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Ted Robert Gurr

"Fear of failure or criticism has never inhibited me from starting off in a new direction," says Dr. Ted Robert Gurr, reflecting on a prolific career of ground-breaking research on civil conflict and political violence. Among his many achievements, Gurr has written the award-winning books Why Men Rebel (Princeton, 1970), and, with historian Hugh Davis Graham, Violence In America (U.S. Government Printing Office, Bantam Books, and Praeger, 1969; Sage Publications, 1979). He taught at Princeton and Northwestern Universities (where he was department chair) and the University of Colorado before joining the Maryland faculty in 1989. He was awarded a Distinguished University Professorship by the University of Maryland in 1995. Gurr's philosophy also underlies the Minorities at Risk project, which he conceived in 1985 at a time when ethnic conflict was not a major scholarly or policy concern. The project's results have been reported in three books and numerous articles and chapters, most recently in Peoples Versus States: Minorities at Risk in the New Century (U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2000).

A senior faculty member at the CIDCM and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Government and Politics, Gurr is internationally-recognized for his theoretical, comparative, and historical studies of societal conflict. His career has been shaped by several formative experiences, not the least of which was "the eruption of widespread violent protest by urban African-Americans in 1965 and the demands of...the American public for explanations and for ideas about what should be done." This led Gurr to a number of positions advising policymakers, first as a staff member of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence established by President Johnson in 1968, and most recently a 1994-2000 appointment as Senior Consultant to the State Failure Task Force, a White House-sponsored empirical study of the precursors of internal wars and regime breakdowns since 1955. In an interim report of the Task Force Gurr and his colleagues - including Daniel C. Esty, Jack A. Goldstone, Barbara Harff, Monty G. Marshall, Pamela T. Surko, and Alan N. Unger - point out that "The international consequences of state failures are profound. A vital policy question is whether failures can be diagnosed far enough in advance to facilitate effective international efforts at prevention or peaceful transformation." The Task Force analyses are widely circulated among U.S. intelligence and foreign policy specialists and can be accessed through the CIDCM website.

Similarly broad in scope is another one of Gurr's projects: the Polity project, which he began in the late 1960s to provide coded information on political institutions for all independent states from 1800 to the present. Since 1998 it has been updated under the direction of Monty G. Marshall at CIDCM in collaboration with Keith Jaggers of the University of Colorado. The Polity data, available on the CIDCM website, provide the basis for many scholarly and policy studies of the impact of democracy and autocracy on civil and international conflict, among them a State Failure Task Force study of the survival rates of new democracies conducted in August 1997 for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Since the mid-1980s, Dr. Gurr has worked collaboratively with Barbara Harff, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, in systematic efforts to identify ethnic groups that are at risk of victimization. Their work in this area includes Early Warning of Communal Conflict and Genocide: Linking Empirical Research and International Responses (United Nations University Press, 1996) and chapters in Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems, coedited by Gurr and John L. Davies (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998). Even though "academic research cannot create the will or means to act," Harff and Gurr hope that early warnings will contribute to the kinds of domestic and international policies needed to minimize the risks of humanitarian disasters.

At Maryland, Gurr has taught theories and comparative analysis of violent ethno-political conflict at the graduate and undergraduate level. He shifted to a part-time appointment in 1999 but continues to guide the Minorities at Risk project with co-directors Christian Davenport and Monty G. Marshall, and to work with doctoral students. He has directed or co-directed the dissertations of nearly 40 doctoral students during his career at Princeton, Northwestern, the University of Colorado, and the University of Maryland.

Gurr's work in conflict analysis has included conflict forecasting tests using econometric models, evaluation of conflict outcomes, theoretical work on state coercion and violence, and the analysis of oppositional terrorism. His current research focuses on the roles of ethnic and national peoples in conflict, emphasizing conflict management strategies - the latter summarized in a 2000 Foreign Affairs article, "Ethnic Warfare on the Wane." This research also provides the basis for case studies and analyses for Ethnic Conflict in World Politics, coauthored with Barbara Harff (Westview Press, 1994). A revised edition will appear in 2003.

Other instances of Gurr's desire to try new topics are studies of the characteristics of states (political systems, policies), their evolution, and patterns of public policy, especially in response to crises. One such analysis is The State and the City, coauthored with Desmond King (University of Chicago Press, 1987) examining the responses of the national and local state to urban decline in the U.S. and Britain. Another focus of his work during the 1970s and 1980s was the dynamics of long-term crime trends and the development of institutions of criminal justice. His 1989 edited volume, Violence in America: The History of Crime (Sage Publications) summarized his and others' work on this issue.

International recognition of Gurr's work includes visiting fellowships at the University of Uppsala, Sweden (the Olaf Palme Visiting Professor) and at the Interdisciplinary Program of Research on Root Causes of Human Rights Violations (PIOOM) of the University of Leiden, Netherlands. In 1994-95 he served as president of the International Studies Association. He is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a 1988-89 appointment as a Peace Fellow of the U.S. Institute of Peace and a major recent grant from the Carnegie Corporation that supports ongoing work of the MAR project on self-determination movements. In October 2002 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sofia, Bulgaria.

Ted Gurr and Barbara Harff live on Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, a base for local kayaking and long-distance travel. His two daughters both follow academic careers, Andrea as assistant to the provost at Northwestern University, Lisa as assistant professor of anthropology at Wayne State University. His stepson Tim Gribben is a mineral processing engineer with Borax Corporation in southern California.

Prepared by CIDCM staff and updated in September 2002.


© 2004 - 2017 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of February 2, 2012