This paper reviews the recent literature on processes of violent mobilisation. It highlights the need to distinguish between conflict and violence, arguing that violence deserves specific attention, separate from an analysis of the macro-cleavages which lead to social conflict. It goes on to detail those circumstances which result in political violence. Political violence is generally initiated by ‘specialists’, people with the specific skills and desire to trigger such conflict, and we analyse what makes non-specialists follow them. We question the validity of a dichotomy between greed and grievances as drivers of violent engagement. Instead we show that participation in violence could be seen, from an individual perspective, as a constantly changing process of ‘navigation’. However, this makes establishing motivations for violence difficult, both analytically and empirically. We therefore suggest an alternative way of studying the causes of the worst forms of collective violence, shifting attention from the individual to armed organisations. Indeed, these armed organisations are where the external constraints on insurgency (logistical, political, military) and the internal imperatives of military cohesion and efficiency are dealt with. The forms of collective violence (of high intensity or not, targeted or indiscriminate etc.) stem from how such organisational puzzles are solved. We detail some of the causal mechanisms that could be significant in shaping the histories and routes taken by such armed organisations. The last section discusses the policy implications of these findings.
Oxford, UK: Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE). CRISE Overview No. 5, 34 pp.