Allegiance in Social Conflict: Modeling the Impact of Loyalty Trials on Political Behavior

  • Working Paper
  • 2022

How do authorities generate behavioral conformity in conflict settings? From rebel groups to nation-states, political actors conduct loyalty trials to identify enemy-collaborators in areas under their control, with consequences ranging from harassment and ostracism to imprisonment, torture, or death. Contemporary examples include the sweeping raids in France following the 2015 Paris attack, Chinese counter-terrorism programs targeting Uyghurs for political disloyalty, and the recruitment of Palestinians for services tantamount to defection by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In each instance, individuals are labeled as defectors for behavior that ostensibly demonstrates allegiance to rival authorities, such as religious rituals or befriending ethnic others. Yet, while labeling can increase conformity, it also generates unintended cascades of defection. We explore the conditions under which one or the other outcome prevails using a computational model informed by data collected from archives and interviews in the German Democratic Republic and Palestine. We find that when defection is narrowly labeled, the under-identification of collaborators increases conformity, whereas when defection is broadly labeled, the over-identification of collaborators fuels resistance to group goals. This while loyalty trials effectively generate short-term conformity with group goals, they increase defection in the long run—radicalizing both conformers and defectors in the process.

Opening the Black Box of Household Behavior: Evidence-Driven Models of Acute Malnutrition in Kenya

  • Under Peer-Review
  • 2021
  • Ravi Bhavnani, Karsten Donnay, Nina Schlager, Laura Schenker, Maxime Stauffer, Tirtha Patel
  • Humanities & Social Sciences Communications

We develop an evidence-driven computational model to explore how variation in household behavior influences child acute malnutrition in times of crisis. We seed the model with spatially and temporally disaggregated household-level nutrition information, calibrate the parameters to fit the empirical reality using GIS, and validate the model against observed acute malnutrition prevalence in West Pokot county, Kenya. We use the validated model to (i) estimate acute malnutrition prevalence rates with a 4-month prediction horizon in West Pokot and the neighboring Turkana county; and (ii) conduct counterfactual experiments to underscore the salience of household adaptive capacity, as well as the notion that adaption is less effective for economic vis à vis climate shocks. Our analysis contributes to famine early warning by making explicit the link between patterns of household behavior and vulnerability in the short- to medium-term, effectively underscoring the need for evidence- driven policy decisions.

Social Identification in Civil War

  • Working Paper
  • 2021
  • Ravi Bhavnani, Karsten Donnay, Agnese Zucca

What determines who people side with and fight against in civil wars? Existing explanations conceive of identity and utility considerations as competing logics. We propose a shift from the strict dichotomy that has dominated theories of alliance formation, by advancing a model in which decisions can be driven by identity-based considerations, rational considerations, or some mix-of the two. The evidence-driven model is calibrated using original micro-level conflict data, and validated with case studies of two regions in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Evidence-Driven Computational Modeling

An evidence-driven computational modeling (EDM) framework rests on three methodological pillars: agent-based computational modeling (ABM), empirical contextualization using geographical information systems (GIS), and empirical validation. The approach is especially useful in issue areas where there is an abundance of theoretical knowledge, outcomes are driven by complex interactions between numerous factors, and it is possible to leverage empirical data to seed or validate the model. Ideally, EDM provide evidence-driven results that decision-makers can use to evaluate alternative policy options in a systematic and transparent manner.

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The Morphology of Urban Conflict

  • Published Report
  • 2019
  • Ravi Bhavnani
  • GLOBE
  • Download

During the cold war, civil conflict had a rural bent, which research mirrored [1]. Urban environments were traditionally viewed as undermining identifications that provide an impetus for fighting [2], too well protected as the home bases of elites and even prohibitive to rebel operations [3]. As the world population grows and increasingly clusters in urban spaces [4], we argue that conflict will be redirected — whether purposefully or unintentionally — to cities. Results from several recent studies provide substantial support for a nascent urban propensity towards conflict — an emerging urban shift.

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