MSU professor Franke Wilmer studies genocide and dehumanization

Franke Wilmer did not take a traditional path through college. She took a break from college for 10 years, working as a single mom trying to make a living waiting tables. She was 40 before she earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Maryland. “I worked as well all through doctoral school,” Wilmer added. Despite her unique beginnings, Wilmer has gone on to publish three books, she served as the department head for MSU’s political science program from 2001 to 2005 and she sat in the Montana House of Representatives from 2006 to 2014.

Wilmer’s passion for politics and international relations led her to do her doctoral thesis on human rights of Indigenous people, when Native Americans were working towards building better relationships with the state they lived in. After that Wilmer visited the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s to conduct research on dehumanization that eventually becomes justification for genocide. Essentially she was studying the emotional side of politics. At the time that Wilmer was in the former Yugoslavia it was the beginning of the end for the former USSR and the country was in great turmoil.

To do her research, Wilmer conducted interviews with displaced people living in refugee camps; “everyone wanted to talk,” she explained. Before going on her trip, Wilmer went to her local Macy’s department store and collected samples of lotions, colognes and make-up. She also brought along things like paper, coloring books and crayons for the children in the camp. “Just to put on some cologne made these people feel somewhat human again. It was a glimmer of hope,” Wilmer stated. She went on to attest that the role of emotions in politics is under-theorized. She explained that there is such a thing as victimization identity. “If you have experienced injustice, it becomes a part of us and at sometime that becomes all that matters,” Wilmer said.

Wilmer will soon be visiting Palestine and Israel to study and observe the political unrest going on in that area and more generally, the Middle East. “If you think that what was going on in Bosnia was bad, it is 100 times worse in Syria right now. At least in Bosnia there was ethnic differences,” Wilmer stated.

Wilmer has published works on the topics of genocide, dehumanization and political unrest. Wilmer admitted the books had long academic names and said it is really just more convenient to search her name to find them.