All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Jordan Kiper

Advisory Committee Members

Chris Kyle

Stephen Merritt

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Science (MS) College of Arts and Sciences


Many researchers studying peace have posited that peace is a system. Although this approach has recently included steps to address complexity, current models have not sufficiently integrated their approach with complex adaptive systems to produce functionally dynamic models. Rather, current models describe peace systems as teleological and linear, which creates closed systems that do not incorporate feedback from the environment and, therefore, do not identify adaptive processes. Furthermore, these models reflect the state of a system, an arrangement of constituent parts in specific contexts, rather than capturing the complexity that is necessary for describing a dynamic system. To address these issues, I propose applying complex adaptive systems to peace systems. Functional social systems must culturally adapt within environments, but so as not to impose a teleology onto system models, I propose that peace, as an adaptation, is best understood as cooperation. Yet cooperation is necessary for peace and warfare. Moreover, the manifestation of cooperation is dependent on a variety of factors, including those of the environmental and human psychology, which extend beyond the causal factors identified in current peace systems models. To explore these limits, I examine the peace system model proposed by Douglas Fry, arguably the leading anthropologist and scholar of peace systems. I consider Fry’s model through the lens of complex adaptive systems, focusing specifically on the theoretical underpinnings of the model to examine how it integrates ethnographic observations. Presuming that Fry’s model represents the current state of the field, I conclude that the peace system model reflects a state, which is generated by specific conditions of larger sociocultural systems that regulate cooperation. This conclusion does not negate the value of systems approaches in the anthropology of peace but rather highlights the limits of extant models. Therefore, I suggest incorporating further complexity in peace research, proposing new models where cooperation is the output embedded in a broader cultural, complex adaptive system. Such an approach opens new avenues of research such as exploring how cultural systems produce both peaceful and warring cooperation from complex factors and how to identify conditions that give rise to peace across cultural contexts.

Available for download on Friday, May 09, 2025