iCare: Research Replication and the Binghamton Standard

It is no secret that we are doing great research at Binghamton University and within the College of Community and Public Affairs. We are looking at local impacts on hydraulic fracturing, race based educational disparities, and, of course, all of the amazing work that we are doing with the Broome County Promise Zone. One of the issues to consider when conducting research is its replicability: can another research team employ your protocols and yield similar results?

I conducted a social work study in partnership with UHS Wilson Hospital (that is currently in press) with my interdisciplinary colleagues from UHS and BU: Shawn Berkowitz, MD, Kris Marks, MSW, Paul Gould, PhD and Gary James, PhD regarding the prevention of re-hospitalization within thirty days. As the Affordable Care Act focuses on the quality of care patients receive, there are some cases in which hospital readmissions within thirty days are seen as a failure of the institution and therefore hospitals will not receive payment for these subsequent hospital stays. This puts hospitals under enormous pressure to limit the thirty day readmission rate. Through a randomized control trial, we were able to provide a social work student to patients at discharge who were at moderate to high risk for re-hospitalization and fifty years of age or older and asked them if they wanted to participate in a social work intervention. Our eighty nine participants divided almost equally between the experimental and control group. The experimental group received the social work intervention, including support to the patient in understanding their treatment plans and providing them with help negotiating after care, for thirty days prior to discharge. The results were that there were only eight readmissions within the thirty day window, all of whom came from the control group (http://usat.ly/1wezd5w).

I was approached by University of South Carolina, who secured a $20,000. planning grant and asked me to be a consultant in the development of a larger grant proposal related to our work in Binghamton. This planning grant is being used in the attempt to secure a 1.5 million dollar grant to develop and implement an interdisciplinary team of professionals to replicate and expand the intervention we implemented in Binghamton on a larger scale, over a longer period of time and with a larger range of interprofessional colleagues. In March, I traveled to Columbia, SC to meet with the research team, led by Teri Browne, MSW, PhD regarding the structure of their intervention and considerations. The University of South Carolina team is developing an interprofessional intervention that consists of social workers, nurses, public health administrators, physical therapists, pharmacists, and communication disorder specialists under their initiative of iCare, which stands for Interprofessional Collaborative for Avoiding Readmissions through Education. Represented in their list of participants are professors, program directors, doctoral students, deans, and community partners who are all working toward a common goal: the reduction of hospital readmissions within thirty days of discharge. Though certainly there is an economic value to this research, as this has the potential to save hospitals a lot of money, as well as creating employment and educational opportunities, there is also an increase in agency and quality of life of the patient.

As the Dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs, it was refreshing and fun to put on my researcher hat for 1 ½ days as I collaborated with this interdisciplinary team of professionals from USC. I was also able to use my administrator hat and assist the team with developing a plan that speaks to the needs and goals of the institution. How is this project that they are undertaking going to showcase their university and the work that they are doing there? In what ways are they able to measure impact in their instruction in addition to their community engaged efforts including workforce development? It is exciting to have your work replicated on a larger, more dimensional scale and to be a part of it. The 22-person collaborative research team at iCare, of which I am proudly a part, has the capacity to improve health outcomes for people in Columbia, South Carolina, and to test a model that began in Binghamton and which can be replicated nationwide. From Johnson City, NY to Columbia, South Carolina, and beyond!

Dean Laura Bronstein

College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University

Collaborating with MPA Alum Arsen Stepanyan in Armenia

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with MPA alum, Arsen Stepanyan (MPA 2014) in Yerevan, Armenia. The trip was made possible through the support of Muskie Mentor/Advisor Exchange (MAX) Program, funded by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and implemented by IREX (International Research & Exchanges Board), Save the Children International’s Armenia Country Office and the Department of Public Administration at Yerevan State University. While Arsen was a student in the MPA program, we immediately hit it off and saw common interests. Arsen came into the program with many years of working in international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). During his time at CCPA, we spent afternoons in my office talking about topics from civil society legislation to NGO advocacy. Since he has graduated, we have keep up the communication and always intended to find ways to continue to work together.


Arsen is the Country Director for Save the Children. Save the Children has been working in Armenia for 20 years, delivering more than $50 million in relief and development programs to the most vulnerable children and their families. Save the Children focuses on health, education and social initiatives to improve basic conditions of the poorest populations in Armenia. It seeks to engage in community-based projects and capacity building of local partners and institutions.

Arsen being interviewed by Radio Liberty about NGO legislation in Armenia at the  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), March 25, 2015
Arsen being interviewed by Radio Liberty about NGO legislation in Armenia at the The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), March 25, 2015

My trip to Armenia was my first time in the country; and it was busy! Arsen planned talks, workshops, meetings, and cultural events in the capital city of Yerevan, where he is based. I visited two universities. At each university I gave a short talk titled “Issues of government and civil society interaction: Role of nonprofit managers.” The first was a Slavonic University. When I walked into the university building, it was during a 20 minute break in between classes and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville was blasting; this definitely made me smile. I spoke to a group of about 35 students packed into a small, but functional room. I liked Arsen’s strategy to this talk—these are language majors with seriously strong English skills and they were considering diplomacy work as careers in Armenia. He wants to snag them into the nonprofit sector. Prior to visiting Slavonic University, Arsen had described to me that he wanted more well-trained, and yes idealistic, nonprofit leaders who could rise up to be strong middle management in an organization like Save the Children. Students had great questions and might even had been convinced that public service in NGOs is a good option—and perhaps even consider coming to Binghamton’s MPA program.

At the second university, Yerevan State University, I met with the Director of its International Office and faculty from its MPA program. There, I gave the talk to about 40 students—both undergraduate and MPA students. Again, I was able to share information about Binghamton’s MPA program. Like Binghamton, Yerevan State University is also internationalizing. I spoke with faculty and students information about CCPA’s international research, highlighting our in-house international programs which include service learning and language immersion in Cusco, Peru; the study of contemporary China in Shenzhen, China and as well as developing programs for faculty and student exchanges in Colombia and Turkey.

Arsen and I also conducted two workshops. At The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we gave a workshop titled: “CSO legislation reform: Implications for international, humanitarian and social service organizations.” This was a great conversation among Armenian and international NGOs as well as UN agencies. In addition, we convened a group of Armenia NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation for a workshop titled “Developing CSO coalitions and networks (federations) for NGO legislation reform.” The workshop spurred a meaningful discussion among colleagues working in the NGO sector in Armenia. At the end of the workshop, a plan for a next meeting was set up to continue the conversation.

Arsen speaking to his fellow NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation March 25, 2015
Arsen speaking to his fellow NGO professionals at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation March 25, 2015

In addition to these events, I had the opportunity to meet many new colleagues. I met the Peace Corps Armenia Country Director and the Community and Youth Development Program Officer for coffee with Arsen. At the meeting, Arsen proposed many ideas to promote nonprofit leadership and a culture of volunteerism in Armenia. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer myself (Macadonia 2001; Bolivia 2002-2004), it was great to hear about what Peace Corps Armenia is doing with its Armenian counterparts—developing a culture of volunteerism was included and this was especially of interest to Arsen. In addition, I met Zhanna Harutyunyan (MPA graduate 2012). I had never met Zhanna but my colleagues here at CCPA have often spoken about her and her energy. Now I know why! She is doing amazing work at the United Nations Development Program as a Project Expert. Traveling often to the rural areas of Armenia, she is building capacity in women community leadership and encouraging women to run for local government office. She reminisced about her time at Binghamton, smiling about her fellow MPA students there and reflected on her fond memories of the coursework in the MPA program. This was really nice to hear. Arsen also, in many of our public speaking events, noted how enriched his career is as a result of the the Binghamton MPA program. He highlighted the program’s ability to take theory into practice in almost all of his classes—from the decision making associated with the Philanthropy Incubator classes to analyzing local government budgets in our Budgeting and Financial Management course. He highlighted that Binghamton MPA students are constantly in the field gaining skills and competencies to complement what is done the classroom.

In addition to these wonderful professional exchanges, I of course was exposed to Armenia. When Arsen was off being a nonprofit leader, he paired me up with a smart, helpful undergraduate volunteer for Save the Children. Mane Hovhannisyan, a linguistic major, accompanied me to almost all events, took pictures, translated for me when needed (often!), and even helped me pick out a gift for my sister and a rug for a friend!! She was a wonderful addition to my week. One of the cultural highlights was when I went to see with Mane the Armenian opera, Anoush, at the Armenian National Opera Theater.

I can report that my trip to Armenia was both professionally and personally rewarding. First, I saw our alum, Arsen Stepanyan, in his element. He has become a true nonprofit sector leader in Armenia, engaging his colleagues in sector reflection and pushing the sector to advocate for itself and the people it serves. Seeing our alum so closely ‘in the field’ makes me want to visit all of our alum! From down the street in Binghamton to Colombia and Armenia, I have been able to see what great work they are doing and hope to have the opportunity to visit many more. In addition, as a researcher who often focuses on Latin America;  going to Armenia indeed broadened my perspective on issues facing NGOs. NGO leaders in all contexts are working hard to better explain their role in social development. Not only was I able to share experiences from Latin America; but I too was able to learn from the experiences of Arsen and his colleagues. Just like when I return from Latin America after working with NGOs there, having returned Armenia, I am inspired by the work, commitment, and leadership of NGO leaders like Arsen and his colleagues.

Many thanks to Arsen for a wonderful week of collaboration! I look forward to working more with Arsen, with NGOs leaders from Armenia and beyond, and with further MPA alum!

In solidarity, Susan Appe

Assistant Professor
Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs


Interdisciplinary Research and the Community and Public Affairs Doctoral Program

Researchers are challenged to address some of our nation’s most critical social issues such as drug abuse, educational inequalities, healthcare access, and mental health stigma. No one discipline can research these complex issues effectively if done isolation. The combined knowledge and skills of researchers from multiple disciplines as members of research teams, however, generates new ways of thinking, helps develop stronger research questions, and assists with the dissemination and translation of research findings across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Although interdisciplinary research is increasingly encouraged, one of the greatest challenges to interdisciplinary research is distinguishing it from related types of research. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary are often used incorrectly and interchangeably; when clearly defined, these terms more accurately represent a continuum of research. Multidisciplinary research draws on theories and methods from other disciplines, but remains within traditional disciplinary boundaries. Interdisciplinary research, however, can be distinguished based on its purposeful integration of ideas across two or more disciplines to create a new and holistic understanding of complex social issues. Too often researchers promote their work as interdisciplinary when it is more accurately multidisciplinary. A key question to distinguish multi- from inter- disciplinary research is whether the research would be different or suffer if a member of the research team from another discipline left the table. If the answer is no, the research is not really interdisciplinary. My own research, for example, on the role of multiparty collaboration in expanded school mental health could not continue without the expertise and skills from highly respected interdisciplinary scholars from education, mental health, and policy who have deep experience studying collaboration from a range of methodological and theoretical perspectives.

Our new doctoral program in Community and Public Affairs (CPA) aims to prepare students for interdisciplinary research. With a commitment to advancing research on complex social problems, our program intentionally recruits and admits students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds so that every class serves as workshop for learning how to do interdisciplinary research. Our curriculum draws from varied disciplines (e.g., anthropology, demography, criminology, geography, sociology, and psychology) as well as professions (e.g., counseling, human development, public administration, student affairs administration, social work) to research the dynamic interplay among individuals, the organizations serving them, and the institutions in which they are embedded. In a recent Issues, Dilemmas, and Ethics in Social Systems class, for example, students were working together to integrate theories from sociology and psychology as a framework for exploring inequalities in public education. Our program guides students to conceptualize their research topics by integrating theories across two or more disciplines to create holistic frameworks for researching social issues facing individuals, organizations, and institutions.

Varied approaches to research, reflecting both traditional (e.g., survey) and emerging (e.g., social network analysis) methods as well as the importance of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies, are also a focus of our program. Students are encouraged to collaborate with faculty across the college and university to support the development of interdisciplinary and methodologically rigorous research. One of our current students, for example, is integrating theories from criminology and psychology along with methods from geography to research campus violence. Graduates of the CPA doctoral program are trained for careers in a variety of settings including academia, research foundations, government, and nonprofit organizations where they will be leaders in advancing authentic interdisciplinary research.

Elizabeth A. Mellin, PhD, LPC

Associate Professor

PhD Program Director

College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University

Life-Writing 101: How to “Show, Don’t Tell”

Life-Writing is 8 weeks of deeply engaging written and oral life review. Participants are given a series of prompts that guide them through their life story in a specialized manner, integrating unresolved parts of their life experience. In the process of learning to Life-Write, they are taught to Show, don’t tell. To glimpse the process, read the following narrative:

I am in the spacious den of a warm, affluent, married couple – a tall, dark, healthy African man of about 70 or so years and his same-age wife, an elegant and sophisticated European woman. They are equals. I am at their home and they are relaxing – dressed in comfortable lounging clothes. We are new to each other, but we know each other somehow as we move easily about the space. I am in their home with free access and a sense of their complete and open generosity toward me. Then we are in a car and hungry. I have some unshucked corn on the cob. We all have some. I have a few ears left – put back and away, because I have no idea where I will get my next meal. The wife asks for more. I look through what I have, three ears, I believe, and select the best for her, which in the end are the last two ears, because one is no good while the two selected still have a few good kernels on them, the rest not properly formed. Living in the moment, I let the last two ears of corn go to where they are needed. Then I sense the older man paying attention to this, and that it was a test to see whether I would share my last.   The woman is enjoying the corn, as the man’s hand comes to rest on my right knee. His hand is warm and reassuring – resting completely there as if we are one. We are being chauffeured. I am flanked by them. She is sitting to my left and he is sitting to my right. She is wearing a cream colored dress made of a lined sheer flowing fabric that falls in soft layers comfortably toward her body. She rests comfortably in the seat with her legs together and touching mine. She is subtly and beautifully jeweled, unpretentious. I feel these are the most genuine people, as rich in their shared level of human development as in their material life. Spirits in bodies. Alive. Everything about them is elegant. He is wearing the finest black suit – the rich black wool lays against him begging to be touched – a gleaming white shirt and a narrow black tie. He is a strong, healthy, comfortably elegant, uninhibited, warm older man – an absolute match to his wife, clearly of many years. They are a couple, easy with each other, unhurried. We are all sitting comfortably close together in the back seat of this car, as if we are deeply connected friends. They are larger than I am, but not so much. I never quite see the white woman’s face, but his is dark and smooth and just a little largish. I watch his mouth move as he talks with his wife, responding to something she must have said. My face is right next to his, and I just let my eyes take him in, the pink lining of his dark lips as they move, his glistening teeth, his clear white eyes, the absolute health in his face. I let my eyes rest on him, taking him in.

What is your interpretation of the narrative (a dream)? Stop and think about it before you read the next line.

Now that you have considered what this dream may have meant, I ask you, “Did I tell you that?” No, I simply showed you the dream by narrating it. Nothing offers up the nuances of meaning as well as a story does, thus we rely heavily on story in the Life-Writing process. If Life-Writers do this – show, don’t tell – they find themselves inside the experience again as they write, and in touch again with the corresponding emotions they must transfer to the page.

Myra Sabir, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Department of Human Development

Struggling with Sustainability, Some Small Cities Shine

Flush a toilet in South Daytona, Florida (pop. 12,252) and the waste comes back to you to water your lawn. The small city, only three square miles in size, acts big in terms of sustainability as it faces a major challenge – providing safe drinking water to a rapidly growing population. Water conservation is increasingly commonplace in many American cities, but South Daytona goes a step further. Every day, the city buys millions of gallons of reclaimed sewage water from a neighboring municipality. Formerly, the sewage was just dumped into the ocean. Now, after being highly treated, the water is pumped through a second network of water pipes that snakes back around the city. The water is not for drinking, but can be used by residential and business customers for landscape irrigation. Property owners pay for the service just as they would any utility.

This and other sustainability efforts by places such as South Daytona often go unnoticed by the mainstream media and most Americans. The attention is often focused on the sustainability successes of the biggest American cities. While important, these do not tell the whole story. More than half of Americans live in smaller cities, suburban towns, or rural communities, which face enormous political, fiscal, and technical challenges when they seek to protect the environment. Many of those, such as South Daytona, Florida, are defying the odds and finding that sustainability can be both environmentally and economically successful.

Another aggressive community is Columbus, Wisconsin (pop 4,991). In 2007, when Boyd Kraemer (now retired) came on board as city administrator, he was charged with turning around a largely moribund local economy. The city applied for and received a $40,000 sustainability grant, which Kraemer used to fund a new sustainability director position; the new person was charged with boosting both economic development and environmental protection. Columbus wanted to create for itself a marketing persona as a sustainable place. Now, with every policy and purchase, the city considers its green reputation. Columbus received grants to convert all of the street lights to high-efficiency LED fixtures – one of the first in the nation to do so. When it came time to repave the municipal parking lots, they added electric car plug-in stations. The city made extensive energy efficiency renovations in all of its municipal buildings and provides subsidies to homeowners for energy audits, air conditioner tune-ups, and the purchase of high efficiency washing machines. City residents can also receive a $50 grant towards the purchase and planting of deciduous trees to shade buildings and reduce air conditioning costs during the summer.

From an economic development perspective, the green marketing is working. Articles about these programs have appeared in statewide economic development and construction magazines. In just twelve months starting at the end of 2011, the city saw about $30 million dollars in capital investment including a new housing development, an assisted living center, and the expansion of a packaging operation. An arts incubator chose Columbus over Madison, the state capital, and a local pump manufacturer has broken ground on a larger facility that will anchor a new business park. Kraemer estimates that 50 percent of his community’s recent success is attributable to its sustainability image. People are impressed, Kraemer reports, when they hear that the city has all high-efficiency LED street lights. “We can turn them on with a laptop and we can change them in high crime areas.” He says it gives them a media and attitude edge over other communities.

All these efforts save money for Columbus city coffers, as well. The city’s 2013 Economic Development – Sustainability Report finds that the city has reduced electricity usage by 15.4 percent from 2007-2012. Much of this was due to the 2011 conversion of streetlights to LEDs, which cut energy usage 49 percent. Efficiency upgrades to the wastewater treatment plan, scheduled for spring of 2014, will save an estimated $18,000 a year in electricity costs.

The sustainability actions in South Daytona and Columbus demonstrate that environmental protection and economic development are not in conflict. Small cities, suburban towns, and rural communities can make important contributions to sustainability – and do it in a way that fits their local circumstance. Indeed, Boyd Kraemer of Columbus believes smaller places may have an advantage. He points to the nearby state capital of Madison, which has more eco-friendly students and many more resources, but they do not get as much done because of their bureaucracy. “You’ve got to make it easy to get things done. If you get tied up in committees and studies and consultants, it doesn’t last.” So while big cities boast of their green successes, there are many unlikely innovators taking advantage of their agility.


This post is based on an issue brief co-authored by CCPA assistant professor George Homsy for the ICMA Center for Sustainable Communities. Titled “Defying the Odds: Sustainability in Small and Rural Places,” Homsy and co-author Mildred Warner of Cornell University are conducting research into the sustainability practices of small cities and rural communities with funding from the US Department of Agriculture.

The entire issue brief can be found at: http://icma.org/en/icma/knowledge_network/documents/kn/Document/305454/Defying_the_Odds_Sustainability_in_Small_and_Rural_Places


Reflections on 5 Months in Colombia

Earlier this year, I had the honor of being a Fulbright Scholar to Colombia. From January through May of 2014, while on sabbatical from Binghamton University, I worked at Pontificia Univeridad Javeriana in Bogotá, where I taught a graduate Seminar in Public Management to municipal leaders from all regions of the country and conducted research on the recent evolution of graduate level public affairs education in Colombia. The experience was rewarding on so many levels and can be measured in terms of the new friendships I established, my personal research productivity during the period, vast improvements in my Spanish language abilities, a pending formal agreement between the two universities, and the multitude of subsequent professional collaborations that have arisen as a result. There are many opportunities and motivations to build on the professional relations and activities and thus they have understandably received the bulk of my attention since my return. What has been less incentivized and thus easier for me to neglect is deliberate reflection on the experience and how it affected me on a more personal level.

International travel is not new to me, evolving from family vacations as a child, the tourist excursions as an adult, and international conference presentations and consulting activities as an adult. I have had opportunities to visit countries throughout the Americas (North, Central and South), Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa, for periods of a few days to a month. The Fulbright experience was the first time I lived for an extended period outside of the United States. Living there and having the benefit of the professional networks afforded by my Fulbright scholarship and my host institution in Colombia afforded me a very different experience than any prior travels. To be sure, I was still a foreigner (even though I could pass for Colombian in many contexts and when people pegged me as being a foreigner, they more often guessed I was from Brazil than the United States!). A foreigner yes, but not a tourist or a visitor just passing through.

I had the good fortune of being in Colombia at a fascinating point in the country’s history, with progress being made in peace negotiations that have the real potential to put an end to more than 50 years of armed conflict, and campaigns and elections for both the national legislature and the presidency for which peace was understandably a central issue. I took advantage of every opportunity to talk with people about these issues; I asked questions of my students, other professors, taxi drivers, neighbors, store clerks, and people I met in the park while walking my dog (yes, I took my dog with me). Beyond what I learned from these casual conversations, two experiences profoundly influenced my thinking about these issues.

During my first week at Javeriana, as part of the orientation for the College of Political Science and International Relations, I learned that one professor had recently secured approval for a new program to teach classes to ex-combatants of the National Liberation Army or Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) guerrilla group in a prison in Medellin as a way to improve their chances for constructive re-integration in society upon their release. I expressed interest in learning more about the program. Rather than merely providing me documents about the program, the Dean offered me the opportunity to co-teach a day-long course on local government as part of the program. Meeting these men in the prison and spending a day teaching them, learning from them and sharing meals with them challenged many of my preconceived images. Were it not for the multiple levels of security through which we had to pass in order to enter the designated area for the ELN prisoners, I could have been in a classroom in any university anywhere in the world. Were it not for the knowledge of the types of offenses committed by ELN guerillas, I could have been with any small group of highly engaged and dedicated students (they did the assigned readings and were prepared to discuss them critically and apply them to their experiences). Were it not for environment in which me met and the formal nature of our class meeting, I could have been at a gathering of friends and family. These were individuals who, under different circumstances, could have been my students, colleagues, friends or relatives. They were thoughtful and reflective; they were neither apologetic nor dogmatic; they were committed to bettering their communities and their country; they chose methods that I and the standards of society deem unacceptable, but they were not bad people. I left the prison that day feeling more conflicted and having a better sense of the complexity of the issues.

I was also able to accompany a group of student volunteers from Javeriana and their faculty leader for a two-day visit to Barrancabermeja, the site of a 1998 massacre of innocent civilians in the clash between guerrilla and para-military groups, and then up the Magdalena River to the village of San Pablo, another community that was the site of extensive violence in recent years. In both communities, I was able to learn about their tragic histories and see the wonderful work that volunteers from Javeriana University are doing as they engage in community projects through the Jesuit Refugee Services organization. Much more than reading statistics, visiting these sites makes their histories come alive.

There is not space in this post to delve into how these experiences have shaped my thinking as a teacher, scholar or human being. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this blog entry that the influences were profound. I have a great appreciation for value of being in another country as more than a tourist or short-term visitor. I have a strong desire to experience this again in other parts of Colombia or in other parts of the world. I also hope that many of my students and colleagues have similar opportunities and I look forward to hearing about their experiences when they do.

Nadia Rubaii, ’85, MA ’87, PhD ’91 (Political Science)

Associate Professor, Public Administration

Researching and writing about children in the context of the armed conflict in Swat Valley, Pakistan

Researching/writing children in the context of the armed conflict in Swat Valley, Pakistan

I have collected data in the form of focus groups and one-on-one interviews with children aged 9-17 in Swat Valley, Pakistan, who lived through a phase of intense armed conflict and violence when the Pakistani Taliban basically set up a counter-regime in Swat from 2007-2009. My initial funding for the project came through CCPA travel funds and then I received both a Binghamton Universal internal grant and an external grant to continue my work. The data was collected in the 2009-2012 time frame, and currently I am writing an article based on that data.

While I was collecting my data I worked from the premise that children can actively shape their realities, although the extent to which they can do so is constrained by factors in their environment. Even then I was surprised by the eloquence of the interviews, especially the oral histories, the interviews where children narrated their life stories with minimal questioning on my part. Mainstream work on children has usually cast children as unable to speak for themselves: the thrust of most writing on children has been based on observations by adults or quantitative measures that render children as experimental subjects. More recently, what is called the “new sociology of childhood” has cautioned against the use of methodologies that make children “mute” and “invisible.” My research with children in the Swat Valley context centers around children’s voices: children in my writing are represented as social actors who can make meaning of the various facets of their lives.

At this point in time I am grappling with various theoretical lenses to analyze my data. Historically, research on children in armed conflict was heavily imbued by a biomedical paradigm that did not take into account sociological dimensions of conflict and its impact. In the last decade or so, a shift has occurred where more in-depth qualitative or mixed-methods designs have been used to study children’s experiences in armed conflict from what is called a “social ecological” perspective. The focus in this perspective is heavily on children’s capacity for resilience and the specific sociocultural context and mechanisms for the support of that resilience. While I do find this theoretical framework useful as I try to situate individual children in the various dimensions of the their life-worlds, I have also found social ecological models limited in their scope when it comes to trying make sense of how children locate themselves in historical and social processes.

Children’s accounts of their experiences of the armed conflict do tell individual stories, but what is striking is the degree to which children speak of themselves in terms of collective identities. While speaking of the manner in which evacuation processes during the chief military strike against the Taliban were bungled, most children spoke of the hardships that were inflicted on the Swatis as a group, framing the thoughtlessness of the higher-ups as a sign of disregard towards Swatis in general. Also remarkable is the manner in which children positioned themselves as historical subjects: the inability of the Pakistan government to intervene in a timely manner during the heyday of Taliban violence was seen as an indicator of the colonial relationship between the Pakistani state and Swat: Swatis were just not important enough and were really not Pakistani citizens.   They seemed very cognizant of their histories as Swatis: Swat was annexed by Pakistan in 1969 and relegated to the “tribal belt” the residents of which are seen by other Pakistanis as uncivilized and prone to violence. The children were acutely aware of these constructions, and spoke bitterly against them.

My research then complicates the social-ecological paradigm by showing how broader sociopolitical processes shape children’s experiences and that it is not enough to focus on children’s everyday contexts to understand their conceptions of armed conflict and violence. We need to be cognizant of how larger historical forces impact children’s everyday lives. By listening carefully to Swati children’s words I have come to the conclusion that interventions to build children’s resilience should perhaps include measures whereby children can be involved in advocacy initiatives that fight for equal rights for Swatis as Pakistani citizens. At the least, my research indicates that efforts need to be made to dispel negative stereotypes of Swatis.

Dr. Lubna Chaudhry

Associate Professor of Human Development and Department Chair

E-mail: chaudhry@binghamton.edu