Studies of civil wars often allude to the potential for problems of
memory to mar observational data collected through surveys. The validity
of survey respondents’ recollections is a particular concern for the
field of civil war studies given the trend towards micro-level research.
Researchers making use of in-depth interviews might be able to assess
the accuracy of respondents’ memories on a case by case basis. But no
such tool seems readily available when collecting systematic data
through survey research. Although many scholars are quick to challenge
results based on retrospective data, to the best of my knowledge there
has not been an effort to systematically understand its validity in the
context of research on conflict. At the same time, a vast body of
research exists spanning multiple disciplines which tackles issues of
retrospective reports in survey research. This paper highlights two
areas of concern specific to retrospective survey data on conflict, and
in particular, on studies investigating armed group repertoires – the
effects of trauma on recall and intentional distortion of responses for
political purposes – and discusses their consequences for causal
This paper is due to be updated and published in special issue of
Journal of Peace Research that, if agreed, will be published in 2015.
Schulhofer-Wohl, J. Armed Group Repertoires and Recollection in Survey Research. Households in Conflict Network (HiCN), Brighton, UK (2014) 15 pp. [HiCN Working Paper 171]
Armed Group Repertoires and Recollection in Survey Research.