MICROCON is a five-year research programme funded by the European Commission. The programme takes an innovative micro level, multidisciplinary approach to studying the conflict cycle. Its main purpose is to promote understanding of individual and group interactions leading to and resulting from violent mass conflicts, aiming to better inform conflict policy and place individuals and groups at the centre of interventions.

At a fundamental level, conflict originates from individuals’ behaviour and their interactions with their surroundings – from its ‘micro’ foundations. However, most programmes tackling conflict are driven by regional, national and international perspectives. This makes inadequate concession to the role of individual and group interactions leading to or resulting from violent conflicts, and their links with social norms that encourage some groups to be violent, while discouraging others.

‘Violent mass conflict’

We define violent mass conflict as systematic breakdowns of the social contract resulting from and/or leading to changes in social norms, which involve mass violence instigated through collective action. This notion includes a variety of conflict intensities spanning from violent protests and riots to coups, revolutions, civil wars, genocide, international wars and terrorism.

It excludes forms of conflict grounded on labour relations that do not result in mass violence, such as strikes and lockouts and other forms of labour action; conflicts instigated by individuals for self-gain that do not involve mass violence, such as crime; and intra-household forms of conflict that do not necessarily degenerate into group violence, including domestic violence and bargaining processes within the household. However, our research will look at ways in which violence at the community level is facilitated by attitudes towards violence in the household and women’s control over household resources.

Advancing the conflict agenda

MICROCON will advance the conflict agenda on two levels. At the conceptual level the programme will develop a multidisciplinary framework to understand individual and group interactions, and how these interactions are affected by conflict. This framework will draw on anthropology, cultural studies, demography, development studies, economics, epidemiology, ethnography, history, international relations, political science, psychology, sociology and statistics, as well as several sub-disciplines within these. It will go beyond merely reactive theorisations of conflict to look at the complete dynamics (across intensities, actors, triggers and effects) of violent mass conflicts. The programme will also examine unexplored datasets, and construct survey instruments to build new datasets.

At the operational level, the programme will lay the foundations for the development of a new European multidisciplinary research agenda in conflict analysis and policy.

Programme objectives

MICROCON has six specific goals:

  1. To create and develop conceptual breakthroughs in the understanding of micro level processes that lead to and result from the full cycle of conflict
  2. To compile and collect, and develop methods for the collection of, qualitative and quantitative data on violent conflict at the individual, household and group levels
  3. To advance and develop appropriate theoretical and empirical methods for the analysis of violent mass conflict at the micro level
  4. To build and disseminate a constructive narrative on micro level conflict processes for the use of European and international policymakers and practitioners, which will influence positively and constructively the design of effective and sustainable policy actions along the full conflict cycle
  5. To train and facilitate the mobility of young researchers in Europe, as well as talented researchers in developing countries interested in pursuing advanced studies in Europe in cutting edge theoretical and applied multidisciplinary methods of conflict analysis
  6. To manage and support a pan-European team of previously scattered researchers from various social science backgrounds to form a coherent programme on a fundamental area of social science research and policy

Programme activities and timescale

The programme commenced on 1st January 2007, and in the start-up period work will focus on building the conceptual framework and beginning work on data and measurement.

During the second stage beginning in August 2007, 28 different research projects will begin in MICROCON ’s eight thematic areas:

  • Group formation, identities and mobilisation;
  • Contemporary conflicts and ethnic-religious tensions;
  • Gender aspects of violent conflicts;
  • Migration, displacement and refugees;
  • Risk, security and coping mechanisms;
  • Poverty, inequality and social exclusion;
  • Violent conflict and health outcomes;
  • Governance and institutions.

These projects will produce scientific working papers, and will be complemented by the outputs of two policy oriented projects starting in the middle of 2008, looking at the potential of the European Neighbourhood Policy to contribute to conflict resolution, and assessing conflict interventions. At the end of the programme the research results will be drawn together into two books, one focussing on academic outputs, and the other on policy implications.

Running alongside the research component will be a training and mobility component. This will involve organising summer schools and research ethics training; training new doctoral students and supervising theses; supporting the mobility of young researchers; integration of new researchers with senior researchers at all stages of research; and the use of website, media and accessible policy briefs to educate and raise awareness of conflict issues.

Consortium

The MICROCON consortium is made up of 22 institutions, based in 16 different countries across Europe and beyond. It comprises a team of internationally recognised researchers in conflict analysis, as well as individuals and institutions with extensive practical experience in the field of research in conflict areas and in policy analysis and advocacy. The consortium emerged out of the Households in Conflict Network, and several members of the consortium are also part of this network.

The MICROCON Director is Dr. Patricia Justino, from the Institute of Development Studies. The Deputy Directors are Prof. Tilman Brück from the German Institute for Economic Research and Dr. Philip Verwimp from the Fund for Scientific Research – University of Antwerp.

Advisory Board

MICROCON’s work is overseen by an Advisory Board of experts representing a range of research and policy expertise:

  • Chair: Prof. Lawrence Haddad, Director of the Institute of Development Studies
  • Eddy Boutmans, former Secretary of State for Development Cooperation in the Belgian Government (1999-2003)
  • Prof. Stathis N. Kalyvas, Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence, Yale University.
  • Zoe Nielsen, Associate Director and Senior Editor, Human Security Report Project, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  • Prof. Peter S. Uvin, Henry J. Leir Professor of International Humanitarian Studies and Director, Institute for Human Security Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

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