Large-Scale Conflict Project

Most scholars and journalists have a standard set of motives with which to make sense of civil conflict. This includes, among others, "ethnic hatred", "grievance", "inequality", and "greed".  The fact that most civil conflicts cleave along ethnic, racial and class categories is usually taken as sufficient evidence that these are the central motives.  Journalists often interpret particular acts of violence as expressions of these motives and entire wars are seemingly explained by "ethnic and sectarian tensions", "terrorism", and "class antagonisms".  

These motives are clearly important, but another motive also appears in journalistic accounts of violence that is thought to be less relevant for understanding entire wars: the idea that violence can set into motion a series of further attacks that can unravel peace.  The Project on Large-scale Conflict explores the possibility that this is the real stuff of war. Using comprehensive data on the Northern Ireland "troubles" - a civil conflict that took more than 3,500 lives over a 32 year duration - the project attempts to understand the group-level "logics of violence": how violence in war results from the simple fact that military and paramilitary groups are interacting and using violence as a language of communication; why this makes militarized groups not always ready for peace (because they have killings to which they have yet to respond); and how the spatial distribution of violence follows from these facts.


Balian, Hrag and Peter Bearman. 2010. "Pathways to Violence: The Micro-Dynamics of Large-Scale Civil Violence."