The ConflictSpace Project: Spatial Splicing and Conflict Diffusion

This is a quick follow-up to the earlier CTLab post on the spatial dynamics of counterinsurgency, which reported the ConflictSpace project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Up to now, public references to the project have only been made in passing. The first was in a Spring 2007 listing of funded UIUC research projects. The second is on the agenda of the upcoming 2008 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, as part of a paper session on the spatial analysis of conflict, scheduled for Friday, 18 April 2008. 

Geographer and ConflictSpace Principal Investigator Colin Flint is presenting the paper, entitled Conceptualizing ConflictSpace: A Framework to Integrate Spatial Analysis and Social Network Analysis in the Study of the Diffusion of International Conflict. Here’s the abstract:

Current understanding of the diffusion of inter-state conflict is rudimentary. This paper is an initial step in an inter-disciplinary project to analyze how conflicts spread from localized disputes to become regional or even global wars. Using World War One as a pilot study a new conceptual model of the diffusion of conflict is defined and tested through the innovative combination of spatial analysis, social network analysis and agent-based modeling. The proposed new concept of ConflictSpace integrates physical contiguity of states with the position of states within networks of economic, political, and cultural exchanges to explain when and why states choose to enter an ongoing conflict. The conceptual framework and steps toward analysis are discussed. The analysis will include univariate mapping and spatial analysis and multivariate regression and spatial econometrics. After this pilot study the investigators will pursue extra-mural funding to expand the analysis to model how all recorded militarized industrial disputes, conflicts that fall short of war, became regional or global wars or remained limited in geographic scope and political impact.

UIUC’s Office of Public Affairs’ News Bureau, an online bulletin, is carrying a feature on the project posted on the web two days ago (14 April 2008). According to News Bureau, "Social scientists at the University of Illinois are collaborating on a project that seeks to gain new insights on why and how seemingly small, geographically localized disputes can quickly ignite into border-crossing regional conflicts, and even global wars."

The project draws on expertise from various disciplines (geography, political science, history, and complexity science), splices traditional geo-oriented  spatial analysis with the social network variety, and focuses on World War I as its case study. Additional to the conference paper being presented tomorrow, a workshop and public lecture are set to kick off the project next week.

The roster of ConflictSpace participants is worth noting. Flint, who sits on the CTLab Advisory Council and is the author of several books on the geopolitics of conflict, is Director of the Program on Arms Control, Disarmament, and International Security (ACDIS). Political scientist and Co-Investigator Paul Diehl is Director of the Correlates of War project. The external grey matter being assembled – all eminent historians of WWI –  is downright intimidating: David Stevenson of the London School of Economics; Mustafa Aksakal pf American University; Frederick Dickinson of the University of Pennsylvania; Richard Hamilton of Ohio State University; Samuel Williamson, of the University of the South; and Rutgers University political scientist Jack Levy.

Flint, quoted in News Bureau, noted that “Current understanding of the diffusion of interstate conflict is rudimentary.” ConflictSpace, he explains, "integrates physical contiguity of states with the position of states within networks of economic, political and cultural exchanges to explain when and why states choose to enter an ongoing conflict. The analysis will include univariate mapping and spatial analysis and multivariate regression and spatial econometrics.” 

Flint also speculates on future directions for ConflictSpace research, “to model how all recorded militarized interstate disputes – conflicts that by definition fall short of war – either eventually became regional or global wars or remained limited in geographic scope and political impact.”

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