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Appendix 1C. Measuring violence: an introduction to conflict data sets



Since the 1980s, with the advent of the widespread use of computers, a multitude of conflict data-collection projects have emerged. As a result, there is disagreement on some of the most basic questions. Is the world more or less violent today than in the past? Are wars more or less destructive than they used to be? Are modern violent conflicts different from earlier ones? What are the causes of conflict initiation, continuation and termination?


In an ironic twist on the presumption of objectivity that underlies the quantitative research projects, the diversity of systematic data collection appears to support the constructivist argument that reality lies in the eye of the beholder. The core issue is the balance between reliability and validity—between accuracy in recording information and appropriateness of the information for addressing theoretical concepts of interest. The balance confronts both quantitative and qualitative attempts to simplify the world in order to understand it and elicits different types of solutions from different types of researchers. Quantitative research places primary importance on reliability. To fulfil the requirement of systematically recording a series of events in a consistent manner, conflict data projects need to delimit complex phenomena through definitions and coding rules. In the process, they limit the range of their validity. The problem of limited validity is partially resolved by the wide variety of data-collection projects that now exist. The reviewed projects offer researchers a vast array of good data with which to develop academic theories and policy-related arguments. Full Internet addresses are given for all of the major conflict data sets.



Dr Taylor B. Seybolt (United States) was the Leader of the SIPRI Conflicts and Peace Enforcement Project in 2000–2002. He is now a program officer at the United States Institute of Peace. Prior to joining SIPRI he was a research fellow at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. He has written articles and chapters on conflicts worldwide, humanitarian military intervention and the regional spread of intra-state conflicts. He contributed to the SIPRI Yearbooks in 2000 and 2001.