A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Researcher Spotlight: Erica Chenoweth

As an intern here at START's headquarters, I'm surrounded by an abundance of highly qualified and intelligent professionals who are committed to studying terrorism research in many forms. But those friendly faces that I encounter on a regular basis are not all that makes up START; START supports research efforts of social scientists at more than 50 academic and research institutions across the country and around the world. So, it is quite difficult to learn more about a member of START's team when they are living in another state, or even another country. Erica Chenoweth

Take Erica Chenoweth for example: this Ohio native now resides in Denver, where this summer she will become Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

Previously she has been an Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University, as well as the director of the Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research, which she established in 2008. She teaches courses on international relations, terrorism, civil war and contemporary warfare as Wesleyan. On top of that, she is also the lead investigator on a one of START's many projects and is in the process of writing two books regarding democracy and terrorism. Chenoweth grew up with a passion for science, music and history.

She double-majored in political science and German at the University of Dayton and then went on to the University of Colorado where she earned both her master's and doctorate in political science. With a strong background in the theory and practice of politics, Chenoweth always knew she wanted to study political violence in some capacity, but the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania was where her interest in terrorism studies peaked.

How did you first hear about START and what sparked your interest to become involved? I first heard about START from Kathleen Tierney, a sociologist at the University of Colorado who was then a START investigator. I was working on a project with my mentor, Susan Clarke, on local homeland security initiatives, and we had some contact with Professor Tierney who was doing similar work through her Natural Hazards Center. She is the one who brought START's postdoctoral fellowship to my attention and encouraged me to apply, and with my interest in terrorism, I decided to look further into this opportunity.

I began working for START as a postdoctoral fellow in 2007. During that year, I conducted fieldwork in Europe related to my doctoral dissertation, which examined terrorist groups in democratic countries. Since 2008, I have been a lead investigator on a project with Laura Dugan. Our project collects and analyzes data on national counterterrorism tactics in a number of countries.

As a researcher, what would you say the typical day for you is like? I spend a lot of time corresponding with Laura about the various decisions we need to make about research design, coding, source materials and programming issues with the software we are using to analyze counterterrorism tactics. At this stage, we have data for five countries, so we have been spending a lot of time writing up the results and trying to hit deadlines for various writing commitments.

We both do a great deal of presenting, both at academic conferences and policy venues. We are also beginning the next phase of our research this summer, so we are confronting a variety of challenges with which sources to use and how best to analyze them. As soon as we make those decisions and do some initial testing of our coding scheme, much of my time will be devoted to training and overseeing the research assistants whom we task with coding the data. And, of course, I teach!

Can you tell me a little more about the projects and research you are working on? Currently, I am completing a book based on my dissertation research called Why Democracy Encourages Terrorism. The book explores the reasons why terrorism is so common in democratic countries and offers some potential responses. I am also writing a textbook on terrorism for Oxford University Press. I am also working with START researcher Joe Young on a book that investigates how terrorism affects democracy.

We find that despite warnings about the fact that terrorists want to destroy democracy, most democracies are extremely resilient to terrorist violence, so such worries are generally misplaced. Laura and I will be extending our study of counterterrorism tactics to seven more countries, one of which will be the United States. With these data, we will be able to better grasp which tactics reduce or increase terrorist attacks.

Finally, I am engaged in several long-term projects on nonviolent resistance. Extending the research from my book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict-- with Maria Stephan of the U.S. State Department-- I am completing one phase of data collection, which explores the internal workings of violent insurgencies as well as nonviolent mass campaigns. These data will help us to better understand the dynamics that lead campaigns to select one method of resistance (nonviolent, violent, or mixed) over others.

I have also launched data collection of nonviolent and violent events during the Arab Spring. Eventually, I'd like to have data for all countries in the world from 1989-2011. I've applied for a number of grants to support this research and am waiting to see what happens.

Have you earned any special awards or recognition for your work? My book with Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works, has received some critical acclaim. In the Guardian, Steven Pinker recognized it as a Best Book of 2011, and Sir Adam Roberts identified it as one of the five best books on nonviolence in The Browser. It has also been nominated for numerous scholarly awards. We'll see what happens. I was also the 2010 recipient of the Carol A. Baker Memorial Prize, which recognizes excellence in junior faculty teaching and research at Wesleyan.

In what direction do you hope to see START progress as a leading organization in research and terrorism studies? I think START provides an essential bridge between academics and the students, policymakers, and other audiences that want to know the state of the art in terrorism and counterterrorism research. In terms of future directions, I hope START continues with its current research programs and its educational mission. START-educated students tend to possess comprehensive knowledge about terrorism and counterterrorism, combining empirical information with reasoned analysis?and without as much emotionalism as currently affects many policy debates. This is all to the better and I hope it continues.

-- The Researcher Spotlight is a monthly Q&A series designed to profile START researchers and staff for their accomplishments and personal journey to the field of terrorism studies. To nominate consortium researchers or staff members for consideration, email infostart@start.umd.edu with Researcher Spotlight Suggestion in the subject line.




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