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


Network Analysis and Social Policy: A Public Lecture Series

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Abdeslam Maghraoui, Trinity - Political Science*
Barak Richman, Law School, Fuqua School of Business*
David Schanzer, Sanford School of Public Policy
David Siegel, Trinity - Political Science*
Giovanni Zanalda, Duke Social Science Research Institute; Trinity - Economics, History*

Graduate Team Members

Lela Ali, Liberal Studies-AM
Margaret Foster, Political Science-PHD
Samuel Kigar, Religion-PHD
Hao (Howard) Liu, Political Science-PHD
Jordan Roberts, Political Science-PHD
Christine Ryan, Juris Doctor
Juan Tellez, Political Science-PHD
Kaitlyn Webster, Political Science-PHD

Undergraduate Team Members

Alex Dai, Biology (AB)
Hui Ling (Joyce) Er, Public Policy Studies (AB), Computer Science (BS2)
Sara Evall, Program II (BS)
Usha Kadiyala, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Daniel Kastenbaum, Public Policy Studies (AB)
Yijun Li, Statistical Science (AB)
Alycia Parker, Political Science (AB)
Ian Rofe, Visual Arts (AB)
Michael Tan, Economics (BS), Computer Science (BS2)
Roey Vardi, History (AB), Spanish (AB2)

Community Team Members

Muslim Public Affairs Council
Muslim Inclusion Committee
Search for Common Grounds

* denotes team leader