Will's 8 years of experience in conflict and disaster zones across Asia, Africa, and the Americas frames his doctoral research on the use of child soldiers by non-state armed groups. Collaborating with NGOs and initiatives such as Médecins sans Frontières, the Child Soldiers Initiative, and WarChild Holland, Will's research helps developing training programs and policy frameworks to alleviate suffering in conflict areas.
Terrorists, insurgents, warlords and guerrillas across the world use children to fill their ranks when they cannot recruit adult soldiers, and they then come to rely on children who are easy to abduct, indoctrinate, and replace. My research questions how and why armed groups will cease the use of child soldiers. I accomplish this through qualitative research with the armed groups themselves. This has included groups as varied as ISIS in Syria, tribal groups in Papua, and ethnic insurgencies in Myanmar. My research will continue in 2015-16 in Afghanistan, Colombia and the DRC. My primary aim is to uncover theoretical insight on how armed groups react to legitimacy in regards to international actors. Current scholarship treats non-state armed groups as indifferent to normative concerns, and the dominant literature sees them as solely interested in economic motivations related to personal gain. I aim to demonstrate the opposite; that armed groups are both aware of the role that international legitimacy can play as a strategic commodity, and that they are motivated to appear as legitimate in the eyes of international actors. I do this by focussing on the child soldiers norm.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Marrying the passions of academic research with the practical necessities of the real world.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
I think the emphasis can be pulled back from the abstract and the purely theoretical, and challenge people to adapt their research to the real world, rather than the other way around.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
I hope to become a successful academic, while continuing my humanitarian work with organizations like MSF.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
I work directly with humanitarian organizations in order to investigate ways that my research can serve a practical purpose for those working in conflict zones, especially on issues related to child soldiers.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I wanted to increase my understanding of the dynamics of conflict from a more theoretical perspective. Whereas I have a large amount of practical experience on the ground, it has been amazing to complement that with a broader understand in the trends of insurgency and humanitarian assistance in conflict zones.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
I chose to come to UBC because it is an amazing university, with a very well-renowned Department of Political Science. That, and Vancouver is one of the most amazing places in the world.
In addition to developing innovative theoretical understandings of armed groups, my primary goal is to collaborate with humanitarian workers in order that my research can contribute directly to the work of those seeking to alleviate suffering in conflict areas.