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

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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