Networks, Conflict, and Causal Inference
Disseration Proposal
Past Talk
Matthew Simonson
Doctoral Student, Northeastern University
Oct 26, 2020
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3:00 pm
177 Huntington Ave
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11th floor

How do networks shape civil conflict? In this dissertation, I explore this question through new concepts, new data, and new techniques. First, I examine the effects of networks that link members of different identity groups during genocide, authoritarian repression, and civil war. Drawing on 160 qualitative interviews, census data, and a nationwide survey in Bosnia & Herzegovina—the first nationwide survey on rescuers during conflict—I show how cross-group social capital led people to assist outgroup contacts during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. Second, I turn to the role of road networks in connecting antagonistic populations and armed groups. Combining weather data, conflict event data, and historical road maps of Africa, I examine how disruptions in a country’s road network due to heavy rainfall affect levels of violence. Third, I develop new techniques for causal inference in weighted networks and show how they can be used to measure interventions that either spread conflict or reduce it. Together, these projects—one observational, one quasi-experimental, and one methodological—seek to guide academics in measuring the role of networks in civil conflict in order to help policymakers prevent future bloodshed.

About the speaker
Matt is a sixth-year doctoral student studying conflict, crises, and networks under Dr. David Lazer. His dissertation draws upon 10 months of fieldwork in Bosnia, where he investigated how individuals relied on their personal networks for protection, aid, and rescue during the 1992–5 genocide and civil war though surveys and interviews with survivors. His work is characterized by a synthesis of political science, network analysis, history, sociology, and statistics. Other projects include pioneering new approaches in causal inference, exploring the impact of road networks on conflict in Africa, and examining the spread of COVID-19 in household networks. A proud native of Washington, DC, Matt majored in mathematics and international studies at Williams College, taught high school for 7 years, and worked at Seeds of Peace International Camp, bringing together teenagers from conflict regions. A volunteer high school cross country coach, Matt was the winner of the 2019 Unusual Marathon in Sarajevo.