Colombia’s progress and challenges in the disarmament and reintegration of the FARC

By Johannes Langer, October 2017


After the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, the process of disarmament was successfully completed in summer of 2017. Major challenges regarding the reintegration process of former combatants are ahead that could reverse the successful implementation of the accords.

Successful demobilization


The UN Mission is in the process to establish the arms that were hidden across the country (Picture by MisionONU Colombia)

Disarming and reintegrating rebel groups is a key step towards overcoming civil war. After 52 years of armed conflict with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and more than 200,000 dead, the Colombian government signed a peace agreement in November 2016 after four long years of negotiations. On over 300 pages in the accord, the ceasefire and Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process is outlined in detail to allow for a more peaceful Colombia.

In January 2017, the disarmament process started and almost 7,000 former FARC fighters moved to 26 transitory zones across the country. While the deadline to complete the process within 180 days was not met, demobilized combatants handed in some 9,000 weapons and three quarters of arms caches have been cleared. Importantly, the process has been monitored by the UN Mission in Colombia to create trust on both sides. This civilian mission has not only the responsibility to verify the DDR process but also to control the bilateral ceasefire between the two sides that both sides adhered to with only a few minor instances.

In August 2017, the transitory zones where FARC fighters demobilized have been transformed to special zones for reintegration. The former combatants go through a reintegration process. Colombia already has a lot of experience with individual reintegration, thanks to very well administered programs by the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR). Its challenging work was hardly noticed by the public, yet ACR has been able to complete reintegration of more than 15,000 former combatants according to the government’s reintegration scheme since its creation in 2011 and has followed the UN guidelines with its holistic approach to reintegration (including for example socio-economic and psychological issues).

In June 2017, President Santos declared to remodel ACR into the Reincorporation and Normalization Agency (ARN), following the demand of the FARC to distinguish their DDR process from the one of right-wing paramilitary groups and to stress to FARC supporters that it is the FARC’s decision to reincorporate and be part of society without being militarily defeated.

Challenges ahead


Demobilized FARC fighters are working in an agricultural project in their transitory zone (Picture by MisionONU Colombia)

ARN will have a huge task ahead. In institutional terms, the new body has just become part of FARC’s DDR process and needs to establish its presence in the reintegration zones. With a very limited educational background, former FARC combatants have low prospects on the job market. Finding employment for them is not easy considering that the majority never attended school. Another major concern of FARC members is their own physical security and the security of their families, having in mind the massacres against FARC members and supporters in an attempt to take part in political life back in the second half of the 1980s. In terms of gender, many female ex-combatants are now bearing children (after a very strict policy of not being allowed to do so), there is even talk of a baby boom, that could either help to convince their partners to remain in civilian life or rather push them to illegality to make a living.

Finally, it is politics that the FARC is now also engaging in. Officially being transformed to a political party on 1 September 2017, it was the leftist wing under FARC leader Iván Márquez that won against the line of Timoshenko, leader of the pragmatic faction, to keep the initials ‘FARC’ that now stand for ‘Common Alternative Revolutionary Force’. Prospects for many votes in the 2018 parliamentarian elections appear to be limited to a few zones where the FARC has a certain popularity. Importantly for the former rebel group, the peace agreement promised them five seats in each of the two houses of parliament. Most FARC members seem to be in line with the leadership of engaging in democratic politics. However, some ex-combatants question the reintegration process, arguing that the Colombian state does not comply with the DDR process while they are being offered lots of money from illegal armed groups. There are already news reports claiming that several dozens of demobilized fighters left the transitory zones to join other illegal armed groups.

Another issue is that the civilian population continues to suffer under displacement, as well as intimidation and assassinations of social leaders as the Colombian NGO Indepaz pointed out in its recent report.

And then there is the question of funding: Colombia’s budget is tight due to the low oil price and U.S. President Trump has proposed to severely cut the financial support for the peace process. Several deadlines of the process have not been met, promises to demobilized FARC fighters have not been kept regarding the conditions in the transitory zones and many Colombians remain suspicious of the process.


The disarmament and demobilization process took place without major incidents and that is a success in itself. However, the road to reintegration during the next years will be difficult and the presidential elections in 2018 could undermine the reintegration process if an adversary of the peace process is elected. Also, if the peace negotiation with the second biggest guerrilla group ELN succeed and other illegal armed groups will join as well, ARN will have an even more demanding task to fulfil.

GIS techniques

Using GIS techniques in the research on in/security understandings, practice and impact in the context of the Colombian armed conflict

By Caroline Delgado, May 2017

I am applying geographical information systems (GIS) techniques in my research on security understandings, practice and impact in the context of internal armed conflicts. My aim is to capture the diverse spatial conflict dynamics of the Colombian armed conflict, and to examine the vertical and horizontal relationships within society. I am particularly interested in the relationship between local conflict affected societies and government security policy and practice.

GIS techniques can facilitate both aspects. To harness the potential of GIS, issues of data completeness and data quality need to be addressed. Indeed, a main drawback for the use of GIS in conflict-related research is that spatial data for many driving forces of conflict are not yet easily available at the required scale and quality. Spatial data could include conflict location and diffusion (e.g. geographic location of conflict area), population distribution (e.g. population density and growth), inequality (e.g. ethnic, economic and social fractionalisation), environment (e.g. land degradation, roughness of the terrain), and natural resource availability – to name but a few.

Fortunately, Colombia is a particularly interesting case to research due to the availability of good quality sub-national datasets on conflict dynamics. While there are several datasets available for researchers, ranging from datasets provided by different UN agencies, to national peace observatories and private research centres, in my research I rely on data provided by CINEP (the Centre for Research and Popular Education/Peace Program), a Colombian non-profit foundation. CINEP has collected statistics on political violence since the 1980s with the purpose to provide a detailed documentation of political violence in Colombia.

CINEP distinguishes between four kinds of political violence: human rights violations, violations to international humanitarian law, bellicose actions and social political violence (CINEP, 2008). Human rights violations, violations to international humanitarian law and bellicose actions adhere to internationally recognised definitions and thereby only includes acts perpetrated by the guerrillas or the state. Social political violence on the other hand include acts committed by groups not part of the armed conflict, as long as the act has a clear political or ideological motivation.  Within these four kinds of political violence, the dataset distinguishes between 15 different categories of crimes (intentional homicide, torture, injury, attack/ambush, sexual violence, threats, forced disappearance, abduction, arbitrary detention, deportation, hostage taking, child recruitment, human shield, kidnapping, and confinement). Where possible the perpetrator of each crime, or group intervening in the crime in the event that it did not cause it, is identified. The reason for relying on the CINEP data is that it is the most complete and accessible dataset on in/securities and it has also been positively assessed by a number of scholars for its objectivity.

The use of GIS for exploring how in/security is understood and practiced, and the resulting implications, in the context of the Colombian armed conflict is threefold. First, GIS was used to help identify the geographical sub-national research sites. Relying on large datasets on conflict-related violence, GIS greatly facilitated the identification of in/security hotspots. While CINEP data stretches back to the 1980s, I cover the period 2012 and 2014 in order to give an overview of the current situation.

hotspot map 2Using ArcGIS software, maps have been created for each category of insecurity (see image above). These maps were then layered to give a graphic overview of where insecurities tend to cluster geographically. With the number of incidents ranging from one to 678 events per municipality, the standard deviation distribution of data (insecurities) was used and mapped to allow identifying regions with particularly high incidents of violence. Through this process, the Magdalena Medio and Catatumbo regions were identified. Thereafter, qualitative research captured the articulations of in/security as expressed by the local communities in the selected research sites. Secondly, GIS was used to visualise the geographical priority regions of national security policy and practice. Qualitative research thereafter interrogated the implications of such policy and practice in the selected research sites. Finally, GIS was used to illustrate the geographic overlap between security related policies, peace-building initiatives and economic development priorities. These illustrations helped inform analysis of the contradictions between state-level security understandings and practice, and how communities experience in/security at the local level.

Applied in this way, using GIS techniques helped bridge the state and local levels on the one hand, and on the other the use of quantitative and qualitative data.

Substitutive Security Governance

Replacing the Functions Gangs Fulfil for their Stakeholders

By Moritz Schuberth, 26 February 2017

moritz-schuberthThe year 2017 started with the news of a series of massacres in prisons across Brazil triggered by power struggles between the country’s two most notorious drug gangs – the Comando Vermelho and the Primeiro Comando da Capital. As these tragic events brought the problem of gang violence once again to international attention, the question of how to best to respond to the challenge posed by criminal gangs has become as relevant as ever. In this post, I will argue for a shift beyond common responses such as coercive mano dura policies and cooperative gang truces towards an integrated approach of substitutive security governance aimed at replacing the functions gangs fulfil for their different stakeholders.

In order to be able to design effective strategies to curb gang violence, it is imperative to understand the drivers behind their proliferation. Drawing on my findings of six months of field research in Haiti, I identified three different factions or ‘stakeholders’ of gangs, meaning different sets of actors for whom violence committed by gangs serves – to varying degrees – a primarily political, economic, or security-related purpose and who have therefore vested interest in their continued existence. As Figure 1 illustrates, I suggest that gangs serve primarily political purposes for their sponsors, fulfil socio-economic functions for their members, and protect their own communities as much as they prey upon them – which is the reason why community members might – at least initially – support their emergence. However, these functional relations and power dynamics between gangs and their stakeholders seem to be ignored by the most common policy responses to gang violence.


Figure 1 – Functions of gangs for different stakeholders

Indeed, standard carrots-and-sticks approaches consisting of mano dura policies and gang truces might exacerbate rather than relieve the challenge posed by gangs in contemporary Latin America. On one hand, mano dura or cero tolerancia policies, characterised by military raids in slums and the mass incarceration of presumed gang members, might strengthen gangs by further alienating marginalised communities from the state and by allowing gangs to position themselves as legitimate defenders of the community against abusive state security forces and foreign intruders. On the other hand, cooperative approaches consisting of the brokering of truces between criminal gangs might equally strengthen gangs by legitimising gang leaders as trustworthy dialogue partners and by granting gangs de facto control over their turf. As a consequence, the most vulnerable communities in many mega cities are caught between state violence fuelled by indiscriminately coercive anti-gang policies and violence from gangs, which have been empowered by cooperative policies.

Hence, as I argue in an article recently published in Stability, it is imperative to move beyond coercive and cooperative approaches vis-à-vis gangs towards what I call substitutive security governance – a comprehensive set of anti-gang policies aimed at replacing the functions gangs fulfil for different stakeholders. More specifically, substitutive security governance aims to replace all three functional dimensions of gangs – the security they provide for their community, the income-generating role they play for their members, and the political function they fulfil for their sponsors. As Figure 2 shows, such a coherent framework for action should focus on breaking the patronage between gangs and their politico-criminal sponsors while simultaneously cutting the ties between gangs and the community.


Figure 2: Integrated framework for substitutive security governance

In concrete terms, an effective framework for substitutive security governance combines elements of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), Armed Violence Reduction and Prevention (AVRP), and Security Sector Reform (SSR). While DDR can facilitate separating gang members from their patrons and reintegrating them into society, AVRP can help dis-incentivising at-risk sections of the population from joining gangs in the first place. Moreover, in order to replace the security function that gangs fulfil for their community, SSR – including police and justice sector reform – helps (re)establish order and the state monopoly over the legitimate use of force. Moreover, SSR can contribute to cutting the ties between gang members and their politico-criminal sponsors by ending the impunity enjoyed by the latter.

As illustrated in Figure 2, DDR programmes are one possible way to break the link between the politico-criminal elite and gangs by dismantling the former command structures and offering former gang members the possibility to give up their arms and start a new life. DDR can therefore be a useful tool to target those who have already joined gangs, even though preconditions for the successful implementation of DDR – such as a peace agreement between clearly defined and centrally organised conflict parties – are often absent in urban contexts. AVRP programmes such as MINUSTAH’s Community Violence Reduction initiative in Haiti, by contrast, try to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs in the first place. Through the provision of temporary employment, often in the form of cash-for-work projects, AVRP can help sway unemployed youth away from economic opportunities offered by gangs.

Figure 2 above depicts two ways in which SSR can usefully complement DDR and AVRP efforts to cut the links between gangs, their sponsors, and the community. First, SSR can tackle the patron-client relationship between gangs and their politico-criminal sponsors by contributing to end the impunity enjoyed by affluent and influential sections of the population. To this end, assistance can be given to establish special courts or hybrid national/international tribunals to deal with transnational organised crime and to handle politically sensitive cases, as happened with Guatemala’s International Commission against Impunity. Second, SSR can strengthen efforts to expand state security provision into areas formerly abandoned by law enforcement agencies in which gangs have temporarily assumed the roles of informal crime control and self-defence. This can be done by enhancing the capacity and legitimacy of police and judiciary through training as well as proximity policing techniques, as exemplified by the Pacifying Police Unit (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora – UPP) in Rio de Janeiro.

Whereas coercive and cooperative strategies by themselves run the risk of strengthening the legitimacy of gangs while weakening that of the state, they can play a supportive role for the three substitutive strategies of SSR, DDR, and AVRP. Concerning coercive strategies, well-directed interventions by security forces can target exceptionally intractable gangs that cannot be dealt with by cooperative or substitutive means. In this respect, it is of utmost importance that the use of force is restricted in order to avoid civilian casualties. Moreover, cooperative strategies can facilitate safe access to neighbourhoods under the control of gangs so that international agencies can implement substitutive programmes. Still, whenever coercive and cooperative strategies are seen as an inevitable necessity in the short term to stabilise the situation and bring open hostility to an end, it is crucial to switch towards substitutive security governance with the least possible delay.

The ‘dark age’ of writing up a doctoral thesis – and how to survive it

By Susan Hoppert-Flämig and Natalia Cervantes

Having collected all the data for your research, it is time to return to the desk and write. For many PhD researchers, this stage is a challenging time. By then you have already climbed half of the mountain – you have read abundant literature on your topic, you have developed a good research proposal, narrowed down the research questions and gathered enough material to know the answers to your questions are somewhere in there. All of a sudden, finishing the PhD seems like a doable thing.

But the way to the top of the mountain is still long, very rocky and full of obstacles. Making sense of the data without losing your key arguments may be difficult, the writing may take much longer than expected and knowing you are the only person who can complete this particular piece of work may seem daunting.

In a way, writing up a doctoral thesis is a unique experience – the circumstances vary for each PhD researcher, the problems that appear with regard to the topic or the structure of the thesis may be quite specific, and everybody deals with problems differently. Yet, it seems that some experiences are quite common among researchers.

We have asked our Researching Security fellows about their experiences and reflected on our own experiences and would like to share these. We hope this makes the journey a bit smoother for those of you who are at the beginning or well into the writing up stage.

glasses-983947_960_720For most of us, writing up the thesis was quite hard and painful but there were also enjoyable moments. Verena said it was exciting in the beginning because she finally had time to process everything she had learned and observed during the field research. But having a first full draft, editing and refining the arguments was still a lot of work and probably the hardest part. In theory, writing up sounds idyllic: sitting down with a coffee and start writing seems fantastic. Both Natalia and Susan struggled getting the thoughts in their head down on paper. Susan was surprised to see how much of the intellectual process of articulating an argument actually happens during the writing. We all agreed that time management is important, and Jorrit mentioned he was relatively ‘lucky’ that his job contract had run out just before he started the writing process, which was probably the only reason that he could actually finish the PhD.

Talking about the difficulties of writing up, Jenna emphasised how important it is to develop your own argument and point of view: ‘It is this part where you really have to stand on your own two feet and lay out your stall. Nobody ever really prepares you for this part (or any part) and so it is incredibly daunting at the beginning. Also remembering what it is you were trying to say in the first place gets really hard after 70,000 words!’ The sheer length of the thesis was a challenge for most of us. ‘In the UK, a PhD thesis is up to 100,000 words. What they do not tell you is that you write around 300’-500,000 to get there because of the constant redrafting and editing’, Verena said. Natalia added that the PhD is as much what you write as what you delete.

For Jorrit, two problems stood out. First, finding a writing routine and keeping up that routine for a long time mattered. And while he thought the field interviews as such were interesting, going back to the recordings several times and working with them required some discipline, not least due to the background noise and the used slang. Susan missed talking to her PhD colleagues in Bradford as she did most of the writing up at home in Leipzig.

We all developed our strategies that helped us survive this period, which can be summarised in the following points:


An important commonality we found is that having daily routinadult-1868015_960_720es helped the process. Jorrit mentioned that having a schedule and appropriating a writing routine can make a huge difference: You will be aware of the hours of the day when you can focus better and seize them. Knowing when to step away from your thesis and take a break to clear your mind is essential. Ours involved exercising, meeting with friends and generally having time off, where you try to avoid thinking about your thesis.

In addition, having concise and attainable daily or weekly goals aids in keeping you motivated, Jorrit said. This can be in the form of little things like, revising your references, working through your formats, or writing an ‘X’ amount of words, editing sections, etc. The idea is to keep track of what you want to accomplish every day, week or month. This way you know where you stand and can take small steps before tackling bigger issues of your document.

Structure your thesis and strip it down

Ideally, your supervisor gives you some guidance regarding the structure of your thesis. But here are some general ideas (that may be so evident that you probably already know them): Thinking through the chapters and what each chapter should be doing might help make writing and editing flow easier. The headings and subheadings should help you ‘tell the story’ or convey your argument to the reader. Try to think each chapter’s heading and subheading in terms of what is the key idea it should carry.

We also found that taking a step back and going back to the beginning allows you to find again your perspective. What does the literature say, compared to the data that you gathered? What is the ‘gap’ you are looking at? A good exercise for this is trying to think about your argument and put it in 30 words or less. This will help you think through your key concepts. Nonetheless, maintaining a good relationship with your supervisor is essential even now that you are the expert of your topic. Ideally, she/ he can provide you with valuable feedback on your writing and help you when you are stuck.

Talk it out


Undeniably, talking our thesis out helped us all. For example, Jenna resorted to online forums and twitter chats, as well as reading blogs on academic writing, and seeking support in the form of writing sessions and online monthly writing challenges. She also mentioned that presenting at conferences using her data and chapter material made a difference, since getting feedback and getting used to talking about your research really helped thinking about what you are trying to do and say with it.

Similarly, Verena said that for her staying in touch with other PhD students and knowing that you are not alone and all face similar difficulties made a difference.

We sincerely hope that sharing both our challenges and how we tried to tackle them is useful to you. We have all been through dark moments whilst writing, don’t despair! Even if it seems a long way, the thesis will be done eventually, and what you learn on the way will no doubt equip you with all you need for a succesful career afterwards.

Call for papers: PILAS Annual Conference 2017 (University of Leeds, 26-27 June 2017)

pilas-banner-mail“Discontinuities and Resistance in Latin America”

Deadlines for proposals submission: 1 March 2017 (papers) and 1 April 2017 (panels).

Latin America is one of the world regions in which borders are malleable or fragile, yet resistant. As its nations seek to establish and assert themselves on a continental and global stage, challenging, and being challenged by, outside influences, historical, political, geographic and economic fault lines often appear to check progress and modernisation. One only has to think of Brazil, which recently hosted a truly global mega-event, with its citizens being keen to present their best face to a watching world after years of economic progress. However, this center stage international performance threatened to be undermined by the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and worries over the Zika virus. This multidisciplinary conference seeks to explore the discontinuities and resistance in Latin America from a critical perspective.

The Postgraduates in Latin American Studies (PILAS) Committee invites postgraduate researchers and junior academics from the arts, humanities and social sciences fields to present their work, engage in debate, and share their research on Latin America. 

PILAS Annual Conference 2017 will be held at the University of Leeds on the 26 and 27 of June 2017. The Conference is free to attend and will include keynote speakers, a masterclass and engaging social activities.

Professor Eduardo Posada-Carbó (University of Oxford), Professor Manuel Barcia (University of Leeds) and the journalist Patricia Simón (Professional Women in Media Spanish Association Prize Winner) have already confirmed their attendance. 

The theme of the conference is “Discontinuities and Resistance in Latin America”.

We welcome proposals from all fields for this interdisciplinary event. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  1. Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. 
  2. Gender and Sexuality. 
  3. Political Activism, Conflict, and Violence. 
  4. Nationhood and National Identities. 
  5. Migration, Geographical and Cultural Borders Studies. 
  6. Inter-Cultural Dialogue and Polemics. 
  7. Literary and Cultural Criticism. 
  8. Literature, Culture, and Translation. 
  9. Economic Policies and Economic Inequalities. 
  10. Communication and (Digital) Media. 
  11. Climate Change and Environmental Crisis.

The conference will consist mainly of traditional panels of 90 minutes, allowing for three papers of 20-minute each, followed by a 30-minutes Q&A.Papers will be presented preferably in English, although presentations in Spanish and Portuguese will be also considered. Panel proposals should allow three papers of 20 minutes each or four papers of 15 minutes each.

More information and submission guidelines can be found at:

Call for papers: Peacebuilding Conference 2017 (University of Manchester, 11-12 September 2017)

iapcs-lgo‘Peacebuilding during an age of crisis’

Annual Conference of the International Association of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Manchester, 11-12 September 2017

Academic critiques of contemporary peacebuilding have shown a tendency in recent years to limit their analytical focus to the cultural, institutional, normative and political mismatches between the modus operandi of peacebuilding missions and their local contexts. Such perspectives have neglected the international system as the constitutive factor of peacebuilding interventions. The complex interaction of moribund international institutions, crippling development and security paradigms and the failure of regional and international security architectures have allowed national conflicts to fester and to inflict devastating consequences across entire regions.

Peacebuilding – where attempted – has been subject to a neoliberal make-over, which turned it into a service industry with diversified strata of subcontractors, corporate accounting but a lack of accountability, and funding channelled into international salaries rather than local conflict resolution and sustainable development. Interventionists’ lack of legitimacy and access have meanwhile manifested themselves in the rolling-out of technological fixes that are bound to move peacebuilding further away from conflict resolution and towards short-term humanitarianism. As a result, social cleavages, class issues and nationalism have been aggravated rather than mitigated through layers of intervention. Rights and prospects for gender as well as political emancipation, however, have been increasingly narrowed along with the deterioration of environmental standards. Liberal concepts of ‘civil society’ have all but collapsed.

Intersecting crises of this magnitude require a rethinking of the international institutional and ideological architecture that keeps dysfunctional peacebuilding interventions in place. Rather than detailing mismatches, this conferences encourages analysis of the international system and its constraining implications for the formation of local peace. It asks:

  • Which structural factors have shaped contemporary peacebuilding and how do these factors interact?
  • Is effective peacebuilding possible under conditions of austerity, neoliberalism and misguided ‘securitopias’? And if not, what will take its place?
  • What does the recent shift towards isolationism and right-wing, xenophobic politics in the US, Britain and Continental Europe mean for peacebuilding?
  • Which obstacles have prevented failed types of intervention from being replaced by more legitimate and effective types of peacebuilding?

Deadline for paper and panel proposals: 1 June 2017. Proposals should be 250 words maximum and sent to: Registration costs are £20 for paid academics and £10 for students and the unwaged. The registration fee is waived for current members of the IAPCS.

Life after the PhD: Doing a post-doc

By Dr. Jorrit Kamminga, 22 January 2017

What exactly is a post-doc?

During and especially after the long and often challenging PhD trajectory, many students struggle with the existential question of ‘what next?’. In the most literal sense, the word ‘post-doc’ seems to suggest there is life after a PhD. But what exactly is a post-doc? I certainly did not know while doing my PhD, so decided to find out.

The more articles you read about post-docs, the more complex it seems to become, especially as the term (an abbreviation from post-doctorate or post-doctoral) has many different definitions, as well as different meanings from country to country. At the basic level, the term post-doc refers to the position as well as to the person who occupies it.

Post-doc as a person

Let’s first look at post-doc as a person. The common denominator of all the definitions that I found is that a post-doc is an individual that is engaged in further academic research after the completion of a PhD. The title that goes with such a position can, for example, be a post-doctorate research fellow, associate or assistant. Interestingly, the post-doc as a person is often portrayed as rather unfortunate or disadvantaged because, for example, of low wages, the many side obligations or the lack of faculty jobs afterwards.

Post-doc as a position

beijing-1877354_960_720Looking at the position this individual holds, things start to get more complicated. A first common element is that the position is normally temporal, although the duration seems to vary a lot (1-5 years). In any case, it is often considered as a first or intermediary career step for, often young, academics, or ‘early-career researchers’ who would like to continue working at universities later in more stable positions. From the universities’ point of view, the post-doc trajectory is often considered to prepare someone for a career in academia.

The prestige related to the position seems to vary from country to country. For example, in the US the position is generally considered a real ‘trainee’ position, which means it only serves as a (sometimes obligatory) step towards a so-called ‘tenure track’ position (generally a fixed position but at various levels). In other countries, the post-doc position may have more status by itself and not only as an instrument to get somewhere else.

Deepening of methodological and thematic knowledge

A common element found is that the objective of the position is to further strengthen research skills or to further specialise in a certain research topic. As such, it offers the individual a period of (further) research after the PhD, in which he or she is mentored to grow as an academic. It allows the early career researcher to learn more about certain research methodologies or about a certain field. This research does not have to be connected to the topic of the PhD, but it is logical that there are often direct or indirect links. The post-doc research topic may have been part of the ‘further research’ section at the end of the PhD thesis or it may be used to turn the (often dry) PhD thesis into a book that can be published. However, some post-doctorate programmes are also specifically designed to gain experience in different research areas or different institutions.

You may think at this point: Do the 3 to 4 years of working on a PhD not provide me with enough specialisation, mentoring and training for a career in academia? In some cases, they may, but for many students, the PhD is still very much an exploratory stage, in which you sometimes struggle with research concepts and methodologies. Afterwards, the post-doc may indeed offer the opportunity to dig deeper and further strengthen the research ‘tools and tactics’. But while this suggests intensive mentoring by supervisors, the post-doc may in fact also have considerable independence, with more responsibilities for both the research project and its financing.

The combination of teaching and research

classroom-1699745_960_720Can the post-doc be more than that? Yes, especially when it comes to teaching opportunities. While many post-doc positions have no or few teaching obligations, others are fully designed to gain teaching experience. In general, there seems to be a trend towards more integration of teaching within post-doc trajectories, but again this differs between countries and between universities.

Funding your post-doc

Your local university may advertise post-doc positions it has internal funding for. But becoming a post-doc often depends on obtaining a fellowship or finding external funding. Although there are many fellowships available for scholars of security studies or international relations, these are generally highly competitive. Some examples are: the Henry Chauncey Jr. Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Transatlantic Post-Doctoral Fellowship for International Relations and Security (TAPIR), and the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) Fellowship.

As these may be very prestigious, it is a good idea to also explore possibilities with smaller institutions and foundations. Depending on the research topic, external funding may be relatively easy to obtain from smaller organisations if the research overlaps with their stated interests. However, such types of external funding might only fund the costs related to the research and not your salary. Another option is to look into the funding programmes of the national research organisations such as the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) in Germany or the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) in the Netherlands. Lastly, there is also the possibility to finance your post-doc position through a grant from a publisher with a view to turn your PhD manuscript into a book. There are websites available that explain the difference between your thesis and a publishable book.

If you have other useful information and experience related to post-docs or to funding opportunities, please do share them with the author at jorritka[at] so we can update the post.

Life after the PhD – Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 3/3)

7 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 3: Life after the PhD

Some of you have finished the PhD already. What has been your trajectory since you finished the PhD?

Jenna Muray de López: In my personal life – learning to be with my family again and rediscovering weekends! I was lucky to already have an academic post and be familiar with the strange world that is academia. The most useful thing I have done, which also helped me secure a new post, was devise an achievable five year research agenda and two year publishing plan from my thesis – giving myself a new direction to go in when the focus has been ‘finish the PhD’ for such a long time.

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I have had my viva about two months ago and am currently trying to turn my research into publishable articles. So I am still at the very beginning of my post-PhD life. I would like to keep working as an academic but I am well aware of the huge challenges of pursuing an academic career.


Jorrit Kamminga explaining his research in Colombia

Jorrit Kamminga: After finishing the PhD, I was unemployed for about half a year, but then I started working for Oxfam within their international Rights in Crisis campaign which also focuses on conflict and post conflict countries. A few months later, I was also asked to work as a consultant for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the research and writing of a big chapter on alternative livelihoods for farmers of drug-producing plants for their World Drug Report 2015. That was a very rewarding experience as the topic was directly in line with my PhD research.

Verena Brähler at UCL in London

Verena Brähler: All in all, life after the PhD is so much easier, both personally and professionally. I am working as the Head of Research at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the national equality body and human rights institution for Great Britain. I manage a suit of research projects, have responsibility for budgets and risks and a duty of care towards the people in my team but I am finding it much easier than doing a PhD.

Looking back, what is the most important thing you learned that helps you in your career today?

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: You need a lot of stamina and tenacity to do a PhD! I hope these qualities will help me during the job search.

Jenna Muray de López: Resilience and owning your ideas – they are no better or worse than anyone else’s.

Verena Brähler: Wherever I work, and for whoever I work, I want to be clear on what we are trying to achieve and why and how. Life is too short to waste people’s time and do work that has no impact. Therefore I think the PhD has raised the bar in terms of what I expect from my work environment and those around me.

What would you do differently?

Jenna Muray de López: Keep writing more during fieldwork. I became so immersed in data collection that I forgot how to think about writing large pieces.


Susan Flaemig, Juan Carlos Ruiz, Edmund Pries and Verena Brähler at a conference in Budapest

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I wish it had taken me less time to write the thesis. Having a clearer idea about my research goals at the very beginning of the whole PhD process would have helped speeding it up.

Verena Brähler: I would use more project management skills to plan out my PhD from start to finish, with deliverables and milestones, and always being clear what is coming on the horizon. Sometimes I was writing on a chapter for months and never thought clearly about what would come after that, and then after that.

Jorrit Kamminga: I would try to keep the scope of my research as limited as possible. I thought I already had narrowed the topic down considerably, but the next time I would definitely focus even more. I think that will make the research not only more manageable but in most cases also better.

Read the full interview here.

Impact on personal life – Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 2/3)

6 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 2: Impact on personal life

All of you conduct research on quite problematic issues like violence, organised crime and corruption, how does it affect you personally?


Jenna Murray de López

Jenna Muray de López: The focus of my research is examining obstetric violence and maltreatment of women in the health system which has always been very personal to me. Working in a militarized environment and an area where violence against women and kidnapping are common place affected me because I had my children with me in the field. Upon reflection I think I avoided more situations and opportunities if I felt I would be putting them in danger. Having to explain images and talk of gendered violence, presence of soldiers and brawls in the street to an inquisitive five year old made me question my priorities a lot.

The 'pacification' of Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro

Complexo do Alemao in Rio de Janeiro where Verena did her field research

Verena Brähler: What affected me most was this constant notion of fear that I had never felt growing up. Fear that I would visit the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong people, and put research participants or myself in danger because of the information I held. Fear is very powerful. It is good because it made me be careful and alert, and it is bad because I never had peace of mind. I think a part of this fear and mistrust will stay with me for the rest of my life, no matter where I will go.

Natalia Cervantes: At the risk of sounding very idyllic, researching issues of violence for me worked as a booster. It encouraged me to try and communicate people’s experiences on the ground to grasp a little better what we can do about violence. However, I also found that researching violence can take a toll on you. Listening and transcribing interviews recounting very violent experiences has a clear emotional effect.

How does doing a PhD impact on your family and private life?

Local police station in El Salvador where Susan did her field research

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: This is an interesting question because usually I think about it the other way around – how does my family life affect my PhD? I heard people saying, if you do a PhD, you do not have time for a private life. That certainly was not true for me. I always found it important to have a balance between my private life and the PhD. Otherwise I would not have found the strength to face the various challenges of doing a PhD.

Jorrit Kamminga: I did my PhD part-time which meant that it did not really affect the family and private life. During the last year of the PhD, the writing process was quite intense, but that year I was not combining it with work, so that also was quite manageable.

Verena Brähler: My experience was that there are no free evenings, weekends and holidays when you do a PhD. Or maybe there are but you cannot enjoy it because you know that every hour you are not working on your research project, is an hour you need to add at the end.


Jenna Murray de López with her family

Jenna Muray de López: I would also say that the PhD has had a significant impact on family life. I have worked fulltime and studied part time for the last six years. When at home I have not been as ‘available’ to my family because I have been locked away working. During the nine months of fieldwork I left my husband and three year old son in the UK whilst I went pregnant and with my five year old daughter to carry out fieldwork. I have had two more babies through the duration of my studies (affectionately referred to as fieldwork baby and write-up baby!). I think ultimately my children and husband would answer this question better. But, overall I am glad my children have witnessed how hard you have to work for something. Ultimately it is the thought of the family sacrifices we made that got me through to the end.

Natalia Cervantes: My husband started his PhD six months before me so at times we were both under massive amounts of stress. Nevertheless, it was nice that we both understood the processes we were going through, so we were able to provide a lot of support to each other. Needless to say, the dynamic changed again last year when we welcomed our baby boy into the world.

Read the full interview here.

Researching Security fellows share their very personal views on the PhD trajectory (Part 1/3)

5 January 2017

We have asked our Researching Security fellows to reflect on what it is like to do a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence, including what impact it has on their private life and what they would do differently looking back. Read this interview for a very personal view – one you won’t find in a student handbook.

Part 1: Doing a PhD in the field of security, organised crime and violence

What is the best and worst part of doing a PhD in the field of security, violence and organised crime?

Natalia Cervantes

Natalia Cervantes: Security, violence and organised crime are all incredibly pressing issues in my country, Mexico. Studying these themes empowered me to understand things are not as simple as portrayed. It also humbled me, realising how people cope and learn to live with violence situations. The downside of it all is feeling impotent. As a PhD researcher, you are there for a limited period of time, and there is little, or nothing, you can do to ameliorate people’s living conditions in this short time frame.

Jenna Muray de López: I also carried out my fieldwork in Mexico – in Chiapas, an area known for low-intensity armed conflict between the indigenous Zapatista movement and the Mexican state. The militarized environment and the ‘everyday violence’ that low-income Mexicans are exposed to greatly influenced how I approached questions of healthcare and state in a way I had not imagined.

Jorrit Kamminga: I like the level of complexity in all these areas. There are so many different layers and factors involved. For example, I did my PhD on alternative livelihoods in Colombia and there are many different reasons why farmers grow illicit crops. That makes it very challenging to come up with tailored public policies that produce good outcomes.

Susan Hopper-Flaemig

Susan Hoppert-Flaemig: I think the best part is doing research about some of the most challenging questions of our time. Creating peace in the 21st century is closely linked to finding new approaches of dealing with issues of insecurity and violence. I hope that our research can make a small contribution here.

How has your gender, ethnicity or nationality impacted on or influenced your research?

Verena Brähler: Being white, female and German certainly influenced my field research in Rio de Janeiro. Of all these characteristics, I would say being a foreigner made the biggest difference. I noticed that many Brazilian researchers had been forced to choose sides and either align with the narrative of the police/military/elite or the favelas/human rights activists/drug dealers. As a foreigner, I felt I didn’t have to choose sides and was allowed to speak to everyone.

Alternative livelihood recipients and familiy

Alternative livelihood recipients Jorrit met in rural Colombia

Jorrit Kamminga: For me as a foreigner in Colombia I wasn’t able to conduct the field research alone in some of the areas I visited. Sometimes the risks of doing field research are unclear or exaggerated but in some cases, for example in some neighborhoods of Medellín, it would have been a huge risk to go there by myself.

Natalia Cervantes: I think my nationality benefited my research. Being a Mexican doing fieldwork in Mexico meant that accessibility was not a prominent issue. I was able to speak the language and already familiar with research settings and costumes. However, gender had a definite impact on my research. I often felt like I was being patronised when I spoke with officials.

Jenna Muray de López: My gender and role as a mother were also central to my positionality in the field – I was researching maternal lives. I was limited in my interactions with men, which is a slight regret and gap in my data. Despite this I built up good relationships with the women in the neighbourhood. I respected the gendered spaces and have previous experience of the misunderstandings that can be caused as a white woman talking alone with other women’s men. Women’s curiosity about how white women bear and care for children was useful for me to understand what was important to them.

Read the full interview here.