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Social Contact Theory in Nigeria

Alexandra Scacco and Shana Warren conducted an education-based field experiment—the Urban Youth Vocational Training (UYVT) course—to test whether sustained contact between members of groups in conflict can reduce prejudice and discrimination, increase cooperation, and limit support for violence. The UYVT program took place in the fall of 2014 in Kaduna in northern Nigeria. Kaduna has experienced deadly Christian-Muslim clashes over the past decade and has recently suffered from several brutal Boko Haram attacks.

Subjects were drawn randomly from the city's most conflict-prone neighborhoods, participation in the UYVT program was offered to a random sample of 450 respondents, and participants were randomly assigned to religiously heterogeneous or homogeneous classrooms and study pairs. They find no meaningful changes in prejudice but a significant and robust reduction in discriminatory behaviors among participants assigned to the social contact treatments. To their knowledge, this is the first time social contact theory has been tested using empirically rigorous field methodology in an ongoing conflict environment, despite the fact that intergroup contact and engagement projects are one of the international community's most popular policy tools in addressing interethnic strife.

Researchers:  Alexandra Scacco (WZB), Shana Warren (IPA)

Funding:  United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Grants Competition, NYU University Research Challenge Fund (URCF)

Status:  Core field activities completed in 2014 and 2015. First paper published in the American Political Science Review, second paper using follow-up information under review.

Sudan in Transition: A Panel Survey on Individual Experiences of Partition

In Sudan and South Sudan, a panel survey of about 1,400 individuals and additional qualitative interviews around the time of the partition of the country was conducted. About 80% of our contacts, despite significant partition-induced relocation among peripheral minorities were successfully tracked. The first of several papers to have resulted from this project discusses the effects of violence on public opinion. Some of the northern Sudanese respondents were affected by riots that swept through Khartoum in 2005 while other similar respondents were not, and the researcher find and discuss that those exposed to violence are more likely to support concessions in response to separatist demands, in the expectation that doing so could improve their personal security.

A second paper analyzes the migration decisions of South Sudanese and argues that “middle class” households are particularly likely to try to stay in relatively more developed northern Sudan. Compared to others, these households are especially dependent on access to the kind of economic opportunities that South Sudan does not adequately provide. They try to remain in Sudan, despite the risk of hostile actions being taken by either the government in Khartoum or ordinary non-Southern citizens. This also has implications for South Sudan and similarly situated countries, in that they are less likely to be able to build the kind of vibrant “middle class” that is generally associated with improvements in development outcomes.

A third paper investigates partition-related changes in self-identification, in particular among minorities remaining in northern Sudan, and finds that subject-reported identity attributes are surprisingly responsive to economic and security pressures. This affects both the activation and ranking of preexisting identity components (e.g. whether subjects prioritize their tribal or national identities) and the adoption of entirely new characteristics (e.g. Christians self-representing as Muslims). It is shown that some identity markers (such as language) are more malleable than others (such as religion), but overall the evidence suggests that subjects seek to adapt as necessary in the pursuit of security and well-being.

Researchers:  Bernd Beber (WZB/RWI), Alexandra Scacco (WZB), and Philip Roessler (William & Mary)

Funding:  UNHCR support for research in Sudan and South Sudan, additional funding from the British Academy

Status:  Fieldwork completed in 2010 to 2012. First paper published in the Journal of Politics. Additional papers complete and soon to be submitted for review.

The Beautiful Game? Intergroup Contact and Refugee-Native Integration in Lebanon

A field experiment in Lebanon was implemented that brings together hundreds of Syrian refugees and Lebanese youths for several months of soccer practice and league play in order to gauge the effect of such social contact on intergroup prejudice. The composition of teams, and whether auxiliary programming focuses on reconciliation or health issues varies. In addition to baseline and endline survey data, qualitative information is also collected to carefully trace potential causal mechanisms. While the contact theory literature is voluminous, very few systematic empirical studies address contact between migrants or refugees and members of host communities, and fewer still can separate the effects of social contact from different types of programming. This study is groundbreaking in this regard. A pilot intervention and data collection effort have been underway, but are currently paused due to the coronavirus.

Researchers:  Salma Mousa (Stanford University), Alexandra Scacco (WZB)

Funding:  IPA Peace and Recovery Full Study Grant, Society Needs Science Grant

Status:  Pilot intervention in progress (currently paused)