Book Project

Volatile Nationalism: Nationalism and Its Influence on Maritime Disputes

Workers putting up a national flag in the Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam.

My current book project, which grows out of my dissertation, uses a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to study nationalism on both descriptive and causal fronts: Is nationalism really rising? Under what conditions can nationalism induce wars?

By applying machine learning methods to social media data in Vietnam and the Philippines, I found that the baseline levels of nationalism are low in these countries, and almost no evidence that it is rising over time. Meanwhile, these countries differ greatly in their responses to nationalist triggers. Vietnam has very volatile nationalism: it experience surges of nationalism in response to very small stimuli. The Philippines, by contrast, have very involatile nationalism: even large triggers don’t cause a response. I am currently extending this theory and measurement method to China, which constitutes a critical extension for my current book manuscript.

This project thus provides a wealth of new data and analysis of East Asian security informed by local knowledge. It challenges the pervasive assumption of “rising nationalism,” a key assumption that has inflated the perceived risk of regional conflicts especially driven by the rise of China. Methodologically, it incorporates micro-level analysis of the rich social media data, and enhances comparative perspectives on nationalism based on the explicit comparison of China, Vietnam and the Philippines.