Monroe Blog 4: And so it ends

Final blog time!


Conducting research this summer has been a difficult and endlessly rewarding process. I have learned more than I can possibly articulate in a single blog post on an academic level. Personally, I found more rewarding the learning I did on the way that I learn, the way that I tackle problems, and the way that my mind seems to process data.


Perhaps not surprisingly, I had some of my greatest revelations on this project while in the shower. Something I found absolutely fascinating this summer was how I could spend an hour drawing squiggly line diagrams, reading and rereading articles, trying to map out some kind of causal mechanism – and nothing would become any more clear. I would let it sit for a day, take a shower, and suddenly a light would go on – there would be the link I had missed before – and another small piece of my paper would fall into place.


That’s not to say that it was ever truly easy. I struggled with chunks of my research – mathematical modeling is a real challenge for me to read, and simplifying it to be legible and usable is still harder – but I am so glad that I got the chance to take on that struggle, and produce my final product.


I did, however, bite off a bit more than I could chew.


As it turns out, finding data that addresses radicalization is difficult. As I discuss in greater detail in my paper, it is incredibly difficult to assess or quantify counterfactuals. Although I had originally intended to try to develop a database of social and economic indicators that I could use to quantify and test my theories, I ultimately decided against doing so – at least for the immediate future. I would love to continue to develop this database after the completion of my paper – I am absolutely fascinated by the material, and (as it turns out) really enjoy quantitative analysis. That will be my next step on this project following the completion of the first draft of the paper.


I had also originally intended to discuss the case of Caucus extremist groups. I conducted research on these groups in early 2014, while working in DC, in order to write a brief piece on the security threats posed to the Sochi Olympic Games following several bombings throughout Russia. The case fascinated me for a variety of reasons. For starters, it was so fundamentally different from IS – the group was significantly smaller, with a regional goal of ousting Putin and relatively few territorial ambitions. Unlike IS, which was operating as an army, these groups had conducted several bombings of soft targets. Further, the groups had begun to adopt the strategy of using women as key operatives and as suicide bombers – in an attempt to capitalize on the lack of suspicion cast upon women in Eastern Europe.


I was fascinated by the case, but decided to forgo it in favor of delving deeper into the IS case as it continued to develop. Militancy in the Caucus region has largely fallen off the radar in recent months, reducing its immediate relevance. Nevertheless, I also aim to continue to develop my understanding of that case – and to expand my paper with a second qualitative case study – in the coming weeks.


In short: I’m not quite finished studying radicalization yet.


I am so grateful to the Charles Center for this opportunity, and look forward to continuing to develop my understanding of these issues long after the formal research closes.


Here’s to senior year.