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PhD student researches war and peace

March 31, 2016 10:09 A.M.

A UBC PhD student whose research into child soldiers and conflict resolution has provided a closer understanding of non-state armed groups such as ISIS speaks to Rotarians in Kamloops Friday.

Will Plowright has done extensive international research and development work. He has a connection to Kamloops through locally based Developing World Connections. DWC founder Wayne McRann was on a flight to Sri Lanka. His seat mate was a 23-year-old man from B.C. who was going to Australia to work as a bartender. Plowright had been travelling since he was 17 and, although his dad had been bugging him about settling down and going to university, he hadn’t found a focus yet.

The topic of DWC came up. McRann suggested he consider being a team leader. A couple of weeks after McRann returned to Canada from Sri Lanka, he got a call.

“He said if I was serious about him being a team leader, he’d come back to B.C. and get his education underway. It had to be contingent on him still being able to travel and being a team leader.”

Fast forward several years. Plowright led several trips with DWC and did a couple of exploratory trips with Wayne. His work with DWC made him realize he had a passion for international development work, and that’s what he studied. He completed his undergrad in international development and master’s degree in conflict studies, and is finishing his doctorate on conflict resolution. He also studied for one year in Bangkok as a Rotary Peace Scholar and worked with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan.

Plowright’s dad also got involved. Not only did he volunteer with DWC in Swaziland, but he sponsored two children there and led his own team of volunteer participants.

Plowright’s research has taken him to Syria, South Sudan and a number of other countries to interview fighters and commanders with various armed groups, including ISIS. What he found wasn’t the monsters as portrayed in the media, but fundamentally normal human beings in abnormal circumstances.

His primary aim is to develop a better understanding of how armed groups react to legitimacy in relation to international actors, according to the UBC Graduate School website: “Current scholarship treats non-state armed groups as indifferent to normative concerns, and the dominant literature sees them as solely interested in economic motivations related to personal gain. I aim to demonstrate the opposite; that armed groups are both aware of the role that international legitimacy can play as a strategic commodity, and that they are motivated to appear as legitimate in the eyes of international actors. I do this by focusing on the child soldiers norm."

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