Title: Insurgent State Building
Name: Ana Arjona
ama2120@columbia.edu
Year: 2007
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: We tend to think of war zones as chaotic and anarchic. In many civil wars, however, they are often ordered on the basis of clear rules of behavior for civilians and combatants. Furthermore, different forms of order often coexist in areas controlled by irregular armed groups like guerrillas and militias. This variation raises several questions about rebel behavior, the fate of civilians in civil war, and institutional change during wartime.

This project proposes a theory of the creation of order in war zones by theorizing the behavior of non-state armed groups, the responses of local populations, and the effect of their interaction on wartime institutions. I differentiate between three possible scenarios: disorder, where no clear rules on civilian and combatant behavior exist; surveillance, where order exists and rebels only intervene in security and taxes; and rebelocracy, where order exists and rebels intervene broadly in local life (often ruling on the social, political, and economic spheres).

I develop a theory to explain why disorder, surveillance, and rebelocracy emerge in a given locality by theorizing rebel behavior, civilians responses, and the effects on local institutions. I test this theory with empirical evidence collected on the armed conflict in Colombia where guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the state have fought for decades. Using original data on local communities gathered with surveys and interviews, I show that both guerrillas and paramilitaries treat local communities quite differently depending on contextual as well as structural factors. Disorder emerges when two or more groups compete for control of the area, or when they are unable to keep discipline in their ranks. However, when not facing armed competition and having internal discipline, these groups establish some form of order. Both rebels and paramilitaries try to establish rebelocracy in most places where they have an ongoing presence, unless they expect civilians to organize collective resistance against them; in that case, they opt for a social order of surveillance.

What explains, in turn, civilian resistance? I argue that civilians adapt to the changing dynamics of war in different ways depending on the local institutional context in which they live. Resistance against armed groups ruling attempts is more likely in communities that had legitimate and effective institutions prior to the arrival of armed actors to their territory. This argument finds support in quantitative and qualitative data collected on a random sample of communities throughout the country.

These results imply that civilians may experience the same war in radically different ways. In addition, they show that, despite the hardship of war, civilians are agents who can make choices; furthermore, those choices influence rebel behavior. The dissertation also suggests that our understanding of rebel behavior and civilian choice in contexts of armed conflict has neglected a key aspect of the conduct of war: the emergence of new institutional arrangements at the local level. In as much as we want to understand how armed groups evolve and expand, and how civilians live under the presence of such groups and respond to it, theorizing and documenting the many links between institutions and war is essential.

Bibliography: Arjona, Ana, 2010. Social Order in Civil War. Dissertation, Yale University, Political Science.

Arjona, Ana, 2009. One National War, Multiple Local Orders: An Inquiry into the Unit of Analysis of War and Post-war Interventions. In M. Bergsmo and P. Kalmanovitz (Eds), Law in Peace Negotiations.