Nationality Spanish
Year of selection2008
InstitutionCSIC - Institute for Economic Analysis
RiskSocio-economic risks

Type of support

AXA Projects

Granted amount

400 000 €


3 years

Conflict: a bipolar disorder

What are the roots of conflict? While some researchers claim that social struggle is driven by inequality or irrationality, Professor Joan Esteban posits that it is primarily caused by polarisation. “Social antagonisms are fuelled by individuals’ sense of identification with their own group, combined with alienation regarding members of other competing groups,” he says. “The closer a society is to being perfectly bipolar, the more conflictual the situation will be.”
Jointly with Laura Mayoral, Professor Esteban is continuing at the Instituto de Análisis Económico CSIC the work he began as head of the European Commission’s “Polarisation and Conflict” project from 2004 to 2008. Using a quantitative approach combining formal modelling with empirical research, the team is analysing polarisation as a determinant of social conflict. They are testing the hypothesis that the characteristic (ethnicity, class, etc.) with the highest degree of polarisation cleaves a specific society. They are also developing a model of conflict-triggering decisions and constructing an index of low-level social strife such as crimes, strikes and demonstrations in order to test the role of polarisation. Additional research goals include integrating existing explanations of rational struggles, and studying leadership’s role in groups’ behaviour and goal selection during conflict.
“This project is a multi-disciplinary, cross-institutional effort to better understand the origins of social conflict and develop risk indicators,” says Professor Esteban. “We will provide the research community with the indices of economic, political and ethnic polarisation for all the countries in the World Values Survey. We hope that this information will help societies to avoid conflict and its costly effects.”

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