Research agenda

Language, identity, separatism: regional grievance and collective action in Eurasia

Traditional conceptualizations of the link between ethnicity and separatism conflate different elements of identity, yielding unclear mechanisms by which identity translates into mobilization and conflict. My research focuses on one such element, arguing that linguistic differences demarcate boundaries between identity groups in a relatively permanent and noticeable fashion, creating conditions conducive to separatist mobilization. Language can thus divide and unite individuals of different ethnic backgrounds, providing a much clearer understanding of many cases of purportedly “ethnic” separatism than ethnic identity itself. The project examines this theory across cases from the former Soviet Union, analyzing both cross-regional patterns of separatism and individual-level determinants of support for separatism. It uses data gathered over approximately two years of fieldwork, including an original survey of two post-Soviet regions, focus groups, interviews with ethnic activists and politicians, qualitative content analysis of regional newspapers, and survey data from the 1990s.