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Flanagan's International Club brings prominent MIT research scientist to campus April 3

March 28, 2013

John Tirman John Tirman will present "Global Inequality and Armed Conflict" at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln on April 3.

John Tirman, executive director of MIT's Center for International Studies, has devoted his life to researching and preventing armed conflict.

He will deliver a presentation titled “Global Inequality and Armed Conflict” at 3 p.m. on April 3 in Room 2706 at the at the Community College of Rhode Island Flanagan Campus in Lincoln as a guest of the CCRI International Club. The presentation is free and the public is welcome.

Tirman is the author or co-author of a dozen books on international relations and armed conflict, most recently “The Deaths of Others,” which examines the marginalized foreign casualties of America’s wars. His presentation at CCRI will focus on the rise of economic inequality worldwide and how it can be a destabilizing force.

“One hypothesis about what creates instability is inequality in the face of rising expectations,” Tirman said. “When a state can’t meet those expectations, new challenges to state authority ensue.” He added that this is what happened in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring.

The United States, too, has exploding inequality but, aside from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, not a lot of unrest. “There is dramatically growing inequality in the U.S. so the question is, ‘Why isn’t there more fuss about that, more protests?’”

Inequality is a global phenomenon and Tirman’s talk will focus on why it is a catalyst for change in some places and almost a non-issue in others.

“I hope to give the audience some good questions to think about,” Tirman said. “Giving a good lecture is partly about asking good questions, not pretending that you’re giving all the answers.”

Much of Tirman’s academic work over the years falls into the field of human security – as opposed to national security – which prioritizes the needs of groups and individuals over countries.

If we ensure freedom from violence, disease, forced migration and poverty for all, the theory goes, there will be a safer world for everyone. Young men in certain parts of the Middle East, for example, would perhaps not feel motivated to turn to terrorist groups if they lived in stable and prosperous communities.

Tirman also has spent a lot of time studying American foreign policy, from Vietnam to Iran to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, he published one of the first major estimates of Iraqi casualties during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation up to that point.

Another of his research areas is the study of violence in urban areas, including in the United States, and how people cope with that.

Some of his most recent research is on social entrepreneurship, when individuals seek to change entire systems to bring about greater good. These are often nonprofit organizations or individuals within them. Their goal is not just to provide help, but to eliminate a social problem through change.

“There’s a relatively new emphasis on social entrepreneurship as a social change agent,” Tirman said. “It could grow into something significant.”

Tirman said he has had a lifelong interest in politics and began studying the subject as an undergraduate at Indiana University, graduating in 1972. He went on to Boston University where he became a favorite student of noted historian Howard Zinn.

He served as the executive director of the Winston Foundation for World Peace in Washington, D.C., from 1986 to 1999. In that year, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study conflict resolution in Cyprus. Upon his return, he worked for the academic think tank the Social Science Research Center until moving to MIT in 2004.

His articles have been published in The Nation, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Esquire, The Wall Street Journal and other publications. 


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