New Research Project: Sparking Events, Emotional Climates, and Cascades of Cultural Identity Conflicts (SPARK)

October 2019: Major protests and violent riots in Barcelona

Sparking Events, Emotional Climates, and Cascades of Cultural Identity Conflicts - (SPARK)  is the title of the new research project the ECMI is conducting in collaboration with the Institute of Political Science at Heidelberg University. The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and is expected to be completed within the next three years. Cultural identity conflicts behave like the proverbial powder keg or wildfire, often manifesting in unexpectedly escalating conflictive mass behaviour such as riots and mass protests. Prominent examples include the riots between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010, which were sparked by a dispute outside a casino in Osh, and the mass protests and riots spreading in the USA following the death of George Floyd in police custody in 2020. SPARK seeks to explain these non-linear short-term escalation dynamics on a global scale. Conflictive mass behaviour is conceptualized as “cascades”, which are understood as propagations of self-organizing conflictive mass behaviour of varying intensity and extensity. According to the theoretical model, an emboldening emotional climate provides the “fuel” for such cascades.  If such an emboldening emotional climate coincides with a triggering event, collective mass behaviour is sparked. This presupposes collective self-organization within the cultural identity group. The emergence of both an emotional climate and mass behaviour follows a self-organizing bottom-up process. By combining triggering events, collective emotions and self-organization, SPARK investigates an innovative and comprehensive explanation of the non-linear short-term escalation dynamics of collective mass behaviour in cultural identity conflicts. ECMI's researcher and head of the Conflict & Security cluster, Dr. Felix Schulte, will lead the research on behalf of ECMI. A post-doctoral fellow will be hired to support him. Dr. Christoph Trinn will lead the research on behalf of the University of Heidelberg.

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