Student Spotlight: Leilani Doktor '14

Friday, April 4, 2014
Student Spotlight: Leilani Doktor '14

You've recently had an article based on your ICS capstone paper accepted for publication in the Sigma Iota Rho Journal of International Relations. Tell us a little about your article. 

My article, “Defining Democracy in Algeria: The Continuity and Change of Post Colonial Political Representation,” focuses on the democratic moment of Algeria from 1988 to 1992 that immediately followed the Algerian Revolution. During this democratic moment, there was an outburst of uncensored freedom of speech. For this article, I analyzed the documentary The Bloody Years which was directed and produced by Thierry Leciere, a pied noir:  a French national living in Algeria. This film captured the democratic moment I was interested in and the ensuing violence. Through analyzing the film and the relevant history I was able to see how French constructions of kabyle, the prevalent social hierarchy in Algeria, dictated the decentralization of government and ensuing civil war. This analysis led me to discover that it was French definitions of the kabyle, and moreover French ideas of modernity and the democratic state, that had divided the Algerian population. This divide then led to the civil violence and in its most extreme form—guerilla terrorism—throughout the Algerian civil war. In conclusion, I discovered that Algeria was a very specific case due to its depth of colonial occupation in comparison to other colonial entities in North Africa.

How did you first become interested in this topic, and what led you to picking it for the subject of your ICS Capstone paper?

I am a fluent French speaker and my region of interest has always been Europe, specifically France. I began to turn towards the effect of colonization on the colonized nations, and after studying in France, the deep-seeded effects of colonization on Algeria and the strong presence of Algeria in the French memory led me to become deeply interested in the country. Then with the recent events of the Arab Spring, I was interested in looking at how democracy is formed and in my research came upon this moment which is significantly overlooked in global memory.  I decided to delve into this and see what I could find about democratic state building in North African states.

What was your research process like?

The beginning of my research was very nebulous. I knew I was interested in involving politics with the theories of identity that I had been working with through ICS, and I knew that I would really want to look into French origins because I had recently become fluent in French. While exploring possible areas of interest that had been colonized, I began to focus on the relation between France and Algeria. Then in our capstone course we watched the film Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005), which further inspired me to investigate the topic of France’s influence on Algerian politics, so I began to look into the democratic process in Algeria and came upon this moment of 1988 to 1992. When I found that moment, I contacted the Duke University librarian for Middle Eastern Studies, Christof Galli, and he helped me enormously in finding preliminary materials and research to see what kind of question I could form about the topic.

What materials did you use, and how did you locate them? 

After reading several different genres of literature, such as US originated international relations articles, political science research papers, historical accounts, foreign policy briefs from the US, and even French newspaper articles on Algeria and North Africa in general, I found the effects of French colonial social constructions seemed to be much stronger in Algeria than I expected, and so I began to do some research for primary resources and came upon a gem of a source called The Bloody Years, which I mentioned earlier. From this film, I was able to pull the inferences that I outlined in my paper as well as back those inferences up with historical sources on French colonial influence in Algeria, and through a combination of that secondary research as well as an in-depth analysis of that primary source, I was able to find some very interesting conclusions about the violence that followed the 1991 elections in Algeria.

What were you most surprised or intrigued by in your research? 

Probably the most fascinating turn of my research was when I began to analyze the violence that came out a democratic moment. Specifically using the text of Michael Mann, The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing (2005), and Talal Asad’s On Suicide Bombing (2007) I was able to see a first-hand experience of how creating a democratic state can create exclusion, and within that exclusion is a structural violence, which in Algeria manifested itself in physical violence.  While I couldn’t make any conclusive statements about the prevalence of terrorism in Algeria, I could definitely see how the process of state-building during their democratic moment contributed to the civil war.

What inspired you to submit your capstone paper for publication? What was the publication process like?

I was inspired to submit by a call for papers on the ICS major listserv. I was really supported by Professor Namakkal when I told her I was considering publishing. The process was surprisingly blind, and I mean that.  I went through and edited with Professor Namakkal and submitted my paper to this anonymous e-mail of the journal, and I didn’t even receive an e-mail that they were reading it, just that they received it. Then suddenly four weeks later I received an e-mail that I had been accepted! When I received this e-mail, I was ecstatic and relieved--but that was only the beginning of the process. After they accepted my essay for publication they informed me they would send my article to multiple peer institutions for editing over a two-week period, and that I would have to sort through these edits and refine my paper according to all of these critiques from senior undergraduate students from other universities. I had to deal with some harsh criticism in those revision requests, but I went through and reconsidered my evidence and re-wrote some parts of my paper,  then resubmitted my final draft, which was approved.

Any advice for ICS Capstone students on choosing a thesis topic?

What I think I found most valuable in choosing my thesis topic is that it combined a variety of things I was very passionate about, even though the topics that I wanted to explore didn’t necessarily connect. Through my preliminary research I was able to find intersections of these interests, which made my paper not only interesting to other people but interesting to me. What’s most important is that you find what you’re curious about and something that you don’t know everything about, so that you will experience a continuous learning process throughout the writing of the paper. That way, you’re still learning and interested by the end of the semester.