Theses Doctoral

Conflict, shocks and social behavior: Three essays on social responses to social disruptions

Thomas, Daniel

Events such as conflicts, natural disasters, online deplatformings, and economic collapses can force people away from their long-standing social networks and require them to rebuild their social lives in new locations or settings. How do social networks shape the effects of these disruptions on communities? How does social behavior respond to violence? In this dissertation, I investigate the dynamic relationship between violence and social networks. In two essays, I analyze the effect of violence on social behavior in two contexts, using data from conflict-affected communities in Myanmar and Ukraine. In the third essay, I formally study the relationship between civilians’ social network characteristics and the optimal violence strategies for states.

The first essay investigates the effects of exposure to violence on social network composition and formation among internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kachin State, Myanmar. Using original survey data from 5 camps, I find that those exposed to violence on the extensive margin have fewer initial, new, and close ties and those exposed on the intensive margin have fewer new ties within the camps. However, those exposed to violence do not form ties with other exposed IDPs at a higher rate than with non-exposed IDPs.

The second essay asks, how does exposure to violence affect the ability of forcibly internally displaced people (IDPs) to integrate into new communities? I introduce and test a demand-side theory of integration using the case of internally displaced people in Ukraine. Using original survey data, I show that those directly exposed to violence are less successful in integrating into their new communities. Moreover, I show that the results are consistent with a psychological mechanism: those directly exposed to violence are more likely to exhibit symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The third essay asks, how does the structure of civilians’ social networks shape the optimal form of violence to be used against them? Theories explaining why states choose to use targeted or indiscriminate violence against civilians hinge on the state's capacity to gain information about whom to target and its ability to do enough damage to prevent defection to the rebel's side. In contrast to these theories, I show that the choice of strategy depends on the characteristics of the community experiencing the violence, not the state employing it. This essay argues that even when states can target certain civilians, they may choose to employ indiscriminate violence due to characteristics of civilians' social network structure. The state's optimal strategy of violence is driven by two factors: the degree distribution of civilians' social networks and the correlation between citizens' motivation to leave a network and citizens' value to other nodes in the network. When the degree distribution is uniform, and motivation and value are positively correlated, indiscriminate violence is more often preferred.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Frye, Timothy M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2021