Short Course: Experiments in Post-conflict Contexts

Experiments in Post-conflict Contexts

Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham
Half Day, 1:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Palais des congrés de Montréal, 512F

Civil conflict causes more death and destruction in the modern era than interstate conflict. Even after a settlement or another end to the conflict, serious challenges to peace persist. Often, as states, communities, and individuals seek to rebuild, the conflict recurs, or related conflicts erupt. In these contexts, scholars seek to understand how to stabilize and consolidate peace, including at times by conducting experiments. Experiments are increasingly used to better understand various aspects of civil conflict. In this short course, we will explore how to better apply this tool to this context.

A critical barrier to peace is often conflict recurrence after a settlement or other attempt to end fighting between sides. Recent work argues that studies on post-conflict contexts takes two different perspectives: a peace stabilization approach emphasizes special problems from civil conflict, including how to sustain peace agreements, while a peace consolidation approach emphasizes problems common to statebuilding, including how to reconstruct communities (Matanock 2021). Although more existing theory links stabilization programs with enduring peace, very few experiments examine them. Why have experiments on peace stabilization programs been so infrequent, and how can we improve this?

We will discuss a theoretical take on this: the peace stabilization perspective largely lacks experimental tests because, at least in part because it often theorizes about the effect of state-level institutional changes on entire groups beginning with elites. We will talk about how new studies from the peace stabilization perspective could examine elite perspectives and mechanisms of institutional change, which may be limited to lab-in-the-field or survey experiments, but these randomized can still advance our knowledge of how peacekeeping works. Changing norms in the field, alongside innovative partnerships, increasingly allow researchers to do experimental work in post-conflict contexts.
We will discuss the practical opportunities and challenges of implementing such experiments. Drawing on examples, likely in Guatemala, Liberia, and elsewhere, we will discuss how these projects were initiated, designed, and implemented. We will talk about directions forward.

Finally, we will discuss the ethics of these experiments. Post-conflict contexts in general, however, are difficult environments in which to work, and so experiments face three interrelated challenges: first, these contexts present special ethical challenges due to both the high stakes of peace and the sensitivity of subjects; second, these are complex treatments often conducted simultaneously by different actors, and these are treatments that depend on both institutional change and behavioral responses, so change is the constant in these contexts; and, third, these contexts also face heterogeneity in terms of programs but also contexts that mean the lessons may not travel even among post-conflict settings. However, careful experiments in post-conflict contexts hold promise for advancing our understanding of peace.

We envision this as a half-day, three-part short course divided between the theory, the practice, and the ethics. We also hope to gather participants for a meal to share their experiences and plans.