Northwestern Events Calendar


EDGS Research Talk-Civilian support for non-state armed groups: Opening the black box of civilian agency in civil war

When: Monday, March 14, 2016
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM Central

Where: 1902 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Co-Sponsor: Department of Political Science

Category: Lectures & Meetings


Professor Ana Arjona, recipient of EDGS Faculty Research grant.

One of the central tenets of guerrilla warfare is that civilian support is a necessary condition for rebel and counterinsurgent success. Civilian support is also assumed to determine several aspects of the conduct of war, including violence against noncombatants, the internal discipline of rebel groups, and the outcomes of counterinsurgent and humanitarian policies. Yet, what civilian support entails tends to be vaguely defined. In this paper I argue that our study of the dynamics of civil war requires a more careful conceptualization of civilian support for insurgents, and of civilians’ choices vis-à-vis armed actors more generally. The problem is not simply that support is seldom defined, but also that its alternatives are rarely specified. If civilians do not support insurgents, what do they do? Is the opposite of support simply not doing anything? Is remaining neutral a possibility? Although these questions may seem irrelevant at first, they are highly consequential. In this paper I argue that this conceptual vagueness conditions the way in which we approach the dilemmas that civilians face, impacting not only the questions we ask but also the theories we build. As a consequence, our explanations of wartime civilian behavior as well as of different wartime phenomena also suffer, as they rely on contentions about how civilians respond to certain events. In order contribute to opening the black box of civilian choice vis-à-vis non-state armed groups, I propose a typology and discuss ways to operationalize it. In order to show that this typology captures important differences that exist on the ground, I illustrate its types with original evidence on Colombia. Finally, I discuss how the research agenda on the dynamics and legacies of civil war can benefit from a more nuanced conceptualization like the one proposed here.


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