Conflicts in Flux: A Novel Approach to Analysing Conflict Dynamics

Authors: Dr. Annette Idler, Dr. Katerina Tkacova • Resource type: Working Papers


​This article presents a novel approach to studying armed conflict based on a new geographical unit of analysis, ‘setting of organized violence’ (SORVI). Some of the world’s most devastating armed conflicts—ranging from the Afghan civil war to the Syrian conflict—comprise several entangled conflicts and changing contested issues that spill across borders. They also feature new spin-off conflicts. Current macro-level studies of conflict research, especially those with quantitative approaches, fail to track such complex evolutions. Using states or actors’ dyads as units of analysis, their conceptualizations of conflicts or conflict zones slice complex umbrella conflicts into smaller units and treat each of them in isolation, rather than as intertwined phenomena. Bridging macro-level with micro-level research, this article presents a robust, nuanced methodology that consists of selecting closely related smaller conflicts and the violent actors involved in them in order to identify relevant incidents of violence. This approach permits conceptualizing protracted and complex conflicts as umbrella phenomena containing interlinked conflicts and reflecting their changes across time and space. SORVI’s geographical translation ‘conflict shape’ takes the form of an annually changing concave polygon that identifies areas directly affected by conflict-related violence. The ‘conflict shapes’ are compatible with PRIO-GRIDs, which allows adding a data layer with information on socioeconomic and geographical indicators. As the article demonstrates, this novel conceptualization of conflicts as ever-changing multi-actor phenomena enables researchers to trace changes that would be otherwise overlooked. It can improve how governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations target aid so that it reaches the most conflict-affected areas. This approach to analysing conflict can also enhance tracing the effectiveness of interventions in order to adapt to changing needs over time.

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