Cycles of Conflict: A Computational Modeling Alternative to Collins’s Theory of Conflict Escalation

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In a new theory of conflict escalation, Randall Collins engages critical issues of violent conflict and presents a compellingly plausible theoretical description based on his extensive empirical research. He also sets a new challenge for sociology: explaining the time dynamics of social interaction. However, despite heavy reliance on the quantitative concept of positive feedback loops in his theory, Collins presents no mathematical specification of the dynamic relationships among his variables. This article seeks to fill that gap by offering a computational model that can parsimoniously account for many features of Collins’s theory. My model uses perceptual control theory to create an agent-based computational model of the time dynamics of conflict. With greater conceptual clarity and more wide-ranging generalizability, my alternative model opens the door to further advances in theory development by revealing dynamic aspects of conflict escalation not found in Collins’s model.