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 inference.
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]