Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Daniel Corstange ─ Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil War

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

Daniel Corstange is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University.

How do civilians respond to civil war narratives? Do they react to ethnic frames more strongly than to alternatives? Governments and rebels battle for hearts and minds as well as strategic terrain, and winning the narrative war can shift legitimacy, popular support, and material resources to the sympathetically framed side. We examine the effect of one-sided and competing war discourses on ordinary people's understandings of the Syrian civil war --- a conflict with multiple narratives, but which has become more communal over time. We conduct a framing experiment with a representative sample of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in which we vary the narrative that describes the reasons for the conflict. We find that sectarian explanations, framed in isolation, strongly increase the importance government supporters place on fighting. When counterframed against competing narratives, however, the galvanizing effect of sectarianism drops and vanishes.

Development Seminar