Milestone for Dual PhD Centre: Vasileios P. Karakasis 25th PhD candidate

A very special occasion for the Dual PhD Centre. Vasileios P. Karakasis is the 25th PhD candidate in the history of the Dual PhD Centre, combining work with PhD research at Leiden University. Karakasis will defend his dissertation: ‘Adding Fuel to the Conflict’ on 15 October. In this interview, he discusses his experiences as a dual PhD candidate and his PhD research. ‘Finding the right balance is very important.’

Karakasis started his PhD research in 2014. He combines his research with his work as lecturer of International Relations & Public Policy at Leiden University and his appointment as co-director at the Sen Foundation. In reality, it all comes down to a combination of good planning and quick adaptation when things do not go according to the plan. ‘It’s a challenging combination. That requires discipline, time management and adaptability. That was my biggest problem. In my case, it meant that I only had time at the end of the semesters to travel to Cyprus for my research and to conduct interviews. The rest of the time I was so busy during weekdays with my work as a lecturer, that I was only really able to work on my PhD research in the weekends.’

Independent

One of the advantages of conducting PhD research this way, according to Karakasis, is that it allows you to operate completely independently in your research. ‘You don’t have to stick to standard timeframes, you make your own planning and your own decisions. It’s your responsibility. Besides, I also wanted to gain work experience as a lecturer. It was through Joris Voorhoeve that I got the opportunity to do so and that I learned about the combination provided by the Dual PhD Centre.’

Vasileios, who is currently living in Leiden, would definitely recommend others to go for the same combination. ‘This has been an extraordinary experience. I’m very content with the evaluations I had with the staff of the Dual PhD Centre and with fellow PhD students. You get to brainstorm to see if you’re on the right track and they provide you with advice in harmony with the advice of your supervisors. They’ll never judge you, but come up with practical solutions for the problems you’re faced with.’

Tensions running high

Karakasis conducted research to assess the impact of the recently discovered gas reserves south of Cyprus. For decades, the region was of little interest to the fossil fuel industry but when gas reserves were discovered in 2011 tensions quickly ran high, especially after Turkey sent military vessels to areas encroaching the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus. ‘As a Greek who’s also lived in Turkey, I’ve always made the effort to see how both sides perceive each other and what stands in the way of a normal relationship,’ says Karakasis. ‘I wanted to see how a new issue, which could have been treated as an economic matter, could become a matter of life and death and security; even though it’s highly likely that the relevance of fossil fuels will only diminish, since the world goes through an energy transition.’

Q-methodology

In order to research the influence of the discovery of natural resources on the escalation of a cold war situation such as the one on Cyprus, Karakasis applied Q-methodology. ‘It was pointed out to me by my supervisor, Pr. Steunenberg, something I’m very grateful for. The methodology is tailor made to “measure” human subjectivity and shows how people decipher their environment and calculate their responses to it.’ As a start, Karakasis conducted many interviews with opinion-leaders, political analysts, journalists, and policy makers. This provided him with hundreds of statements (concourse), which after being reduced to a manageable volume (Q-sample), he then asked politicians (P-Set) to sort them against a configuration that includes columns from fully disagree to fully agree (Q-sorting). Each column has a particular number of cells. Participants after having evaluated all statements had to sort the statements against the particular number of cells in this configuration, regardless of the number of statements they agreed or disagreed with. This sorting- process is called “forced distribution”. Finally, the rankings are placed in a software which runs factor analysis and highlights how people bunch together by virtue of “similar sorting”.

Factor analysis led to five competing discourses, three for the Greek Cypriots and two for the Turkish Cypriots. Each discourse entailed different motives and explanations regarding the exacerbation of the conflict, varying from geopolitical calculations, nationalism, grievances to political inequality and political opportunism.

Making recommendations

What is unusual is that Karakasis has added recommendations to his dissertation in the form of an epilogue. ‘Which isn’t common really, the conclusion should be the conclusion and speak for itself. But I simply couldn’t make that diagnosis and walk away. I felt I had to make recommendations. That is why I’ve included them in the epilogue which follows my conclusions.’ The target audience for his recommendations are civil servants working at the European Union and the United Nations. ‘A way has to be found to enable people to live and work together regardless of whether an offical settlement is reached or not. Practical conversations about the environment, joint projects, an electricity cable should become part of the discussion. He is not very hopeful about a solution for the conflict. ‘But I want to remain optimistic.’

Watch this PhD defense via this livestream.

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