Networks of Cooperation and Conflict in the Middle East (2017-2018)


Throughout human history, various people found themselves trapped in life-and-death situations due to violent conflicts. Who survives and who dies? This question is still prominent today with hundreds of millions of people across the globe living in extreme hardship and in areas ravaged by conflicts. Where institutions are broken and resources scarce, social scientists have found that trust, cooperation and social connections are crucial to survival.

In the Middle East, autocratic governments, sectarian conflicts and foreign occupation have put many people in a state of despair and destitution. The nature of social networks is one of the most important determinants of how the region is grappling with these challenges. Scholars find evidence of the benefits of social networks in various fields, including education, health and poverty. Yet applications to understand patterns of cooperation and conflict under duress are rare. Why, for example, under comparable adversity, do social networks emerge in some communities but not in others? Why are some social networks inclusive while others are exclusive?

Project Description

This Bass Connections project draws on social network analysis to identify empirically patterns of cooperation and conflict in the Middle East. The project’s objective is twofold:

  1. To build a research group at Duke that investigates how social networks affect behavior in the context of Middle East conflicts
  2. To bridge the artificial epistemological divide that separates research involving the Middle East from the social sciences.

Three seminars will share knowledge and appraise the team’s core research. Several team leaders will bring critical insight to the empirical study of networks (Richman and Zanalda on institutions, Kigar on the role of local Islam, Schanzer on community-government cooperation).

Three additional seminars will convene Duke scholars and representatives of nongovernmental organizations with fieldwork experience, promoting a beneficial exchange between Duke researchers working on networks (related to health, education, poverty, economic opportunity) and people actively engaged in community networks. Organizations include the Muslim Inclusion Committee (Chapel Hill, NC), Muslim Public Affairs Council (Los Angeles, CA) and Search for Common Grounds (Washington, DC & Brussels, Belgium).

A special undergraduates’ bimonthly seminar on networks in the Middle East context will provide a foundation for possible fieldwork research or service in Jordan, Israel/Palestine and Morocco.

Anticipated Outcomes

Two panel proposals at professional annual meetings (American Political Science Association and Middle East Studies Association); publication of individual and coauthored papers in academic journals


Summer 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Summer 2017: Graduate and undergraduate team members will coordinate with project leaders to prepare the team charter; team will develop, coordinate and finalize the project’s detailed plans and schedule, and take stock of existing research on networks and conflict/cooperation at Duke
  • Fall 2017: Team leaders and contributors will present their research during three seminars; small, interdisciplinary group of Duke faculty will be invited to provide feedback; graduate students and faculty will produce polished paper drafts; undergraduates will begin to collaborate as a research group
  • Spring 2018: A group of four Duke scholars and three NGOs will present research and fieldwork experience during three seminars; substantive interaction with state-of-the-art research on networks in different contexts will connect undergraduates with research at Duke and service/fieldwork opportunities with NGOs

Team Outcomes to Date

Social Network Analysis of Muslim-led Networks in the Triangle (poster by Lela Ali), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

Social Networks and Child Soldier Recruitment (poster by Neelesh Moorthy), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

Network Analysis and Social Policy: A Public Lecture Series

This Team in the News

Why People Join Terrorist Groups

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Abdeslam Maghraoui, Arts & Sciences-Political Science*
  • Barak Richman, Fuqua School of Business*
  • David Schanzer, Sanford School of Public Policy
  • David Siegel, Arts & Sciences-Political Science*
  • Giovanni Zanalda, Social Science Research Institute*

/graduate Team Members

  • Lela Ali, Liberal Studies-AM
  • Margaret Foster, Political Science-PHD
  • Shajuti HossainPublic Policy Studies (AB)
  • Hao (Howard) Liu, Political Science-PHD
  • Jordan Roberts, Political Science-PHD
  • Juan Tellez, Political Science-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jared Chappell, Int Comparative Studies (AB), Political Science (AB2)
  • Shajuti Hossain, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Usha Kadiyala, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Yijun Li, Statistical Science (AB)
  • Natasha Rothenbucher, Int Comparative Studies (AB)
  • Michael Tan, Economics (BS), Computer Science (BS2)
  • Roey Vardi, History (AB), Spanish (AB2)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • AssAs Salaam Islamic Center in Raleigh
  • Muslim Inclusion Committee
  • Al-Razaq Islamic Center
  • Muslim Women For
  • Muslims for Social Justice
  • The Light House Project
  • Jamaat Ibad Ar Rahman
  • Muhammad Mosque No. 34
  • Cultural Enrichment Center
  • Islamic Association of Cary
  • Apex Masjid
  • Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies
  • Islamic Association of Raleigh
  • Al Muslim Net
  • Triangle Muslim Aid
  • Triangle Association of Muslim American Mothers
  • Masjid Tawheed wa Sunnah
  • W. Deen Mohammed Islamic Center
  • Triangle Muslim Professionals
  • North Durham Masjid