Dynamics of Political Violence - The Variance, Transformation, and Hybridity of Forms of Violence in Armed Conflict

Research groups - Macro-Violence
Start of project: March 2016

This research project addresses the specific logic of—and the dynamic connection between—various forms of political violence in armed conflicts. Modern asymmetrical civil wars and insurgent campaigns of violence, in particular, feature an enormous heterogeneity of violent practices. The armed groups involved in such conflicts are frequently characterized by very different strategies of violence, temporal and spatial shifts, and intersections with criminal networks. Terms such as "terrorism" or "guerilla warfare" are not completely adequate for describing these variations and the dynamics of patterns of violence. The fact that the conceptualization of forms of political violence is often inconsistent or not integrated into a particular analysis results, on one hand, from the controversial normative connotations of many terms, and, on the other hand, from the way in which research on different forms of political violence has so far developed largely in separate subfields. This is especially the case for research on terrorism, the study of civil wars, and the investigation of social movements and violent protests.

The core element of this project is the comparative analysis of two in-depth case studies of armed conflict. These are: a) different but interrelated campaigns of violence by Islamist groups in Egypt between 1980 and the present (al-jihad, al-jama’a al-islamiyya, ansar bait al-maqdis/wilayat-sinai); and b) internal armed conflicts in Peru from 1980 to 1999 and until today, focusing especially on the "Shining Path" and its various successor organizations as well as the MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru). For both case studies, extensive collections of documents will be analyzed and, as part of the empirical field research, interviews will be conducted with active and former members of armed groups as well as with political activists and inhabitants of conflict zones. This will be supplemented by the quantitative and qualitative evaluation of a larger data set on armed groups.

Based on these empirical studies, the project will examine two interrelated issues. In a first step, the project will focus on the specific logic of actions and situations that characterize certain forms of political violence and the implications and consequences for societal and political processes affected by this logic. The aim is to contribute to developing a morphology of political violence that avoids a one-sided and reductionist rationalization of violence and strategies of violence and considers self-reinforcing processes (their escalation and perpetuation) and the symbolic-performative dimension of violence as well as how these aspects are integrated into processes of power on different levels. The anchor point of the theoretical approach to these issues, to be developed as part of this project, is the social-relational and spatial alignment and conditionality of political violence. The logic underlying violent actions—according to the working hypothesis of the project—can be elucidated by examining, in particular, relationship patterns (of dependency and support) between violent protagonists and their social environment and from the structure of political and socio-geographical space where violence occurs and which it tries to influence and control.

On the basis of this analysis of the specific logic(s) of political violence, a second step in the project will focus on investigating how processes of violence in armed conflicts unfold with regard to the dynamics, transformation, and hybridity of violence.

Special attention will be paid to sudden or continuous change in practices of violence, the simultaneity of different forms of violence, and, in particular, the self-reinforcing quality of political violence. The working hypothesis here is that certain patterns of violence change actors, relationship patterns, and institutions—and in the process, also change the initial circumstances of the conflict in specific ways, thus generating the mechanisms of their own transformation.