Sparking Events, Emotional Climates, and Cascades Of Cultural Identity Conflicts (SPARK)

Project period: December 2022 – October 2025

Project funder: German Research Council (DFG)

Project funding: €507,800 (total) / €310,000 (ECMI) + additional funding of 256.300 EUR for the ECMI negiotiated in 2023

Project partners: Christoph Trinn, Heidelberg University

SPARK is the acronym for a new three-year research project the ECMI is launching in 2023 in collaboration with the Institute of Political Science at Heidelberg University. Funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the project will focus on emotional and situational factors that engender ethnic conflict.

Cultural identity conflicts behave like the proverbial powder keg or wildfire, often resulting in unexpectedly escalating and conflictive mass behaviour such as riots and mass protests. Prominent examples include the 2010 clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, which were sparked by a dispute outside a casino in Osh. Likewise, there were the spontaneous mass protests and riots that spread in the USA following the death of George Floyd in police custody in 2020.

SPARK will seek to explain these non-linear, short-term escalation dynamics on a global scale. Ethnic conflict can be seen as ˮcascades”, which are propelled by self-organizing conflictive mass behaviour of varying intensity and scope. 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.

Equally, of course, the model presupposes a degree of organization within the cultural group itself. 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 offers an innovative and comprehensive explanation for the non-linear, short-term escalation dynamics of collective mass behaviour in cultural identity conflicts.

The research team at the ECMI includes Felix Schulte (Principal Investigator), Doğukan C. Karakuş, and Elmira Muratova. Other team members at the Institute of Political Science at Heidelberg University are Christoph Trinn (Principal Investigator), Marzia Raza and Marlit Claussen.

Contact person

Felix Schulte

Senior Researcher

Further Information

ECMI Founders