Dr. Sandra Marker, associate professor of sociology at Black Hills State University, recently returned from a sabbatical where she researched 300 violent intergroup conflicts. Areas of study included civil wars, political uprisings, ethnic and religious riots, and political insurrections.
Now back on campus at BHSU, one of the classes Marker is teaching this semester is Social Problems. Marker, who is also coordinator of the online master’s degree in sustainability at BHSU, says she strives to educate students about the important role that social relationships have in their lives.
“Inequitable and disrespectful relationships, whether on a personal, group or international level, can lead to violent conflict. My research looks at more than just the actual conflict, by examining the relationship between the groups engaged in the violent activity,” said Marker.
During sabbatical, Marker researched historical events as far back as the American and French Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, Brexit, and the current populist movements.
“When you see a group that has lost power, prestige or economic position, those groups may indicate a shift in how their place in society has changed, leading to conflict. For example, think of how the status of men in our society is changing or the protests in Hong Kong — some individuals in those groups see a loss and through conflict may try to gain back some of their loss,” Marker said.
Marker’s initial interest in conflict began when she was a graduate student at the University of Colorado and started work at the Conflict Research Consortium as a graduate research assistant. Several riots took place near the University of Colorado campus during that time and this prompted Marker to study U.S. college riots and subsequently riots in general.
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After studying riots for 20 years, Marker developed a new riot model that explains how inequities in terms of a group’s social standing and acts of disrespect can lead to riots. The model also shows that unless social equity and respect is established between instigator and target group members after an initial riot, further riots are likely to reoccur over years, decades and even centuries.
“With school shootings, for example, research on images and text used by perpetrators demonstrates the individual is not receiving what they perceive as the respect they deserve. If this is what drives the violence, the perpetrator’s desire to change his level of status or respect, the question we need to ask, is how we as a society can promote nonviolent ways for a status change to occur,” said Marker. “We cannot prevent what we do not understand. That’s why this research is important.”
This idea was the basis of Marker’s work in sabbatical where she examined historical documents and news media regarding her model described in her article entitled “Status Change Model of Interethnic Riots,” published by Societies last year. Marker believes her model can be used to explain other types of violent intergroup events such as civil wars, insurgencies and revolutions.
Marker hopes to do further research on additional types of violent events such as school shootings to see if her status theory can also help us understand if disrespect and inequity cause individuals to commit some violent events.
“A goal for my research is to get people to think about the importance equity and respect play not only in our personal relationships, but also in our social relationships such as with other groups of people, with other communities and with other nations,” said Marker.