Violent conflict results in enduring constraints to development. However, violence has an instrumental role beyond destruction. It is used strategically by political actors to promote social transformation. One way transformation takes place is through the emergence of local governance structures in places where the government is absent or heavily contested. These structures will affect significantly the living conditions of local populations. Yet understanding of these impacts is very limited. The main purpose of this project is to analyse how the relationship between populations living in areas of conflict and armed non-state actors controlling or contesting those areas results in forms of local governance and order, and how these in turn affect the access to and effectiveness of livelihoods. The study is based on comparative qualitative and quantitative empirical work in Colombia, India, Lebanon, Niger and South Africa. Improving the understanding of these forms of governance and order has important implications. Theoretically, it provides important micro foundations to understand the duration and termination of violent conflict. At the policy level, understanding how different actors operate and influence local conflict dynamics is important for creating the space for interventions to engage with a range of actors, views and local realities.

This project was set up to investigate theoretical and empirically the emergence of local regimes of order in areas of violent conflict, and how these shape the type and effectiveness of strategies employed by individuals and communities to cope with daily threats to livelihoods in order to mitigate exposure to poverty and destitution. We focused initially on five case studies: three civil wars (Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Lebanon) and two cases of persistent urban violence (South Africa and the Indian state of Maharashtra). In year 2 of the project, we accessed a new dataset on the Naxal insurgency in Andhra Pradesh in India, which we added to the project.

One of the main findings of this project is that forms of engagement between armed actors and ordinary citizens determine and explain the emergence of order in areas of violence. This finding is framed theoretically in Arjona (2010) and tested empirically across the project. Notably, in most case studies we observed that even areas of intense conflict are often characterised by the emergence of order, whereby ordinary lives carry on. This is largely shaped by the behaviour of armed groups. We have documented how non-state armed groups adopt very different ruling strategies towards local populations across and within countries: sometimes they neglect governance altogether, while in other places they become de facto rulers. Arjona (2013) finds that this variation is explained by the internal organisation of armed actors, the presence of competing groups, and whether the civilian population is likely to collectively resist imposed rule or not.

Our second important finding refers to civilian responses: all case studies revealed a large array of forms of civilian agency under violent conflict. Interestingly, we observed these variations in forms of engagement, negotiation and sometimes cooperation between ordinary citizens, processes of violence and armed groups not only in the case of civil wars (Colombia, Lebanon and Cote d'Ivoire) (Arjona 2013, Guichaoua 2013, Ibanez et al., forthcoming, Schulhofer-Wohl, forthcoming) but also in urban areas prone to civil unrest in South Africa and India (Maharashtra) (Gupte et al. 2013) and in the Maoist insurgency in India in the state of Andhra Pradesh (Tranchant et al. forthcoming). In the two urban cases we found further that local non-state armed actors often act as intermediaries between the state and local citizens (Gupte et al. 2013), whereas in the civil war cases, armed actors exercise authority directly - in some cases (in Colombia, Andhra Pradesh and Lebanon) acting as the de facto government. We also found that civilians and armed groups are more likely to cooperate when armed groups manage to establish a more interventionist kind of rule (Arjona 2013).

The findings of this project have important implications for research and policy because they show how political violence may give rise to important forms of social, political and economic change that may have lasting institutional legacies for affected countries. We intend to continue exploring these over the next few years, and have recently secured funding from IDRC to continue this research in Colombia over the next three years.

Project findings have been presented in multiple conferences, seminars and policy events. Examples include University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Brown University, Chicago University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Yale University, the annual conferences of the Households in Conflict Network (2011 and 2012), the American Economic Association meeting in San Diego (2013), the Network of European Peace Scientists Annual Jan Tinbergen Conference (2013), the Conflict Research Society Annual Conference (2013), among others. A full list can be provided upon request.

The project’s findings have important implications for wartime and post-conflict policy in Colombia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, as well as for policies aimed at violence prevention in urban areas in South Africa and India. Counterinsurgency policies in the civil war cases (as well as in the Naxal insurgency in India) have focused on military action and public goods provision. Urban violence policies have also taken similar approaches which mix heavy policing with social service provision. Our study suggests that institutions – particularly those around local governance and local social organisations – are essential and deserve further attention.

In order to disseminate these findings further, the Colombia work has been presented at meetings with NGOs and policy makers in Colombia. One of these events took place in November 2013, on the challenges and opportunities of a post-conflict state in Colombia. In India, the team organised a round-table discussion in early 2013 involving development actors, slum activists, police officers, academics and members of the local government in Maharashtra to discuss the findings of the project and facilitate engagement between different actors involved in tacking the complex issue of urban violence in India. The work in Cote d’Ivoire has been discussed in informal dialogue with the representatives of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, as well as UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council. In Lebanon, findings are being discussed with a range of governmental and non-governmental organisations involved in conflict prevention and civil society building. In South Africa, the project generated important collaboration by colleagues from the University of Cape Town drama department with a youth group in Imizamo Yethu and a local NGO, the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, who have developed surveys of informality and the informal economy within the township.

Security & Conflict
Start date
31 August 2010
End date
30 November 2013
Grant holder
Dr Patricia Justino
Professor Stathis Kalyvas
Grant amount
Grant reference
Political Science
Political Science and International Studies
Grant type