Marc Howard Ross is William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor Emeritus. He has a long standing interest in his work is on conflict theory, conflict management, and the politics of ethnicity and race. He has done research in over 10 countries looking at both success and failures in ethnic conflict management. In recent years his research has emphasized the role of culture in conflict starting with the framing of the parties in conflict to the ways that conflicts progress and are played out.
My current project is on collective memory and forgetting asking, “Why and how do societies forget important events from their past?” My interest in this question was sparked by the publicity surrounding the story that George Washington held nine enslaved Africans in the President’s House just one block from Independence Hall while he was President and Philadelphia was the country’s capitol. There was intense controversy about what this meant and how the events on the site should be remembered and memorialized. As I followed the conflict, I developed an increasing awareness of the practice of slavery in all the northern colonies and later states of the United States. Why was this never mentioned in the public schools in New York City that I attended for 12 years given that during much of the 18th century over 40% of Manhattan’s households owned enslaved Africans and the percentages were even in higher in Brooklyn? Why in my decades living in Philadelphia was it not common knowledge that William Penn and many early Quaker settlers were slaveholders? Or that slave auctions were commonly held in Boston’s taverns? My interest expanded beyond the President’s House site to the broader question of why and how slavery faded from public consciousness so that most Americans soon perceived it entirely as a “southern problem.” There is no a single, simple answer, Among those I explore are the absence of reminders of northern slavery in the region’s symbolic landscape, unstated collusion between whites and blacks each of whom feels great shame about enslavement albeit for different reasons, northern narratives that blamed southerners, that argued that northern slavery was small-scale and gentler than its southern counterpart, and at the same time, suggested that blacks were not really ready for full citizenship. One legacy is that slavery and its aftermath is still a topic that is so difficult for white and many black Americans as well to address directly. I am in the process of writing a book on these questions that I expect will be completed in 2015.
A second current interest is an effort with Michael Rock in Economics to clarify the way that we understand the relationship between development and democratization. Too often the connection is made as a political claim without much empirical justification. Sophisticated, cross-national statistical studies using worldwide samples tend to support the claim that the two are related although few are very clear about the mechanisms that link them. On a more fundamental methodological level, there are reasons to doubt that the independence of cases assumptions are warranted in the case of these samples. Instead, we raise questions about the role of diffusion, path dependence, borrowing, and imposition as a source of the patterns of development and democratization especially within regions such as East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
Ross is the author of five books: Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict (Cambridge, 2008), The Culture of Conflict: Interpretations and Interests in Comparative Perspective (Yale 1993), The Management of Conflict: Interpretations and Interests in Comparative Perspective (Yale 1993), Grass Roots in an African City: Political Behavior in Nairobi (MIT 1974) and The Political Integration of Urban Squatters (Northwestern, 1973). He has also edited Culture and Belonging in Divided Societies (Pennsylvania, 2010), and co-edited Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure (Macmillan 2000) and Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial: Avoidance, Attack and Redefinition (Kansas, 1999), and he has published scores of scholarly essays. He serves on the editorial boards of the scholarly journals Behavior Science Research, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Political Psychology and is a past chair of the Peace and Conflict Studies Section of the International Studies Association as well as a past president of the Society for Cross-Cultural Research. Ross' work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation's Anthropology Program, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the United States Institute for Peace and the Mellon Foundation's New Directions Program.