Inequality & Conflict: Hillesund’s CCVW Session

The Spring 2016 Conflict Consortium’s Virtual Workshop (CCVW) jumped into its second session with a paper from Solveig Hillesund entitled “Types of inequality matter: How political and economic forms of horizontal inequality spur different conflict mobilization processes.” Olga Chyz and Kathleen Cunningham were on deck for the discussion, as well as the ever-present Christian and Will. You can watch the session here.


Hillesund has put together an interesting, and well executed, study with a number of strengths. Here is the abstract:

Several large-N studies provide strong support for the proposition that the likelihood of internal armed conflict rises with higher levels of horizontal inequality, that is when inequality aligns with salient social group demarcations. But little attentition has been paid to the question of whether political and economic forms of inequality tend to spur different mobilization processes, and result in different forms of conflict. In this study, I propose that three important differences between political and economic horizontal inequality will affect the form that mobilization takes: intragroup variation, normative standard and government responsibility. Insights from social movement theory suggest that mobilization for civil conflict cannot be fully understood in isolation from other forms of mobilization. I therefore extend existing propositions on the micro mechanisms of the inequality-civil conflict relationship to a wider array of social conflicts, that is conflict that does not target the central government or is waged with nonviolent means. I hypothesize that (i) political horizontal inequality is more likely than its economic counterpart to spur civil conflict; and that (ii) economic horizontal inequality is more likely than political horizontal inequality to spur other kinds of conflict. The expectations are empirically supported by statistical analysis of Africa, 1991-2009, supplementing civil conflict data from the UCDP with social conflict episodes from the Social Conflict in Africa Database. A robust relationship appears to exist between economic horizontal inequality and the onset of social conflict Political discrimination of ethnic groups, on the other hand, increases the risk of civil conflict, but not that of other kinds of conflict.

CCVW demonstrated again how provocative and interesting conflict studies can be. Hillesund’s paper was on the one hand timeless as it sought to investigate a seemingly age-old, as well as very broad, problem about how inequality promotes conflict behavior. On the other hand, the research sought to draw upon and develop a specific approach to investigating the topic – in particular, the recent book by Cederman, Gleditsch and Buhaug (2013). The tension between the two was fascinating.

Hillesund challenges existing work by suggesting that it too narrowly focuses on only certain types of conflict behavior. The field had already begun to expand the conceptions of inequality, examining economic as well as political dimensions, and thus the proposed expansion was much appreciated. Hillesund’s paper not only endeavors to focus on armed conflict/civil war undertaken by ethnic groups (which had been examined already), but also other forms of contention such as non-violent direct action as well as protest behavior. The paper explores the different effects that the different forms of inequality have on the different forms of conflict. In a nutshell, she argues that political inequality stimulates violent challenges to the polity while economic inequality is more likely to generate non-violent protest or inter-ethnic group conflict.

The discussants raised several interesting questions. For example, some of the discussion highlighted the framing. Some suggested she reframe the research by identifying an an explicit puzzle or question at the outset. Both Christian and Will observed that the Cederman, et al book is largely a repackaging of they find theoretically richer work around by Gurr (1970, 1993) and Tilly (1978), and McAdam (1982), Benford & Snow (2000), and so on. More specifically, Hillesund’s argument discusses processes of grievance, mobilization, political opportunity structure, and cultural frames. We recognized that as a work that extends the Cederman, et al book, this was to be expected, but encouraged her in future work on the topic to engage the theoretical and empirical work that researchers from Collier & Hoefler (2004) and Fearon & Laitin (2003) onward brush aside.

There was also some discussion about conceptualization, specifically the decision to distinguish “civil conflict” (defined as violent challenges to the state) from “social conflict” (defined as non-violent challenges to the state and communal conflict). This conceptualization blends identity politics (ethnic groups v states, ethnic groups v other ethnic groups) and tactics (violence v non-violence). A potentially stronger theoretical case might be made by arguing that political inequality has a stronger impact upon non-violent and violent challenges to the state than economic inequality, whereas economic inequality has a stronger impact upon non-violent and violent communal conflicts. Relatedly, drawing explicitly on the idea of repertoires, noting that tactics are “co-selected,” might be a fruitful direction. This had implications for measurement as well as modeling.

With respect to moving from the group level to the national level, the explicit statement of the argument was praised. But there were some questions raised about the “weakest link” assumption (i.e., measuring inequality at the national level using the group that suffered from the greatest level of inequality). We encouraged her to

There were some fundamental issues brought up about what political horizontal inequality was. For example, the measure that Hillesund used was about how one group was discriminated against by another relative to other groups in the society. How was this different from repression or democracy, however, which are often related to behavioral challenges? Economic horizontal inequality was measured by looking at the poorest ethnic group relative to some national average. Was this a useful way to think about the problem however? What did the group centric analysis mean in the context of a national-level investigation?

Moving in a different direction, a few of the panelists raised questions about the use of Idean Saleyhan and Cullen Hendrix’s Social Conflict in Africa Database. The group wondered: what were the implications of examining the dynamic of interest in Africa? Were there any specific processes that needed to be incorporated into the analysis (e.g., anti-slavery and anti-colonialism) that might impact subsequent selections of challenging tactics? What about the diffusion of tactics and people throughout the continent? Might the Afrobarometer be used to tackle some of the issues regarding mass perceptions posited in the theoretical set up?

In sum, Hillesund has put together an engaging study that extends the work of Cederman, et al in interesting and useful directions. She has opportunities to strengthen the framing, thereby clarifying the study’s theoretical and empirical contributions. Her project also stimulates additional directions for future inquiry, and while the group gave her a bevy of critiques and suggestions, we are confident she we will run with them to productive ways to not only revise the present effort, but also to inform her future work on the topic.

@engagedscholar & @WilHMoo

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CCVW: Electoral Support for Paramilitary Parties

The Spring 2016 Conflict Consortium’s Virtual Workshop kicked off last week with a discussion of Mary Beth Altier‘s paper “Voting for Violence: Explaining Support for Paramilitary Parties at the Polls.” Michael E. Allison, Johanna Birnir, Bridgett Coggins and Reyko Huang joined Christian and Will to offer feedback. You can watch it here.


Altier has an interesting project on the electoral support garnered by political parties with widely known ties to paramilitary organizations, in democracies. She is completing a book length manuscript that includes both descriptive-historical and statistical analyses from a few cases, but in the effort we discussed she focuses exclusively on Sinn Fein’s support in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Some of our discussion focused on what she might add from the larger study, but of course, there is the page limit issue of an article length ms. The group didn’t produce any “general rules” to address this common dilemma, but we did produce a number of different suggestions, and hopefully some of those will prove useful in revision.

Altier’s argument, in a nutshell, is that electoral support if primarily a function of personal security: paramiliatries (or paras) thrive in democracies when the state fails to establish/enforce its monopoly claim on the legitimate exercise of coercion. That failure, in effect, creates space for paras to provide people with such security, and a political party with ties to provision of that fundamental state service can reap the benefits come elections (assuming they are reasonably free, such that voters can anticipate anonymity when they cast their ballot). In a sense, if political authorities cannot provide safety, then whoever does can be viewed as well as treated as a protector/authority.

Much of our discussion focused on the empirics. As in all projects, Altier makes a handful of pragmatic decisions to permit the study to move forward, despite standard challenges one of more specific choice. The panel did a good job identifying several, and Altier had given previous consideration to each. Aside from suggestions to clarify a number of issues, we were able to identify a couple of opportunities for an alternative approach (and, inevitably, others that would require additional research beyond the scope of her present effort). The strongest push back came against an initial cross-sectional analysis that Birnir argued simply could not produce the relevant inference. She pressed Altier to cut that in favor of a pair of first-differences, fixed country-year analyses that do permit the inference she desires. These analyses support her hypothesis that state killing of Catholic civilians impacts Sinn Fein support, whereas other perpetrator-victim dyads do not.

One other suggestion that garnered wide support was to cut a lengthy descriptive-historical discussion and intersperse the vignettes contained therein in both the introduction and development of the theory. We also encouraged her to address scope conditions given that the small size of Northern Ireland (where, at the district level, dense networking likely produces no more than two degrees of separation between a victim of state killing and a vote) differs considerably from especially Latin American countries where paramilitaries operate within democracies.

Overall the paper was rich in terms of theoretical as well as methodological innovations and the discussion was useful for refining the study as well as providing a direction for the project along with the field.

@engagedscholar & @WilHMoo

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W Germany Responds to Terror in the 1970s

I am reading descriptive–historical works about government’s responses to terror attacks (and other forms of both violent and non-violent dissent) for a book manuscript I am writing, and am struck by these “Gee, doesn’t this sound familiar” passages from Peter Katzenstien’s 1990 monograph West Germany’s Internal Security Policy: State and Violence in the 1970s and 1980s.


West German Police.  Source: Wikimedia commons.

[Three distinct waves of W German terrorism (1970-2, 1974-77, 1984-6)] triggered a set of political responses that shows a remarkable degree of coherence during the last two decades… Important elements of the organizational structure and operative mission of the West German police have changed from a military to a civilian model informed not by the image of fighting a civil war, but of controlling mass protest and surveying clandestine operation (p 1).
How many attacks were there?  Estimates vary widely,
[b]but the most conservative… counts over 3,000 incidents between 1968 and 1987… In the period 1967-72… police counted more than 90 shootings and bombings.  Between 1970 and 1979 government figures report 649 left-wing terrorist attacks with 31 persons killed, 97 injured, and 163 seized as hostages…  And, at a minimum, terrorists accounted for 30 bank robberies which netted in excess of 5 million deutschmarks.  Between 1980 and 1985 the total number of terrorists incidents committed by both the Right and the Left increased to 1,601  (pp 1-2).
How many dissidents produced this mayhem?
In the absence of reliable data on the number of terrorists in the Federal Republic, the West German media typically repeat the the 1980s government estimate of about 20 activists, 200 sympathizers who may help by providing money, apartments, or automoblies, and a supportive social mileu variously estimated at between 2,000 and 20,000 from which sympathizers and activists are apparently often recruited (p 2).
And how did the West German government respond?
The seriousness with which terrorism is treated in the Federal Republic is revealed by another statistic.  While about 15,000 crimes against state security, including among others terrorism and public demonstrations, account for, at most, one-third of one percent of all criminal acts, between 5 and 10 percent of all police personnel in the Federal Republic are assigned to state security divisions of the police force (p 3).
[T]he crucial development in the 1970s centered on the growth of a large, sophisticated, computerized information system that stored data on a growing number of West Germans.  After an initial, technocratic euphoria about entirely new dimensions of police work had passed, the West German police still was equipped with new instruments of gathering, storing, retrieving and evaluating vast sets of data on particular social groups or suspects…  In the words of Major Elliott, an expert on terrorism in the US Army, in the 1970s West German law enforcement agencies began “the conduct of what I would call preemptive intelligence.”  The growing social distance which the reorganization of the police appeared to have imposed was thus countered by much more indirect forms of surveillance [than the cop on foot patrol had provided prior to then]  (pp 17-8).
The new technological capacities of the police have created new forms of police work that have transformed relations between the police and society… Surveillance of potential suspects or of demonstrators suspected of violence and undercover activities  have become accepted methods of police work (p 20).
after its legalization in for the purpose of intelligence surveillance in 1968, wiretapping by the police has become a relatively routine affair (p 35).
Ten amendments to the criminal code, passed between 1970 and 1989, have granted the police and the judiciary an increasing number of instruments to respond to the rise and persistence of terrorism… Furthermore, the Bundestag also changed the criminal code between 1974 and 1976: to make it easier to arrest those suspected of terrorist crimes (p 32).
[One article, 88a, was later rescinded]  The purpose of Article 88a was to punish giving support and approval to violence through word and deed (p 33).

What was the impact?

More intrusive if less overtly repressive policing domestically proved to be of limited use at the height of West Germany’s second terrorist wave in 1976-77.   More than 100,000 police officers and members of West Germany’s various security organizations were trying to catch two or three dozen terrorists who had decided to wage open war on the Federal Republic (p 48).
The new forms of police surveillance have created considerable strains on the German notion of the lawful state.  Numerous pieces of legislation dealing with questions of internal security have been one result; numerous security scandals another… Broadly speaking, political principles and legal norms aim, on questions of internal security, at granting government agencies the right to act in defense of public order rather than securing the rights of individuals against an intrusive state (p 46).
West German terrorists, furthermore, adapted to the new police procedures, and in the 1980s the police have learned remarkably little about the structures, mindset and strategy of the groups operating in the underground (p 66).

Say it ain’t so.

I trust the similarities to the Bush and Obama administration’s responses to the post 9/11 era are self evident.


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Being an Overcritical Aspie: A Blast from a Christmas Past

I am reading a book on relationships for aspies, and like this from the section “Being overcritical.”

When I was younger I tended to micro-analyze anything and everything. I took this to such an extreme that I could not watch a movie without criticizing minor inaccuracies in the film.

Who could imagine such a thing!?! 😉

It reminds me of an exchange with my dada during a holiday break my senior year in college when my parents were entertaining neighbors.  A football game was on, and folks were chatting, having drinks, and sort of watching the game.  From time to time someone would comment about the play, which I was watching quite actively, and it was almost always some small talk pastiche that would lodge in my brain like a splinter.  I let several go, but also “corrected” various folks several times, providing a lengthy explanation of what was actually happening.

After a while my dad asked: “Hey Will, may I speak with you for a minute in the kitchen?”

Perplexed, I said “Sure,” and followed him into the kitchen.

When we arrived he spun, grabbed my bicep with his hand and said, with tempered exasperation something like this:

You know you can be a real asshole.  Few people understand the game of football as well as you do, and frankly they don’t want to.  They just want to chat and have some fun, and they don’t care to hear a dissertation.  Do you think you can pipe down some?

He then let go of my arm, and walked past me, shaking his head a bit as he rejoined the others.


My dad, jocularly grabbing my bicep to get my attention.

The irony is that my dad is almost surely on the spectrum as well (his online AQ score is the same as mine).  The embarrassing part is that I was flabbergasted.  It was like a veil was removed from my eyes.  I had never considered that people didn’t appreciate being “corrected,” and could suddenly see that he was right: I was, indeed, an asshole in such settings.


PS: My solution to consuming both movies and football has been to do so solo, and to try to warn people that I can be a right pain in the arse to watch football with, or to discuss a film with, right after having seen it.

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Conflict Consortium Virtual Workshop “Data Feature” with Yousef Munayer

For our final 2015 Conflict Consortium Virtual Workshop (CCVW), we focused on Prof. Yousef Munayer‘s database on Settler Violence in Israel-Palestine from 2000-2014.  The data serve as the primary source for the 2012 report When Settler’s Attack (PDF), authored by Munayer.  Joining us for the conversation was Will Moore, Christian Davenport, Devorah Manekin and Javier Osorio.  You can watch the video here.


Munayer and a team of coders have produced an event-like data base by human content analysis of the reports produced by the Palestine Monitoring Group (PMG), a consortium of human rights NGOs distributed throughout the relevant territories, supplemented by news accounts.  The resulting data are rather disaggregated at the longitude-latitude day for individual incidents with information about perpetrators, victims/targets, actions and outcomes. In some ways, it fit the standard who did what to whom, where and when format commonly known as events data, but in others it did not.  Some of the discussion centered on what could be done with the existing data to convert it to the more standard events data format, thereby enhancing its potential use by academic researchers, including increasing the potential for making it readily mergeable with other sub-national datasets that covered the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Guided by the Conflict Consortium’s Standards and Best Practices document on data creation, the session began with a discussion about what was being coded.  Munayer maintains that settler violence constituted a distinct form of political violence undertaken by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in Israel proper, in places under Palestinian authority and in zones that fall under neither’s jurisdiction.  

While focused on settler activities, Munayer’s data also includes activities undertaken by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities against diverse targets.  This broadens the focus of the database to be more concerned with conflict and violence in the relevant territory. Rather than adopt the language or label that was more broadly targeted, however, Munayer highlighted one of the forms of violence collected. This differentiates it from databases on the region such as the Levant created by Deborah “Misty” Gerner and Phil Schrodt.  It also differentiates the database from distinct research projects focused on peaceful/cooperative activities.

Discussion quickly moved to the network of PMG affiliates: geographically where were they, how does one qualify to be part of the network, are some offices/staffs larger than others, how does PMG information compare against that provided by newspapers, government reports, satellite or crowd sourcing? It was clear in this case that the comparison across sources beyond the PMG is crucial and needs to be done.  This is not only to check for biases but to assess “perspectives” as it is clear that different sources would likely focus on only specific events, for specific audiences and for specific reasons (see Davenport 2007).  The latter point is especially important for in this case information should not be compiled together but it should be viewed as it emerges from individual sources. At present the database did not offer this type of comparison but it could and should be done.

Another focal point of discussion concerned some interesting maps produced in the report that outlined the complexity in jurisdiction throughout the major.  In different locales, Israel, Palestine and open/contested zones can be found of a dizzying variety.  Highlighted in the report are arrows indicating where attacks generally came from as well as against whom they were directed.  This revealed the importance of geography within the conflict and one is immediately led to wonder (as we did): why specific locales were likely to see highly aggressive settler violence whereas others were much less likely to see such activity?  This is one of the questions that the data were created to prompt and facilitate, but greater attention needs to be paid to assessing the extent of the undercount bias across space, time, event type, actor and target.  Academic researchers could then try to either redesign data collection to address that variation, or to build statistical models of the heterogeneity (see Conrad, Hill & Moore 2014).​



We also discussed the possibility of leveraging some of the automated coding expertise of consortium members to determine whether the data might be collected that way moving forward.  Munayer is very interested in collecting the data in near-real time.

Finally, we established that Munayer would like to make the data publicly available, but first needs to properly document the data collection, produce a User’s Guide, and “clean up” the somewhat messy format that he, as the producer, can work with, but would not be appropriate for other users.  He shared that it was not a top priority, but something he hopes to do down the line.  We expressed interest in assisting in whatever ways we could. We will provide updates as this progresses.

@engagedscholar and @WilHMoo


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Conflict Research is Alive & Well

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am in need of a jolt of good news.  And I am delighted to report that 18 junior scholars provided Christian Davenport and I with just such a jolt when they recently submitted their work as candidates for the Spring 2016 edition of the Conflict Consortium Virtual Workshop.

We both had fun reading through the papers this weekend.  There are a large number of bright, talented young researchers out there who are doing interesting, innovative work, asking new questions, proposing new theories, collecting new data, and so on.  I want to publicly thank the 18 people out there who submitted their work: you brightened a couple of grumpy senior scholars’s weekends!

Regrettably we could only accept six papers.  But Christian and I are not fans of rejection, and since we created the CC generally, and CCVW specifically, to foster better conflict research, we make sure that nobody goes home empty handed.  For some we are going to be putting together mini virtual workshops for which we will recruit two or three scholars to provide feedback on the paper.  For others, either Christian or myself will provide the author with written feedback.

Inevitably, our energy and time are finite.  We would love to host more workshops, but hope that our endeavor to create some side VW’s will contribute to the growth of a vibrant and stronger conflict research community.  So be forewarned, folks, you may soon here from me with a request to do a small VW on an interesting paper for a junior researcher who could use your feedback.


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The 16 Team NCAA Football Bracket, 2015

Would you be interested in this?


It is based on the final rankings of the College Football Playoff committee.  Sure, the committee might have wanted to massage the rankings a bit to move OK State v OU and Northwestern v Stanford in the first round, and FSU / Clemson and Iowa / Michigan State being in the same quarters bracket, but I think you will agree that a 16 team playoff would be much better than the upcoming bowl season.

You can also see what a 16 team playoff would have looked like in 2012 and 2013.


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