Social networks and violence


Socialization and Violence

Participation in conflict is contingent on the social networks of individual actors, groups, and states. Indeed, the same microprocesses which drive someone to commit violence on behalf of a group are at play for rebel organizations, terrorist cells, and states. In turn, we can better understand conflict by exploring how relational ties effect the onset of violence. In my research, I explore participation in violence using the social networks of states, rebel groups, and terrorist organizations. Specifically, I use the Islamic State, 1994 genocide in Rwandan, white nationalist groups, experiments with real social networks, and state-to-conflict to demonstrate the importance of social networks and conflict.

Islamic State
I recently finished two papers on Islamic State combatant mobilization. I find that mobilization is driven by out-group animosity. Notably, better economic conditions, higher rates of education, and lower rates of unemployment seem to have a positive effect on mobilization (Edgerton 2019). Suicide terrorism is also a function of the environmental and individual characteristics of fighters. Specifically, I find that suicide combatants are mobilized by familial ties (Edgerton 2019). The figure below is a heat map of Islamic State soldiers and suicide fighters from Egypt.

The log count by home communties of suicide fighters and soldiers for Islamic State combatants. At the subnational unit, there is wide variation in the home provinces of fighters.

The log count by home communties of suicide fighters and soldiers for Islamic State combatants. At the subnational unit, there is wide variation in the home provinces of fighters.

1994 genocide in Rwanda
Since 1990, countries have seen a dramatic increase in the occurrence of civil war and genocide. Most infamously, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda resulted in the deaths of between 800 thousand to 1 million people, constituting 70 percent of the Tutsi population. This case is particularly notable given the speed, spread, and scope of violence. Indeed, over a 4-month period, approximately 225,000 people participated in the genocide. Researchers contest the precise means through which civilians came to participate in the genocide, however. In particular, violence against the Tutsi population was encouraged by Hutu elites, but some civilians may have participated in the violence without direct engagement from the government. In this paper, we explore the network structure of killing groups in Rwanda. The network structure of the killing groups is derived through the gacaca criminal court data which lists the location, trial date, and type of crime committed by perpetrators during the conflict. The social structure of these groups’ sheds light on the emergent properties of mass violence. Specifically, we examine the organizational level of violent groups during the genocide. This allows us to precisely evaluate competing theories if participation in the conflict was top-down or bottom up.

White nationalist and radicalization
Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase in white nationalist terrorist attacks. These attackers identify as part of a transnational movement, which aims to protect the interest of “white people” across states. To date, little is known about how these people become radicalized; specifically, what prompts someone in New Zealand to join a white nationalist movement centered in the United States and Europe? And how did they become radicalized. We explore the radicalization of these people using the ego-twitter networks of white nationalists to see how these people come to adopt their views.

Interstate conflict
In the international system, conflict, cooperation, and norm diffusion can be explained by the processes that guide cooperation and conflict at subnational levels. The findings offered in this project are especially powerful, because it unifies existing theories of cooperation and conflict across all forms of social animals. Researchers have demonstrated that cooperative social structures between people, such as cosponsorship in Congress, friendships in schools, coauthoriship between academics, and trade agreements between states have similar social structure. Similar to subnational groups of people, states use violence to create social order. In turn, conflict processes can be explained by the organizational structure of states. This this project, I explore how international conflict can be explained by the social structure of the international system.