.


[1] B. Baliqi, “The Aftermath of War Experiences on Kosovo’s Generation on the Move – Collective Memory and Ethnic Relations among Young Adults in Kosovo,” Zeitgeschichte 44, no. 1 (2017): 4.

[2] Ibid: 6.

[3] Ibid: 9.

[4] Sarah Freedman, “Public Education and social reconstruction in Bosnia-Herzegovina & Croatia” Chap. 11 My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocity, ed. Harvey Weinstein, vol. 1, 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 226.

[5] Ibid: 228.

[6] Ibid: 227.

[7] Shaul R. Shenhav, Analyzing Social Narratives (London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2015): 60, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970.

Research Portfolio Post #3: Philosophical Wagers

I understand the concept of ontology as the study of being, why we are here, and, as Abbott understands, a study of the social world through a variety of lenses. [1]Therefore, I thus understand methodology as how we go about studying and evaluating the social world and reality in general, also through a variety of lenses and overall experiences. Abbott understands it in a similar way, defining it as “the discipline of investigating methods,” which Abbott defines as a “set of standard procedures and assumptions for carrying out rigorous social analysis”, and therefore aligning ontology with methods relating to the social structure, and interactions we have with others, among many others.[2]

To emphasize this idea, Abbot first brings up ontology when he emphasizes the debate between the all-out rejection of cultural contexts (behaviorism) vs. the significance behavior related to culture contexts (culturalism) which are the essential foundations of analyzing our social structure. On the other spectrum, methodology would be less of a debate and more of a, well, method such as ethnography, standard causal analysis, historical narration, alongside many more ways of conducting our studies of the world around us.

Though these concepts do differ greatly, they are an essential part of building a strong research concept. Methodology gives you ways to navigate the social world, and in order to navigate that world, you naturally, as a subjective human being, utilize those ontological principles, which can greatly impact how you not only go about your method of study. With this opinion in mind, I would like to emphasize how we, as subjective beings, all view the world through some ontological preference. I personally believe that we cannot be, as researchers or as humans, objective viewers of the world and though we may be acutely aware of our biases, I do not believe it is possible for us to suspend our subjectivity for too long. My argument anchors itself in the core of realism, where our identities are well-defined aspects of our being both before and after we interact in the social world, and thus, are at the mercy of our biases, both conscious and unconscious. [3] Even when we are critical and acutely aware of our biases, we still present those biases through the points we find in research and through the paths we decide to take as researchers. This includes the methods we decide to use, the philosophies we decide to follow and even the sources we utilize in our research. Though I understand that there are objective truths in the world that we cannot contest, when we as human beings attempt to analyze these concepts, we bring in our own personal experiences and baggage along with it, leaving us to write with a persistent, albeit subtle, bias.

Because of my view, I believe that my research project will be thoroughly anchored in context and clarifications about where I am coming from as a researcher, which would include citing my own individual experiences with this topic if I have any at the time, as well as ensuring that I am not too generalized in my statements. Thus, I am more likely to gear toward more specific practices rather than more generalized principles and would probably avoid making as grand assumptions without backing it up with heaps of context first, which is quite natural for most researchers. Regarding my own topic relating to social narratives, it probably means I will be looking deeper into how a variety of different and quite individualized contexts create an interplay of narratives, rather than trying to classify certain narratives within a generalized social group in order to appease the varying contexts present.

Finally, speaking of narratives and social interplay, I do believe that we as researchers can study whatever we want, if we are able to thoroughly understand the context through which we are examining our topic. This means not only the context, and the culture but also the means by which we conduct our research. We are obviously limited by our abilities, and thus we need to practice and hone certain abilities in order to properly study a subject or culture. For example, I am not fluent in Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, and thus, cannot interpret the words and their contexts in a cultural setting. Thus I am going to have spend a while conducting surveys and ethnographic data within Bosnia-Herzegovina itself, in order to understand what these words mean and how they are interpreted in various social groups. Certain things will be harder to study than others, but if we are able to train our brains and eyes, I believe we do have the capability to have at least a foundation in any type of research we want, even if it does not have a mountain of empirical evidence surrounding it, I mean, at least not yet.

Ultimately, our study of the social world is limited by the methods we use, the lenses through which we conduct such a method, and finally our intellectual capabilities, which at times, we can eventually hone through practice, determination and will.


[1] Andrew Abbott, “Glossary,” in Methods of discovery: Heuristics for the social sciences,
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2004), 251.
[2] Abbott, Methods, 44.
[3] Abbott, Methods, 47.

RPP #2 – Meeting with the Faculty Mentor

I met with Dr. Robert Adcock on August 28, 2019, from 1 PM -1:35 PM and alongside introducing ourselves formally, we began our discussion regarding my research project. From the get-go, I outlined my goals, as well as some issues that I had been having regarding my initial project design. From there, Dr. Adcock and I discussed three options, or next steps forward, in order to mitigate the issues, I was having.

The first issue I had was with my original sources of empirical data. Previously, I thought I would utilize secondary school textbooks to study the varying linguistic patterns and how that would perpetuate ethnic division. However, the problem with that was I did not understand Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian, thus making interpretation difficult as well as leave me vulnerable to the bias of certain online translation systems. Furthermore, the sources would be difficult to obtain in a feasible amount of time, as they would most likely come from the Georg Eckert Institute, an organization that specifically studies and provides textbooks internationally. Thus, Dr. Adcock suggested the following three sources to investigate:

  1. NGO/U.N. Documents – since the United Nations did deploy a peacekeeping mission during the conflict, there must be reports, both individual and organizational, that would be valuable and accessible. Based on my research over the last week alone, I’ve not only procured the English transcript from the Dayton Agreement but have also obtained access to several summaries as well as scholarly interpretations of the agreement.[1] I believe that these resources will be valuable towards building a larger, outside narrative of the war built upon by government officials.
  2. Journalism – alongside government, there also needs to be a ground perspective as well. I plan to look deeper into journalists similar to Joe Sacco, as well as radio, television and newspapers within the country.
  3. Geospatial & Demographic Data – since I’ve been pretty set on interpretative documents, Dr.Adcock suggested I look deeper into neo positivist methods of research. He first suggested looking into what is called “death maps”, which are interactive map databases that certain NGOs have programmed in order to document civilian death counts in different regions which I hope to help find through geospatial technology here at AU. Furthermore, we discussed looking deeper into census data to see if any patterns had been emerging in certain cantons.

From this, we discussed the second issue I was having, which was determining the canton I would study. However, this was mitigated by the suggestion of other empirical sources of evidence, as mentioned above, and most likely I will look both geospatial, as well as historical documents, to see which area has had the most contentious history regarding resolution since the ceasefire. As of right now, I am particularly interested in Travnik, which as I mentioned in RPP #1, was an area that resisted the lifting of the school segregation, so I will begin to take a look at that area as well. Alongside this, Dr. Adcock also suggested I begin reading Analyzing Social Narratives by Shaul R. Shenhav, which he recommended as a good starting point before I begin examining other documents and searching for narrative development within them. [2]

Regarding any concerns, I really do not have any as of the moment, other than balancing my time in order to ensure that I focusing on my project alongside other schoolwork, as it can be quite captivating and thus time-consuming for the other classes that I regard equally as important, but I am sure that will come with time. Other than that, I look forward to the next steps of my project, which include finishing Shenhav’s book, visiting AU’s geospatial lab, looking deeper into the ‘what’ of my project, which I do have some ideas for that I look forward to presenting to Dr.Adcock at our next meeting on September 11, 2019.


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[1] “General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” opened for signature
21 November 1995, General Assembly & Security Council, 28, September 7,2019

[2] Shenhav, Shaul R. Analyzing Social Narratives. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2015. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/aul/detail.action?docID=2038970.

 

Research Portfolio Post #1: Research Interests

Avatar When I applied for Olson Scholars this past spring, my intention was to try and understand the rather general puzzle of narratives, and how they are created, perpetuated and altered over time. Specifically, I wondered, “how does somebody disappear?”, [1]as in, how do social as well as governmental narratives form to radically alter the documented ‘truth’ of an event or person? In that time, I discussed these alterations in the context of authoritarian regimes such as that of the Soviet Union and perhaps looking deeper into the past of more modern democracies such as Canada and the United States regarding the documentation of Native Americans, which are still incredibly enthralling projects which I thoroughly intend to explore someday in my future, but now, after meeting with my advisor this past week, have moved on to something different.

Though I do still wish to study the development of narratives and ‘disappearances’ I am now looking into a region I had not considered before: the former Yugoslavia, which came about after re-reading journalist Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Safe Area Goražde, where he documents his four months spent in Bosnia through 1995–96. The novel primarily uses interviews from people Sacco met to document certain aspects of the war, such as the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa. Overall, the novel is a great retelling of the war, and Sacco’s art truly emphasizes the brutality and shock of the event, but what particularly struck my inspiration regarding my topic area was a page entitled “Can you live with the Serbs again?”,[2] which culminated all of Sacco’s interviewees, who gave a variety of responses based their understandings and experiences, from the possibility of reconciliation, to none at all. From the page, I decided to take a deeper look into how the resolution was coming along since the Dayton agreement.

Looking deeper into the modern-day Yugoslavia, specifically Bosnia, I saw a peculiar, and I guess what I should now call “puzzle” in this reconciliation: the schools are segregated and have been since the agreement, despite a 2012 court ruling,[3] and even student protests in other cantons that it was indeed in violation of Bosnia’s anti-discrimination law. However, according to Bosnian Judicial law, the ruling is only binding on the immediate parties to the suit, and thus, the supreme court’s decision only applied to the schools in Mostar.[4] This means that in order to change the law across the Federation, Vaša Prava, the NGO who passed the law in Mostar, needs to bring strategic litigation in every canton, which it has attempted in another large canton known as Travnik, but failed upon the court’s claim that there had never been a complaint from parents against the policy. The court also cited language barriers between Croatian and Bosnian, despite the fact that two languages that are virtually identical,[5] as justification for the policy.

As a result, I want to understand why this is still present, and why there is a hesitancy towards changing these practices in other cantons. Not only that, I want to pick apart the differentiating narratives and understand how Mostar differs from the other regions, and hopefully uncover how it can be possible in other places, and even if it was a narrative shift at all that caused it. To understand this more deeply, I recognized that I also need to understand the narratives that the generations pass on to their children, specifically through pedagogical practices and even semiotics in schools. I initially wanted to utilize textbooks, but after a meeting with my advisor, Robert Adcock this past week, I will be looking into other sources of empirical evidence aside from historical accounts. These include more quantitative sources such as looking deeper into census data and demographics over the past few years, and potentially even death statistics surrounding those areas during the war through utilizing Geospatial technology, which as I have discovered, AU has a lab for. Alongside these, Dr. Adcock suggested that I additionally examine other forms of narrative evidence, such as speeches and legal documents from the Dayton agreement, as well as first hand ethnographies from journalists like Sacco to ensure that I have a clear narrative understanding across the different ethnic groups. Furthermore, Adcock suggested that I look deeper into the study of social rather than individual narratives, as the puzzle does relate more to the development of a more generalized narrative among large groups of people, rather than individual accounts and narratives, which I will be looking throughout the library for.

Beyond this course, I hope to carry this project into more cantons aside from the one I ultimately focus on and see if I can do a cross-comparison from different cantons on how their narratives compare throughout the country. I’d also like to further my study of narratives in my country of study, Russia, and understand how these findings can influence the overall education of the children of a variety of areas. Overall, I would like to further my overall understanding of narratives and utilize this project as sort of a springboard into more complex forms of identifying and understanding their formation. When I go to Russia, I’d like to see if I can bring better understanding into the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya, as well as Russia, to see how such things changed once Putin got into power, and what past and present narratives are driving those contentions, and seeing how we can help alter them without interfering too much with the present culture of the people living there, which many scholars have made the mistake of assuming throughout my research of this puzzle in the summer.

Apart from my own interests, a greater understanding of social narrative and how it influences our decisions can be utilized in many aspects of our lives, not just related to education, but also in interpreting and identifying the rhetoric of politicians and of our society as a whole. If we understand how narratives form at such a large level, we can better understand how to change and alter them at an individual level. Overall, we can better ensure that we are teaching from a perspective of truth, however that may be defined, which is a whole other issue in it of itself that I hope to understand through my exploration of narratives.

I greatly look forward to this semester and cannot wait to update you on my research journey next week!


[1] Tristen, Koffink. “Koffink_Olson Scholars Application” American University, 2019
[2] Joe, Sacco. Safe Area Gorazde, 12. (Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2000),  161-162
[3] Ari Ruffer. ““Two Schools Under One Roof”: School Segregation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,”
Columbia Journal of Transnational Law ,  (2013)
[4] Katie Engelhart. “Bosnia-Herzegovina Court Orders End to Ethnic Segregation of Schoolchildren,”
Vice, 2014.
[5] T.J. “Is Serbo-Croatian a Language?” The Economist, April 10, 2017.