Howard University Graduate School

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Doctoral Students Discuss Dissertation Research: Hatajai Ahkan Lassiter and Kasun Sameera Millawithanachchi [con't.]

By Anastasia Tamali

Kasun Sameera Millawithanachchi
Kasun Sameera Millawithanachchi

Interview with Kasun Sameera Millawithanachchi

Q: Where were you born?
Millawithanachchi: Sri Lanka.

Q: What is your research focus?
Millawithanachchi: My research focus is International Relations and Public Policy in Sri Lanka.

Q: What influenced you to choose your current field of study?
Millawithanachchi: My country needs to be able to understand how world affairs and the impact of public policies in other parts of the world impacts the 20 million people in Sri Lanka. Although Sri Lanka has many universities and academic centers, there are still individuals in important leadership roles who need to have an alternative perspective and my dissertation hopefully will add to the body of knowledge about how to reconcile ethnic differences in the quest for social justice and democracy.

Q: Could you tell us about your dissertation?
Millawithanachchi: My dissertation is titled "Sri Lankan National Integration and Reconciliation in the Quest for Social Justice." Sri Lanka is a former British Colony formally known as Ceylon. It is currently a democracy, which was drawn into a civil war that lasted almost 30 years and ended in 2009. Currently, the country is attempting to reconcile its differences in order to move forward towards a more just society for all of its citizens. The government, under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena, has decided to build a more inclusive society, which would fully integrate its people and ethnic groups into society.

In order to accomplish this end, the government has established an administrative agency with the task of developing a strategy and tactics to reconcile various ethnic groups in the quest for social justice. Social justice in the Sri Lankan context means fair and equitable use of the country's resources to improve the quality of life of its people.

The focus of this research is to develop an analytical model that could be used as a tool to assess the agencies' performance in their reconciliation efforts in selected sectors of the economy. The research will focus only on the comparative analysis of the education sector in four schools in four districts at the high school level that is corresponding into economic development in Sri Lanka. Future research will focus on other sectors of the economy in the quest for social justice.

Q: Tell us briefly about the theoretical framework you used in developing your research?
Millawithanachchi: My research uses several theories, including evaluation theories, social justice theories, economic development theory (Todaro & Smith, (2009), and implementation theory (Mazmanian, D. A., & Sabatier, p. A. (1989), Sri Lankan theorists ( Bandarage, A. (2009) that describe the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, ethnicity, and political economy and by Uyangoda, J. 2007 on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka: Changing dynamics.

Q: How would you explain the broader significance of your research?
Millawithanachchi: I believe this research is important and significant to Sri Lanka as a developing nation in a post-conflict society. There needs to be a way of assessing the implementation success by the government in order to make adjustments, improvements and to learn from a process that's never been done before. It provides an analytical model to assess implementation performance. It also provides a concrete empirical example of the efforts on the part of the government to not only be fair in the distribution of resources, but also to reach the illusive goals of distributive social justice among the different groups in the society. This research is to be considered as a foundation study, because there are no other studies and there is paucity of data in literature about reconciliation in the post conflict environments.

Q: What audiences are you addressing, what are the other books or scholars in your field, and how does your work compare with theirs?
Millawithanachchi: I am focusing on two different audiences for this research. First, this is research that the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and leadership can use as a reference to implement, evaluate, and measure the peace and reconciliation programs' success or failure for nation building. Secondly, this study is important because it adds to the body of knowledge on how South Asian countries can develop methodologies to address their domestic and minority group problems within the context of reconciliation.

Q: Tell us about a research project in which you've been involved that was successful and one which was not. Why do you think these were the outcomes?
Millawithanachchi: Over the years I have done my research on several topics. I have included a sampling of this research below. Transforming University Education in Sri Lanka: From a 'Subject' of Education to a 'developmental process and national integration' of Education. This research focused on the university education system, with a focus on development strategies. The policy domain was primarily focused on the education system that is corresponding into economic development in Sri Lanka.

Democracy and Human Development in sub-Saharan Africa: A quantitative perspective, 1990- 2014. This research analyses the effects of democracy on human development in sub-Saharan Africa. Theoretically, the idea of development of freedom is incorporated into the classical debate of democracy's impact on development. Empirically, this is tested in a number of quantitative methods and regression models covering the period 1990-2014. Democracy is measured by Freedom House's political rights and civil liberties. Human development is measured by Human Development Index (HDI) factors, such as the Education Index, life expectancy at birth (LEB) and Gross National Income (GNI). This study covers 48 sub-Saharan African countries and the results support the hypothesis that democracy is the variable with the greatest variance on human development. Moreover, the results indicate that democracy has positive effects on changes in human development. This finding strongly supports the claim that human development is compatible with and even strengthened by political democracy.

Q: What is the most significant piece of scholarship that you have read in the last year?
Millawithanachchi: Over the past year I was able to read the most significant literature in the field of international relations, comparative politics and the public administration. They include Robert Bates: Markets and States in Tropical Africa: The Political Basis of Agricultural Policies. When measuring the slow progress in food production in many African countries, Robert Bates's book focuses on the causes of these failures and seeks to demonstrate how the practice of certain development policies for agrarian transition to the industrial sector. In the introduction of this book, Bates has addressed the political origins of the shortfalls in agricultural production in Africa.

Q: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
Millawithanachchi: I would like to see myself as a faculty member and a scholar in the area of International Development and Public Policy in the United States, Europe, or Sri Lanka. Also, I see myself being a key member in the government of Sri Lanka, working towards national integration and reconciliation in the quest for social justice.

Q: If you get more than one job offer, how will you decide between them?
Millawithanachchi: The stability of the university or job site, salary, tenure vs. non-tenure position, working conditions, prospects for family members' having educational benefits at the graduate level, security for family safety, and opportunity for advancement will be major considerations.

Q: In what journals do you expect to publish your research?
Millawithanachchi: The American Journal of Political Science, Foreign Affairs The Journal of Peace Research, Millennial Asia, International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)

Q: How will you go about revising your dissertation for publication?
Millawithanachchi: It will depend on the publisher's requirements and their interest in the subject which means we will explore publishers in and outside the United States which will include commercial and academic presses. I will get support and advice from experts like Dr. Michael Frazier, who is my advisor to get this started. Also, I will get feedback from the political scholars in Sri Lanka and other reginal experts to be part of this process.

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