Within the broad umbrella of conflict geography my research and writing since joining UCLA has focused on the following three themes:
In recent years peacebuilding researchers have increasingly recognized the need to develop a richer understanding of how international peacebuilding interventions are implemented and experienced on the ground by local communities, and better explain spatial and temporal variations in peacebuilding success and failure within countries.
I address both of these topics in the book Peacebuilding in practice: Local experience in two Bosnian towns (Cornell University Press, 2013). In it I analyze the strikingly different postwar trajectories of two ethnically mixed Bosnian towns that have been the focus of peacebuilding efforts in the country: 1) the Brčko District, where peacebuilding has been relatively successful, and 2) the city of Mostar, which remains ethnically divided and politically dysfunctional. Drawing on nearly two years of fieldwork in these two cities I identify a conjunction of four key factors that account for this divergence in peacebuilding outcomes: The design of political institutions, sequencing of economic and political reforms, distinct wartime legacies, and the development–or lack thereof–of effective relationships between local elites and international officials operating in the two cities. I also offer several recommendations for rethinking the practice of peacebuilding interventions based upon this research.
Peacebuilding in practice received the 2014 Julian Minghi Distinguished Book Award from the Political Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers.
In addition to postwar peacebuilding, my research in Bosnia also examines the dynamics of ethnic conflict. One article, “The eventfulness of social reproduction”, was published in the journal Sociological Theory in 2011. In it I construct a novel theoretical approach to the sociological concept of events by demonstrating that they may be constitutive of not just social transformation, as is commonly asserted, but also reproduction. Moreover, tying events solely to instances of structural transformation entails problematic theoretical assumptions about stability and change and produces a circumscribed field of events, undercutting the goal of developing an “eventful” account of social life. Finally, I demonstrate that affect and narrative provide a solid basis upon which it is possible to distinguish eventful from ordinary happenings. I develop this argument through a close examination of an eruption of ethnically-directed violence in the Bosnian city of Mostar in 2007. A copy of the article can be found here.
A second article, “Ethno-territoriality and ethnic conflict”, was published in the journal Geographical Review in 2016. Ethno-territoriality is an increasingly invoked term by those doing research on nationalism and ethnic conflict. Despite this it has not been subject to detailed definitional and conceptual examination. This article rectifies this by oversight by offering a conceptual framework for analyzing the relationship between ethno-territoriality and ethnic conflict. I do this by developing a four part typology of ethno-territorial practices—discursive, embodied, material and institutional—and describing the roles that these practices play in the making of ethnic conflict. A copy of the article can be found here.
Military contracting and military labor
My newest research agenda examines the dynamics and effects of U.S. military contracting, with a focus on logistics outsourcing and the global army of labor that supports overseas military operations. Over the past 20 years the U.S. has relied upon hundreds of thousands of workers from around the world to assist operations in the Balkans, Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa. The scale of this phenomenon is extraordinary. In the three largest overseas contingency operations in the past two decades—the peacekeeping missions in the Balkans [Bosnia and Kosovo], and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—the number of contractors has been roughly equal to or greater than the number of uniformed personnel in the theaters of operation. Put simply, the U.S. is now dependent upon contract workers to fight its wars.
To date attention has centered on private security companies like Triple Canopy and Blackwater. However, the vast majority of those employed have worked for firms like Fluor, DynCorp and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), which provide logistical services under Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contracts. This work includes but is not limited to the construction, maintenance and operation of in-theater military bases, equipment maintenance, transportation, food service, and supply-chain management. My ongoing research explores the ways in which military contracting is impacting the conduct and effects of war, with a focus on logistics outsourcing and the experiences of what the U.S. military refers to as “Third Country National” (TCN) workers. TCNs are neither U.S. citizens nor local labors, but workers recruited from countries as diverse as Bosnia, Macedonia, Turkey, the Philippines, India, Uganda, Kenya, Nepal, England, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
I have a book on this topic titled, Empire’s labor: The global army that supports the U.S.’s overseas wars, that will be published with Cornell University Press next year. Supported by funding from UCLA, including a Hellman fellowship, it draws on interviews with roughly eighty current and former workers from Bosnia, Macedonia, and the Philippines—interviews that in many cases included family members—as well as interviews with recruiters and government officials in Bosnia and the Philippines conducted between 2013 and 2015.
This book has four broad goals: First, to trace the development and practice of logistics outsourcing by the U.S. military over the past two decades, and situate it within the broader context of government contracting trends in the fields of defense and intelligence. Second, to illuminate the immense work involved in sustaining the U.S.’s overseas military empire. Third, to trace the routes and labor supply chains traversed by the military’s global workforce, as well as the specific histories and present day politics that shape them. Finally, to give voice to the agency, aspirations and experiences of those who labor for the military—focusing specifically on foreign logistics workers.
In addition to this book project I have written two articles on military contracting. The first, titled “U.S. military logistics outsourcing and the everywhere of war” (published in Territory, Politics, Governance), details the ways in which logistics contracting has reshaped the spatiality of war by generating geopolitical and geo-economic entanglements, the effects of which extend well beyond the immediate spaces of violence. These entanglements profoundly impact economic livelihoods, politics, and social relations in numerous communities and states around the world that are not directly involved in the U.S.’s various wars and military operations. The paper develops this argument through the examination of three specific entanglements: 1) logistics subcontracting and exploitation of a largely South and Southeast Asian subcontracting workforce that is fueled by inadequate military oversight and the down-sourcing of risk, 2) the geopolitics of contractor deaths, travel bans and troop withdrawals instituted by labor exporting countries like the Philippines, and 3) the duality of prosperity and precarity experienced by Bosnians who have worked for U.S. military logistics contractors over the past two decades. A copy of the final draft of the article can be found here.
The second article, “Tracing the U.S. military’s presence in Africa”, was written with James Walker and published in Geopolitics. It utilizes information gleaned from logistics and surveillance contracts and contractors to detail the U.S. military’s growing operational presence in Africa over the past 15 years. Knowledge of the extent and aims of U.S. military activities in Africa remains murky, especially when compared to other regions such as the Middle East and Europe, due in large part to the extensive use of private military contractors (PMCs), covert special operations forces (SOF) and secret facilities. This article describes methods used in the production of, to borrow a phrase from Eyal Weizman, a “forensic gaze” that traces the military’s presence on the continent—methods that may prove useful for examining operations elsewhere in the world—and then presents three case studies: the first compares the composition and geographies of manned and unmanned aerial surveillance assemblages, the second details logistics infrastructures and the military’s use of contractors to develop logistical capabilities across the continent, the third examines growing counterterrorism entanglements in West Africa. It concludes with some observations concerning the divergence between purported aims and the focus and outcomes of the U.S. military’s presence in Africa. A copy of the final draft of the article can be found here.