Here’s the second thing (here’s the first thing) I thought about on my way to Boston:

“Research is me-search.”

Interpretations of this phrase probably vary, but I’ve usually thought that in my case, it wouldn’t really apply: I have such limited personal connections to war.

But then again, sometimes I “me-search” in the sense that I worry about how weird my research topic is. War is not weird, but in social psych it’s usually studied under the umbrella of intergroup conflict, or by looking at moral disengagement strategies, or by frowning at nationalism and blind patriotism and high ingroup glorifiers. Coming at it from the angle of philosophy and international law is relatively unusual. So when I filled out the HEXACO online and discovered that I’m a bit of an outlier on the “unconventionality scale” (i.e. more “eccentric” and “non-conforming” than average) it all suddenly made sense: if I’m weird, of course my research is too!

I don’t actually think I’m all that unconventional. I have a PhD, which puts me in a minority at the population level, but I wear shoes (mostly), and I get my hair cut by a professional (mostly), and my views on philosophy and politics are generally boring and conventional and…

Well, actually, about those views. Social psychology (social psychologists?) care a lot about identity, justice, intergroup conflict, and making the world a better place.[1] And that’s good and important. It also means that often when I talk about my research, I get questions like “What about female soldiers? Are they discriminated against?” and I sort of resist answering. Or I get questions like “What about political orientation? Aren’t conservatives more war hungry and hawkish?” and I sort of resist answering. Or I get questions like “Isn’t it evil how the military recruits disproportionately from poor minorities?” and I sort of – actually this is not something I resist answering in the same way. I mean, I don’t know whether that particular supposition is true, but the overall fact of economic and racial inequality here in the US is one I still Can. Not. Deal. With. Naive me believed the hype; I thought the US was the greatest country in the world. Or at least sparkling and happy and full of opportunities for everyone. Now, it just makes me cry.

Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, the intersection of my research interests and issues of social justice. I don’t think gender, politics, race, or economics are irrelevant to questions of war. Of course not! [2]

But that doesn’t mean that the questions I ask have to be specifically about those topics. I don’t have to study whether and when women are sexually abused in the military. I don’t have to ask whether and when conservatives deceive themselves about WMDs and the dangers of terrorism. I definitely don’t have to assume that because I’m a woman (a liberal, progressive, woman, even) those are the things I should care about and study.

I do care. It’s just not what I study.[3]

So, research becomes (occasional) me-search after all, not just because of the rather trivial point about weirdness, but because thinking about my research forced and forces me to evaluate my priorities and values and all those Existential Things.

Back in July I promised Julia a blog post on values in research; this isn’t that post, but it’ll do for now.

[1] Obviously I’m generalizing, but I’m not the only one to make this observation! Recently, it’s come up both on Twitter and in Slate: the “de facto social mission in [social psychology]: to use the science of psychology to counter inequality and fight for social justice”.

[2] If nothing else, the questions I ask are contingent on a particular temporal and spatial context (as I wrote about here).

[3] So does that mean I don’t care enough? I’ll leave that one to my conscience to ponder at 3am…

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