After 1945, civil wars became the predominant form of armed conflict and continue to hold that position in the post-1989 era. Nearly 40 percent of civil wars in the past sixty years lasted at least six years, and 20 percent ended only after a decade or more. These violent conflicts not only go on much longer than intrastate wars (which average 1.5 years); this violence often persists after formal peace accords are reached, despite enormous efforts to end it. Stefan Deißler examines the trajectories of these armed confrontations with the tools of the macrosociology of violence to identify the constellations behind this tendency towards longer and longer civil wars.
During the Cold War, civil wars were generally defined as conflicts between proponents of opposing political systems, as proxy wars fueled by the super-power confrontation. Since the early 1990s, they are increasingly presented, in both media reports and academic texts, as clashes between distinct social, political, and especially ethnic groups. Independent of such interpretive framings, sociologist Deißler argues that the persistence of these wars is closely linked to self-reinforcing processes that emerge in many civil conflicts and asserts that such processes are a key to understanding civil wars and their development.
The author outlines a model of actors' constellations, patterns of action, and modes of reproduction in civil wars that reflects the state of research on conflicts in countries like Peru, Bosnia, or Sri Lanka. Applying this model to revolutionary guerilla wars and ethnicized wars of secession, he identifies marked differences in the two categories of conflicts: both can produce effects that promote the persistence of violence, albeit in specific ways. Deißler then applies his theoretical framework to the decades-long armed conflict in Columbia. Drawing on his own empirical research and other empirical sources, he offers an insightful analysis of the dynamics of guerilla warfare and the economy of civil war in Columbia that have determined the persistence of this brutal conflict. In a final chapter, Deißler discusses the potential and the possible limits of his sociological model for approaching civil wars as conflicts shaped by processes of self-reinforcement.