conflictNet: Helping researchers map the networks of civil unrest

September 14, 2020 - Karessa Weir

Dr. Shahryar Minhas, Assistant Professor of Political Science, has received a National Science Foundation grant to create a tool by which scholars can study civil conflict through a network perspective.

Nearly 70 percent of civil conflicts since 1956 have at least 3 active armed groups and nearly 30 percent have at least 10 groups, Dr. Minhas said, but most research only examines the interaction between the government and a single opposition group. 

"Research has fallen short in measuring and modeling techniques that adequately capture network and relational characteristics essential to the data-generating process of conflict," Dr. Minhas said. 

That's where conflictNet would come in. The website, combined with a user-friendly statistical package, will allow researchers to more easily conceptualize and study civil war through a network perspective.

"This project aims to unmasks the interdependent dynamics of civil conflict by conceptualizing actions and battles as a set of nodes and ties that constitute a network," Dr. Minhas said. 

"As a result, users will be able to not only measure how network properties of conflict shape its evolution, but will also be able to more accurately test existing hypotheses related to the multi-actor nature of civil wars."

The award, titled "Collaborative Research: Mapping Relational Data in Civil Conflicts" will be collaborative with Cassy Dorff, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University, and Max Gallop, Assistant Professor, University of Strathclyde over a 3-year, $734,616 grant. 

According to NSF: ConflictNet will be a valuable contribution to the field and enable scholars interested in the analysis of current political events and civil conflict in two keys ways. First, from a modeling perspective, the creation of a tool that allows for the easy generation of network data on subnational-level conflict will improve the ability to conduct inference on the drivers of civil conflict, and operationalizing conflict between armed actors using a network perspective will allow for greater accuracy in forecasting future occurrences of conflict. Second, this project not only addresses critical gaps in the literature but also paves the way for new directions in intrastate conflict research: the prediction of battle-level incidents at fine-grained unit of analyses; new hypotheses on how violent events are conditional on the ebb and flow of group level characteristics, motivations, and socio-political connections; and a deeper understanding of how interdependence across armed actors escalates violence against civilians and poses new challenges for government actors.

Dr. Minhas specializes in International Relations and works with the Social Science Data Analytics Program (SSDA). He earned his PhD in Political Science and M.A. in Computational Economics at Duke University. His main research and teaching interests focus on the areas of political methodology, conflict studies, and international institutions.