Follow-up to typologies of political dispute

I got some great responses to my last post about typologies of political dispute, which I’ll list and respond to in turn.  On the whole, I’m not sure this typology idea is leading anywhere useful, but there’s definitely a lot to learn from the comments I’ve received.

  • Jay Ufelder points out that the post makes it sound like these disputes are static, whilst they’re actually dynamic and interactive (with which I completely agree!).  He suggested reading Patrick Regan & Daniel Norton’s 2005 paper “Greed, Grievance, and Mobilization in Civil Wars” [PDF].
  • Daniel Solomon asks about what differentiates “violent protest” from rebellion, as he considers these similar categories, whilst Zach Warner does see them to be different.  In his opinion, rebellion aims at changing the social basis of political power, whilst violent protests represents dissatisfaction with the outcome of current political structures.
  • Dan and Zach also point out that the empty boxes in the dispute matrix could be attributable to mixed strategies of repression, as dispute may provoke both military campaigns and violent repression of civilian voices.
  • Rebecca Weissburg suggested checking out Nic Cheeseman‘s work, and Dan suggested Alex de Waal’s recent essay on ending mass atrocities.  Dan has used both Cheeseman & de Waal’s work in his own article on participatory violence and local peacebuilding in Kenya.

I’m totally with Jay on the interactive nature of political dispute, and I don’t think I made that point clearly enough in the last post.  I was thinking of the 3-by-3 matrix more as a set of outcomes on a decision tree than as a way to simply categorize different types of conflict.  Mostly I was wondering if this would be a useful way of thinking about A) why similar initial political conditions and grievances produce different types of disputes, as you move along a decision tree, and B) how disputes shift between categories as both civilian & government actors change their strategies.  Of course, as Dan and Zach correctly point out, the shortcoming of the decision tree model is that it doesn’t do well at capturing instances when many types of disputes are operating simultaneously – say, peaceful protests in a capital coupled with armed rebellion in an outlying district.

Dan is quite right to point out that I didn’t define the distinction between violent protest and armed rebellion clearly.  The distinction I generally had in mind was of peaceful/violent civilian protest –  that is to say, (semi-)organized civilian movements – as compared to the decision to form rebel militias and launch an armed rebellion.  Of course, actors with different grievances/motivations/capabilities within a given country could well engaged in different strategies simultaneously – and I’m starting to wonder how often the same actors actually transition from one type of protest to another.  Do protesting civilians often go off to create or join militias?  And conceptualizing “protest” as a civilian activity seems to imply that militaries can only ever engage in rebellion or coups when they’re politically dissatisfied, which isn’t true.  This is why I don’t think this framework holds up, in the end – there’s too much of a conceptual muddle about these different categories of dispute, and I don’t feel like I have enough information to clean it up.  But I’m glad the conversation happened!

2 thoughts on “Follow-up to typologies of political dispute

  1. “…there’s too much of a conceptual muddle about these different categories of dispute, and I don’t feel like I have enough information to clean it up.”

    You can clean it! …in pieces.

    There are a lot of questions here that could be answered independently, even if they never amount to a coherent “framework.”

    E.g. this is a good question: ” Do protesting civilians often go off to create or join militias?” How about vice versa? These are empirical and answerable questions.


    1. Hey Jacob! Thanks for your comment – you make an good point. It’s not that the information isn’t out there; more that it sounds like a large project to assemble it. : ) Maybe one day!


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