Sociological Approaches

Authored by: Siniša Malešević , Niall Ó Dochartaigh

Routledge Handbook of Civil Wars

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415622585
eBook ISBN: 9780203105962
Adobe ISBN: 9781136255786


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There is a consensus that any outbreak of war is likely to have a significant impact on the internal dynamics of societies that become engulfed by violence. This is even more the case with civil wars as they tend to have a profound effect on individuals and groups who are forced to redefine their perceptions of changing social realities. In civil war, as one fearful Tamil expressed it, describing his experience of Sri Lankan armed conflict, ‘you cannot trust anybody, not even your wife. You just don’t know which side someone is on’ (Korf 2013: 78). Civil wars inevitably shape the societies that wage them and are just as much shaped by their social undercurrents. Yet the dominant analyses of civil wars pay scant or no attention to the sociological processes involved in violent intra-state conflicts and mainstream sociology largely ignores the study of civil wars (Joas and Knöbl 2012; Malešević 2010; Joas 2003; Shaw 1984). However, this is not to say that there have not been significant sociological analyses of intra-state warfare. On the contrary, both comparative historical and micro-interactional sociologists have provided subtle theoretical and empirical studies of the interaction between civil war and society. Nevertheless, as there is no general agreement on what exactly constitutes a civil war and how one can differentiate between ethnic conflicts, uprisings, revolutionary violence, rebellions, riots and scattered attacks many influential sociological analyses have utilised different conceptual tools to understand and explain civil war dynamics. As Tilly (2003: 14) emphasises, civil war cannot be easily differentiated from other forms of organised collective violence as they all operate on the same causal principles including the ‘coordinated destruction’ perpetuated by well-organised actors. Furthermore, as there is no straightforward, uncontested and universally accepted parameter to distinguish civil from inter-state wars among those who specialise in the study of civil war (i.e. Sambanis 2004; Kalyvas 2006, 2003) 1 many sociological analyses avoid using this term when describing forms of organised violence that resemble intra-state armed conflicts.

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