Existing research has tended to equate conflict with violence, where ‘non-conflict’ situations are either ignored or lumped together in a binary category. This is unfortunate on theoretical and empirical grounds. Definitions of conflict normally highlight incompatibilities, which may motivate actors to resort to violence, but these do not automatically generate violence and can be settled or managed in non-violent ways. Lumping together as “not violence’ both cases without conflict and agency (i.e., without clear incompatibilities or collective action) and cases where actors pursue different strategies ultimately undermines our ability to understand conflict processes and test core arguments about conflict, strategies, and the use of violence. There is a growing recognition of a decline in conventional warfare. Yet, without a broader perspective we cannot assess whether this may reflect increasing use of alternative strategies, more state accommodation, or fewer incompatibilities in the first place.
This project will examine conflict in terms of incompatibilities between actors, where the specific structure of the incompatibilities and the strategies and interactions determine whether we see escalation to violence as well as alternative outcomes such as accommodation or regime change. It will extend my prior research on civil war and focus more clearly on actor motivations, alternative outcomes to conventional civil war, and take seriously non-violent strategies in conflict and protest. Whereas previous research has tended to study violent and non-violent conflict as separate phenomena, this project will focus on violent and non-violent actions as possible substitutes and compliment and explain variation across a range of alternative outcomes, as illustrated in the so-called Arab spring, where we see both non-violent protest and violent insurgencies, as well as state responses ranging from violent repression to accommodation. The project will also consider how transnational factors can influence the choice of strategies that actors make in conflicts.
The work will be organized around 6 work packages:
- Theoretical framework;
- Data collection;
- Collective action and strategies in protest;
- Government responses and violence;
- Transnational dimensions;
- Out-of-sample evaluation and risk assessment).
In addition to publications in international peer-reviewed outlets, the project will involve training of post-doctoral research fellows and will foster international collaboration between the University of Essex and the Peace Research Institute Oslo.