After Woolwich: Analyzing Open Source Communications to Understand the Interactive and Multi-Polar Dynamics of The Arc of Conflict

New paper by Colin Roberts, Martin Innes, Alun Preece and David Rogers published in the British Journal of Criminology, Oxford University Press

In his 2011 presidential address to the American Sociological Association, Randall
Collins theorized the time dynamics of conflict, and the causes and consequences of
violence escalation and de-escalation. Developing themes from his previous work on
the rituals and routines of violence (Collins 2008), Collins connects to a long-standing
sociological interest in explaining and accounting for conflict. This ranges from the
seminal contribution of Coser (1956), stretching back to the foundational statements of
Simmel (1922/1955). Collins’ particular contribution to this tradition is a proposition
that conflicts progress through three principal temporal phases: explosion, plateau
and dissipation. He posits that irrespective of the scale of conflict, there is a generalizable
process to how violence between engaged actors and groups emerges, unfolds and
subsides. Albeit he does not describe it in such terms, it is a model suggesting a patterned
‘arc of conflict’.
In formulating his ideas, Collins’ drew upon a diverse empirical base from a range
of fairly orthodox research methodologies. What he was not in a position to do however,
was to be informed by the increasing number of innovative approaches using
analyses of open source communications data to trace how particular conflicts adapt
and change with the passing of time. For instance, Procter et al. (2013) examined the
role that social media played in the social organization of the London riots in 2011.
They highlight how Blackberry Messenger in particular facilitated a range of illegal
activities. Collectively these studies (see for example Cassa et al. 2013; Brym et al. 2014;
LeFebrve and Armstrong 2016), suggest analysis of data derived from social media can
afford unique insights into social responses and reactions to high profile crime events
in particular.

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