Sociocultural mechanisms of conflict: Combining topic and stochastic actor-oriented models in an analysis of Afghanistan, 1979–2001

Daniel Karell, Michael Freedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do sociocultural dynamics shape conflict? We develop a relational understanding of how social relations, culture, and conflict are interwoven. Using this framework, we examine how combatants’ associations with cultural elements affect the interpersonal relationships underlying conflict dynamics, as well as how these relationships engender associations to cultural elements. To do so, we first introduce a novel analytical approach that synthesizes computational textual analysis and stochastic actor-oriented models of longitudinal networks. We then use our approach to analyze a two-level socio-semantic graph representing both the cultural domain and social relationships of prominent militants operating in one Afghan province, Balkh, between 1979 and 2001. Our results indicate that militants’ interpersonal comradeships rely, in part, on their connections to cultural elements and relative power. Comradeship, in turn, fosters militants’ connections to cultural elements. We conclude by discussing how conflict studies can continue to build on insights from cultural sociology, as well as how cultural sociology and socio-semantic network research can benefit from further engaging conflict studies and developing our analytical approach. We also highlight provisional insights into endogenous mechanisms of conflict resolution and cultural change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101403
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The following is Supplementary data to this article: Michael Freedman is a postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University, with support from the Azrieli foundation (International Postdoctoral Fellowship) and the Leonard Davis Institute. He has a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Funding Information:
The authors thank Viviana Amati, Ulrik Brandes, Christian Steglich, Brandon Stewart, Blaine Robbins, and the participants of the Workshop on the Frontiers of Network Science (New York University Abu Dhabi, April 2018), including Emily Erikson, James Kitts, and Kinga Makovi. We also thank the anonymous reviewers and editors for their comments. Finally, we are grateful to Fotini Christia for sharing her data. Any remaining errors and omissions are our responsibility. Research for this project was conducted while the lead author was a Fung Global Fellow at Princeton University's Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Conflict
  • Culture
  • Socio-semantic networks
  • Stochastic actor-oriented models
  • Topic models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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