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Sara Mitchell - Research in Action!


Sara Mitchell, senior research fellow in the Politics and Policy Research Program, is currently doing research investigating maritime conflicts between countries as well as running the Disasters, Violence, and Migration Lab with colleague Elise Pizzi.  

The work Mitchell is doing on maritime conflicts centers around the questions of what causes diplomatic conflict over maritime areas like the South China Sea, why military force and coercion are used to solve such conflicts, and how they can be solved peacefully in the future. To investigate these topics, Mitchell collects data from news sources and reports by looking for certain pieces of information and coding them into quantitative data that can be used for further analysis. Some interesting findings from this work thus far have shown that within the context of Article 287, an agreement that countries can sign to designate what court they prefer for resolving conflict, countries that prefer the same court are able to negotiate and bargain outside of the court setting and come to a resolution “under the shadow of the court.” Moving forward, Mitchell will investigate river conflict under the same contexts as her work on maritime conflict and compare the findings and strategies for both.  

The Disasters, Violence, and Migration Lab is an NSF grant funded project that Mitchell and Pizzi run together with the support of two graduate students and six undergraduate students. The goal of the lab is to investigate how natural disasters affect forced environmental migration, currently focusing on the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India. This research is conducted in a very similar way to her work on maritime conflict, using UN reports and other news sources to investigate how many government actors respond to natural disaster crises, what resources are used, how many political actors visit a site, plans for reconstruction, and so on. This information is then coded into quantitative data for more in depth analysis between countries.  

Mitchell hopes that the policy implications of both these projects will help in understanding the conditions under which cooperation versus conflict are likely so that they can be better managed in the future. Specific to the Disasters, Violence, and Migration Lab, she hopes to better understand what makes areas more resilient than others and discover the most effective mechanisms for reducing risk to the affected populations. On involving students in her work Mitchell said, “We are really committed to working with lots of graduate and undergraduate students and try to get them involved in the specific fields they’re interested in. We also try to have at least one social event during the semester and build an inclusive research environment and supportive community for the students.” 

Read one of the Disasters, Violence, and Migration Lab publications here.