The Sri Lankan Conflict was a civil war between the country’s government and a militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers, who sought to create a state independent from Sri Lanka. The civil war between the two groups lasted 26 years, from July 1983 to May 2009. Ultimately, the government of Sri Lanka won, but at a great cost to its population. The fighting created hardship for Sri Lanka’s national economy and its people. The government forces, while fighting to take back land from the Tamil Tigers, were accused of human rights violations. The Tamil Tigers even came to be categorized throughout the world as a terrorist organization. An estimated 100,000 people were killed during the conflict.

Pre-Conflict Sri Lanka had been a model postcolonial state, and, therefore, economic development theorists have been baffled as to how this country fell into a bloody, 26-year civil war. For International Studies major James Flanagan, a sophomore and member of the Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets, this lack of answers and poorly addressed responses served as motivation to do his own research on the subject.

economic development theorists have been baffled as to how this country fell into a bloody, twenty-six year civil war.

Aided by his faculty advisor, Dr. Ioannis Stivachtis, Flanagan proposes to “explore the socio-economic development nexus in relation to the Pre-Conflict Sri Lanka.” In other words, he wanted to study the relationship between social issues and economic development in Sri Lanka as a basis for understanding how the country managed to fall into conflict. Furthermore, Flanagan examines Sri Lanka’s prospects for future development by synthesizing several developmental perspectives into a concise yet holistic point of view.

According to Flanagan, he hopes his research will show the complexity of the “conflict in Sri Lanka and what needs to be done to move forward.” For him, his research was about asking the right questions that need to be answered.

Previous research concerning the Sri Lankan conflict has focused on either ethnic or economic issues, whereas Flanagan’s research focuses on the relationship between the two. He has relied on analysis and comparison of literature collected from both American and South Asian authors. He says one of the most difficult parts of his work has been overcoming the “huge difference between the perspective of American and European writers and South Asian authors” as to problems surrounding the conflict.

As a part of his research process, Flanagan has visited Sri Lanka in summer 2012 with the Virginia Tech Center for 21st Century Studies and the non-government organization Sarvodaya, a non-profit community development program that has helped Sri Lankans during and after the civil war. During his trip, he traveled throughout the country while collecting South East Asian literature to use in his research. In his travels he visited the cities of Colombo, Trincomalee and Kandy. Regarding his research, Flanagan says he is investigating issues that “many people realize, although many people also ignore” and “opinions were strong about identity and what it [meant] to be Sri Lankan.” He has also continued to keep in contact via email with various citizens, journalists, poets and activists he met on his trip. One guide in particular left an impressionable mark. Windsor, a retired Sarvodaya worker, who traveled throughout the country with Flanagan’s group was “a testament to the ever willing to learn mentality of many people there” and “he took every opportunity to talk and listen to us.”

As to the future of his research, Flanagan hopes to apply his work in a way that will allow the issue of Sri Lankan development to move away from a technical problem and into a social issue. Flanagan realizes that “Sri Lanka’s future is not yet certain, [and] the future depends on the restructuring of identity and status of Tamils (the rebel insurgency) in Sri Lanka.” In order to do this, the relationship between social and economic issues needs to be exposed and understood. Flanagan hopes to make another trip to Sri Lanka soon, this time to look into how the military is working to change social development in the country.