Security Studies & International Affairs
Concurrent to the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, Sunni tribesmen in the U.S. Marine‐controlled western Anbar province of Iraq experienced an “awakening” movement, which led them to side with U.S. and coalition forces. The Sunni Awakening demonstrates that individuals will often realign because of betrayal and opportunities for advancement. It also demonstrates that individual motives can have macrolevel social consequences. Complexity theory suggests that political factions will realign based on individual considerations that then develop into macrolevel movements. Complexity theory also combines both agency (in terms of microbehaviors) and structure (in terms of initial conditions). An important concept within the complexity literature is the idea of “critical mass.” Theories of self‐organization suggest that individual considerations aggregate to a point of critical mass to become macrolevel movements. In the case of Iraq, you had individuals who decided as individuals to align with the Americans, but the macrolevel Awakening movement did not gain momentum until enough individuals had joined the movement. This pattern suggests that complexity theory can be used as a framework for understanding how critical mass is achieved in realignment.
Digest of Middle East Studies
Scholarly Commons Citation
Zorri, D. M. (2016). Understanding the Sunni Awakening with Complexity Theory. Digest of Middle East Studies, 24(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/dome.12077