Research Methodology

I have been preoccupied with methodological problems in the study of nation-building for many years. My first contribution, “Methodological Problems in the Study of Nation-Building: Behaviorism and Historicist Solutions in Political Science,” appeared in a special issue on Nationalism which was published in Social Science Quarterly. In the article, I discussed the methodological problems that flow from the following practices in social science research: i) inferring intentions from observing behavior or outcomes; ii) relying on census data; iii) arbitrary selection of time horizons; and iv) attributing certain actions to concepts and/or phenomena that were not politically salient or even understood by the actors under study. In each section, I use empirical examples from my work in the Balkans to illustrate the methodological pitfalls that may result from these practices and suggest strategies to overcome these difficulties.

Methodological challenges in the study of stateless nationalist territorial claims” was published in Territory, Politics, Governance, a political geography journal. This article draws attention to the analytical distinction between the origin of territorial claims and their consequent changes. Building on this distinction, it also demonstrates the advantages of using a multidimensional understanding of change in territorial claims focusing on its timing, direction, and process. Then it turns to a discussion highlighting the tradeoffs in the choice of the unit of analysis as well as common problems in case selection, i.e., unjustifiable asynchronous comparisons and anachronism. The article concludes by laying out a roadmap for future research in this area.

In another methodologically motivated piece published in Nations and Nationalism I argue that we should distinguish between actual and manufactured legacies—that are actually the result of geostrategic choices by the various governments rather than some form of legacy. The empirical example I use to illustrate my point is the Ottoman era millet system (self-administration of groups defined by religious affiliation). In particular, I take issue with the contention that the millet system has produced a legacy that accounts for the nation-building policies established by the Balkan nations’ ruling elites. I argue that the persistence of certain features from one period to another may be an actual legacy in some cases, but there is also a possibility that we are dealing with a manufactured legacy, where elites choose to intervene and perpetuate an institution or a particular feature of it. I empirically demonstrate this distinction in a crucial case using archival sources.

Finally, I recently participated in an “Exchange on the quantitative measurement of ethnic and national identity” with Daniel Bochsler, Elliott Green, Erin Jenne, and Andreas Wimmer published in Nations and Nationalism. In this exchange, we discussed the noticeable increase in the use of quantitative techniques in the study of ethnicity and nationalism and reflect on how these techniques have contributed to our understanding of ethnic and national identities. We also explored the degree to which it is possible to use quantitative data to measure ethnic and national identities, which types of methods are most suitable in measuring these identities and what the major research findings of this quantitative research are that were not possible using qualitative approaches.

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