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Mobilizing Inequalities: From Grievances to Conflict

Project Description

Aims and Central Research Question

To better understand the causes that lead to ethnic violence, we investigate the causal connection between perceived inequality and violent mobilization. We develop new ways of measuring how group members perceive inequality and how group elites construct grievances.

Our primary focus is on the ways in which structural inequalities lead to perceived inequalities and the role of ethnic entrepreneurs and organizations; the mechanisms by which perceived inequality leads to mobilization and the risk of violence; and the linguistic means used by ethnic elites in this mobilization.


It has been argued that grievances stemming from inequality provide a key motivation for conflict behaviour. However, structural inequalities are not equivalent to grievances; rather, structural inequalities are sometimes perceived as important, but sometimes not. It is often assumed that group elites play a crucial role in the framing of ethnic issues, but how these elites do so has not been empirically studied.

We empirically test whether elite messages are really crucial to the construction of grievances, aiming to provide a more comprehensive analysis of the link between actual inequality, perceived inequality, and collective mobilization.


The project benefits from our interdisciplinary background and approach. It combines new data collections and the development of innovative Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques as well as case studies of ethnic mobilization processes in selected countries for the study of online communication by groups and their central actors.

We expect new insights into the general role of inequality during mobilization for violent conflict. The project also offers a perspective on the process by which inequality issues enter the group discourse and how political elites use them for strategic purposes.


Political Science, Computational Linguistics

Starting Date

1 October 2019

Project Partners

Manuel Vogt (University College London)

Manuel Vogt is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at University College London (UCL) and the author of "Mobilization and Conflict in Multiethnic States". He received his Ph.D. in political science from ETH Zürich and was subsequently a visiting postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. He also spent two months as a visiting researcher at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, Ecuador, and two terms as an Amity Institute intern at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. Find more information about Manuel Vogt here.

Karsten Donnay (University of Zurich)

Karsten Donnay received a PhD in Computational Social Science from ETH Zurich in 2014. After postdoctoral positions at the Graduate Institute Geneva and the University of Maryland, he was Assistant Professor of Computational Social Science in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz from 2016 to 2020. Since April 1st 2020 he is Assistant Professor of Political Behavior and Digital Media in the Department of Political Science and part of the Digital Society Initiative of the University of Zurich.
Find more information about Karsten Donnay here.



Gremler, Frederik & Nils B. Weidmann. “Ethnic Politics via Digital Means: Introducing the Ethnic Organizations Online (EO2) Dataset”. Journal of Peace Research, accepted for publication.

Haiges, Lea. 2024. “Inside Identity Appeals: How Ethnic Parties Adapt their Communication to Changing Conditions”. Dissertation. University of Konstanz, Konstanz.

Gremler, Frederik. 2023. “Ethnic Organizations Online". Dissertation. University of Konstanz, Konstanz.

Siskou, Wassiliki, Clara Giralt Mirón, Sarah Molina-Raith, & Miriam Butt. 2022. “Automatized Detection and Annotation for Calls to Action in Latin-American Social Media Postings.” In Proceedings of the 6th LaTeCH-CLfL Workshop, 65-69.


Gold, Valentin, Mennatallah El Assady, Annette Hautli, Tina Bögel, Christian Rohrdantz, Miriam Butt, Katharina Holzinger, and Daniel Keim. 2017. Visual Linguistic Analysis of Political Discussions: Measuring Deliberative Quality. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 32(1):141–158.

Zuber, Christina I. and Edina Szöcsik. 2015. “Ethnic outbidding and nested competition. Explaining the extremism of ethnonational minority parties in Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 54 (4): 784–801.

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Nils B. Weidmann and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2011. “Horizontal inequalities and ethnonationalist civil war: A global comparison.” American Political Science Review 105(3):478–495.