Framing Violence, Finding Peace

by Kristin Fabbe, Chad Hazlett, and Tolga Sinmazdemir

Overview — Using data collected in a 2016 survey of 1,120 Syrian refugees in Turkey, this study finds that 1) framing civilians’ wartime ordeal as suffering or sacrifice influences their attitudes about ending the conflict, and 2) the identity of who advocates for peace affects civilians’ attitude about supporting it. These results suggest new possibilities for reconciliation processes.

Author Abstract

Attitudes toward the acceptability of settling with one's enemies versus the need to continue fighting for an all-out victory are central to the course of any conflict and its legacy. On the one hand, in cases where massive violence is perpetrated against civilian populations, one expects such attitudes to be sacrosanct and nearly inalterable, perhaps for generations to come. On the other hand, even these attitudes may be informed by social cues that interpret violence in different ways and that signal who in the community supports peace. We test the malleability of these attitudes using a survey of Syrian refugees in Turkey conducted in 2016 by asking two questions: (i) Does the framing of wartime experience as “suffering” versus “sacrifice” shift attitudes about acceptable conflict outcomes? (ii) How does the identity of those proposing a peace settlement shape individuals' willingness to accept it? We examine both questions through survey experiments and find that attitudes toward peace can in fact be widely influenced by these factors in a survey setting: 18% more people agree to peace when violence is framed as “suffering” rather than “sacrifice,” and 10% more agree to peace when it is proposed by a civilian rather than an armed actor (either regime or opposition). Beyond the theoretical value of this result for understanding reactions to violence among communities and individuals, it suggests useful policy tools for peacemakers.

Paper Information