Signaling and self-Selection: The escalation of Ethnic Conflict to war (Eskaleringsprocesser i etniska konflikter)

Project Leader Magnus Öberg, Assistant Professor

Project Period

2000 - 2005

Project Description

Most theories of ethnic conflict explain ethnic war by reference to the factors that motivate and enable ethnic groups to rebel. To rebel is to rise up against or challenge government authority; but for war to be the outcome of a challenge the government must attempt to forcefully reassert its authority.

In this book project I use a signaling model to explain both why ethnic groups challenge government authority, and under what circumstances this leads to war. The signaling model depicts escalation as a bargaining process. The intuition is that through a process of self-selection less resolute actors tend to drop out earlier in the game, while more resolute actors stay in. The consequences are sometimes counterintuitive.

The findings show that smaller ethnic groups are less likely to challenge their governments than are larger groups, but when smaller groups do challenge they are more likely to end up in war. The results also show that groups scoring higher on indicators of discontent are more likely to challenge, but surprisingly these groups are not more likely to end up in war when they challenge. These and similar findings which hold across a range of specifications clearly demonstrate the selection effects implied by the signaling model.


The book project is based on my dissertation:
The Onset of Ethnic War as a Bargaining Proces. Testing a Costly Signaling Model. Uppsala: Dept. of Peace and Conflict Research, 2002. Research Report No. 65.