“It’s part of the Pioneer process to help each other out, to be part of the Pioneer community that is basically a community of scholars from all over the world.”
Pioneer scholar Durga’s research topic on ethnic conflict started, in a way, at home. A native of Bangalore, India, Durga says that ethnic conflicts are a way of life in her country. “If I were to just flip through a newspaper, it isn’t very rare that I would come across news where there’s conflict and there’s riots in this country,” she says. And, as she grew old enough to think about such things, “I wanted to know how these things could get solved, and why are they happening in the first place.” She used her Pioneer Research Program to explore how ethnic conflicts can be solved through civil society, and how different actors propel the peace mechanism in South Asian post-conflict societies.
Using the tools of research was not a new experience for Durga. As a poet, she has been doing it instinctively for years. One of her interests in writing poetry is finding the connections between themes or characters from different works from different periods. For instance, Antigone from the ancient Greek work and Stella from the post-modern “A Streetcar Named Desire” are, she says, dealing with similar problems.
“There are some questions that bother me at the back of my head,” says Durga, and they are always present when she is studying, reading, eating—always waiting to be illuminated by a new connection. “William Faulkner might have dealt with identity crisis in the American deep south,” she says, but the way he dealt with it can shed new light on her interest in ethnic conflict in South Asia. Her interest in literature “broadens my perspective.”
Durga learned about Pioneer at her school, where she could talk with the counselor and with other Pioneer alumni. But, not surprisingly, as part of engaging in the application process, Durga did her own research, reading many papers in the Pioneer Research Journal. She found many that were related to her own interests, and appreciated the academic rigor behind all that she read.
When it came time to refine her own research topic, Durga took a critical look at other articles on ethnic conflict, evaluating the concepts, arguments, and theories of the researchers and trying to assess how her own ideas and arguments measured up to what had already been written. She started with researching a case study of Sri Lanka, but found that it had already been so well researched that she needed to add something so her paper would have a new perspective to offer. She convinced her professor that adding Afghanistan, even though it was not part of the recommended list, would add an important dimension. By comparing two very different situations, she was able to look at the roles and impact of different actors and of civil society in general.
Durga will be continuing her studies at a dual degree program between Columbia University in New York and Sciences Po in France, beginning with political science, sociology, economics, and the intersection of the three. Her Pioneer experience has provided her with questions she is eager to explore.