Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7d8f8d645b-9fg92 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-29T07:15:05.455Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Lynching and Local Justice

Legitimacy and Accountability in Weak States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 September 2020

Danielle F. Jung
Emory University, Atlanta
Dara Kay Cohen
Harvard Kennedy School


What are the social and political consequences of poor state governance and low state legitimacy? Under what conditions does lynching – lethal, extralegal group violence to punish offenses to the community – become an acceptable practice? We argue lynching emerges when neither the state nor its challengers have a monopoly over legitimate authority. When authority is contested or ambiguous, mass punishment for transgressions can emerge that is public, brutal, and requires broad participation. Using new cross-national data, we demonstrate lynching is a persistent problem in dozens of countries over the last four decades. Drawing on original survey and interview data from Haiti and South Africa, we show how lynching emerges and becomes accepted. Specifically, support for lynching most likely occurs in one of three conditions: when states fail to provide governance, when non-state actors provide social services, or when neighbors must rely on self-help.
Get access
Online ISBN: 9781108885591
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication: 17 September 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Anderson, Terry Lee, and Hill, Peter Jensen. 2004. The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google ScholarPubMed
Allen, Frederick. 2004. A Decent, Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
Arias, Desmond Enrique. 2017. Criminal Enterprises and Governance in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Arjona, Ana. 2015. “Civilian Resistance to Rebel Governance,” in Rebel Governance in Civil War, Ana, Arjona, Nelson, Kasfir, and Zachariah, Mampilly, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 180202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bahney, Ben, Iyengar, Radha, Johnston, Patrick et al. 2013. “Insurgent Compensation: Evidence from Iraq.American Economic Review 103(3): 518522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bailey, Amy Kate, Tolnay, Stewart E., Beck, E. M., and Laird, Jennifer D.. 2011. “Targeting Lynch Victims: Social Marginality or Status Transgressions?American Sociological Review 76(3): 412436.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Barnes, Nicholas. 2017. “Criminal Politics: An Integrated Approach to the Study of Organized Crime, Politics and Violence,” Perspectives on Politics 15(4): 967987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bateson, Regina. 2017. “The Socialization of Civilians and Militia Members: Evidence from Guatemala.Journal of Peace Research 54(5): 634647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bateson, Regina. 2019. “The Politics of Vigilantism.” Unpublished manuscript, April 9.Google Scholar
Becker, David. 2010. “Gangs, Netwar, and Community Counterinsurgency in Haiti.Prism 2(3): 137154. Scholar
Berg, Louis-Alexandre. 2010. Crime, Politics and Violence in Post-Earthquake Haiti, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace. Scholar
Berg, Manfred, and Wendt, Simon. 2011. “Introduction: Lynching from an International Perspective,” in Globalizing Lynching History: Vigilantism and Extralegal Punishment from an International Perspective, eds., Berg, Manfred and Wendt, Simon. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berman, Eli. 2011. Radical, Religious, and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Cammett, Melani. 2014. Compassionate Communalism: Welfare and Sectarianism in Lebanon. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cammett, Melani, and MacLean, Lauren Morris. 2014. The Politics of Non-state Social Welfare. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carrigan, William, and Waldrep, Christopher. 2013. Swift to Wrath: Lynching in Global Historical Perspective. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
Chesler, Phyllis. 2010. “Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings.Middle East Quarterly 17(2): 311.Google Scholar
Cohen, Dara Kay. 2013. “Explaining Rape during Civil War: Cross-National Evidence (1980–2009).American Political Science Review 107(3): 461477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohen, Dara Kay. 2016. Rape during Civil War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohen, Dara Kay, Green, Amelia Hoover, and Wood, Elisabeth. 2012. “Is Wartime Rape Declining on a Global Scale? We Don’t Know and It Doesn’t Matter,” Political Violence @ a Glance, November 1. 192012/11/01/is-wartime-rape-declining-on-a-global-scale-we-dont-know-and-it-doesnt-matter/.Google Scholar
Cohen, Dara Kay, and Nordås, Ragnhild. 2014. “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Introducing the SVAC dataset, 1989–2009.Journal of Peace Research 51(3): 418428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohen, Dara Kay, and Jung, Danielle F.. 2018. “Fatalities and Lethal Violence in Port-au-Prince (2002–2017).” Harvard Dataverse, V3.Google Scholar
Commission on Global Governance. 1995. Our Global Neighborhood. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Cooper, Jasper, and Wilke, Anna. 2018. “‘Thief!’ Explaining Support for Mob Vigilantism in Africa and Melanesia.” Unpublished manuscript, presented at APSA, Boston.Google Scholar
Coppedge, Michael, Gerring, John, Knutsen, Carl Henrik et al. 2018. “V-Dem Codebook v8.” Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project. Scholar
Cunningham, Kathleen, Sawyer, Katherine, and Huang, Reyko. 2018. “Voting for Militants: Rebel Elections in Civil War.” Unpublished manuscript. Scholar
D’Adesky, Anne-Christine. 1991. “Haiti: Pére Lebrun in Context.Report on the Americas 25(3): 79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davenport, Christian, and Ball, Patrick. 2002. “Views to a Kill: Exploring the Implications of Source Selection in the Case of Guatemalan State Terror, 1977–1995.Journal of Conflict Resolution 46(3): 427450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dubois, Laurent. 2005. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Édouard, Roberson, and Dandoy, Arnaud. 2016. Vigilantism in Haiti: Manifestations of Non- governmental Forms of Protection in Urban Environments Undergoing Humanitarian Crisis. Port-au- Prince, OXFAM-IIED.Google Scholar
Ellickson, Robert. 1994. Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Fatton, Jr., Robert. 2007. The Roots of Haitian Despotism. Boulder: Lynne Reiner.Google Scholar
Fariss, Christopher, Linder, Fridolin, Jones, Zachary et al. 2015. “Human Rights Texts: Converting Human Rights Primary Source Documents into Data,” Harvard Dataverse. Scholar
Fearon, James, and Laitin, David. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War. American Political Science Review, 97(1): 7590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Franklin, Karen. 2004. “Enacting Masculinity: Antigay Violence and Group Rape as Participatory Theater.Sexuality Research & Social Policy 1(2): 2540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fujii, Lee Ann. 2017. “‘Talk of the Town’: Explaining Pathways to Participation in Violent Display.Journal of Peace Research 54(5): 661673.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
García-Ponce, Omar, Lauren Young, and Thomas Zeitzoff. 2019. “Anger and Support for Vigilante Justice in Mexico's Drug War.” Unpublished Manuscript. Scholar
Gibbons, Jonathan. 2013. “Global Study on Homicide,” United National Office of Drugs and Crime (Vienna). Scholar
Gibney, Mark, Cornett, Linda, Wood, Reed, Haschke, Peter, Arnon, Daniel, and Pisanò, Attilio. 2018. The Political Terror Scale 1976–2017. Scholar
Godoy, Angelina Snodgrass. 2006. Popular Injustice: Violence, Community, and Law in Latin America. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Goldstein, Daniel. 2003. “‘In Our Own Hands’: Lynching, Justice, and the Law in Bolivia.American Ethnologist 30(1): 2243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldstein, Judith, Kahler, Miles, O. Keohane, Robert, and Slaughter, Anne-Marie. 2000.“Introduction: Legalization and World Politics.International Organization 54(3): pp. 385399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordon, Grant, and Young, Lauren. 2017. “Cooperation, Information, and Keeping the Peace: Civilian Engagement with Peacekeepers in Haiti.Journal of Peace Research 54(1): 6479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, Donald, Glaser, Jack, and Rich, Andrew. 1998. “From Lynching to Gay Bashing: The Elusive Connection between Economic Conditions and Hate Crime.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75(1): 8292.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gunderson, Anna. 2018. “Why Do States Privatize Their Prisons? The Unintended Consequences of Inmate Litigation.” Unpublished manuscript: Scholar
Heger, Lindsay, and Jung, Danielle. 2017. “Negotiating with Rebels: The Effect of Rebel Service Provision on Conflict NegotiationsJournal of Conflict Resolution 61(6): 12031229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan. MacPherson (1968).Google Scholar
Hovland, Carl Iver, and Sears, Robert. 1940. “Minor Studies of Aggression: VI. Correlation of Lynching with Economic Indices.The Journal of Psychology 9(2): 301310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
INURED (Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development). 2017. “Republic of Haiti: Country of Origin Information Paper,” commissioned by the UNHCR, August. Scholar
Jacobs, Carolien, and Schuetze, Christy. 2011. “‘Justice with Our Own Hands’: Lynching, Poverty, Witchcraft, and the State in Mozambique.” In Globalizing Lynching History: Vigilantism and Extralegal Punishment from an International Perspective, eds., Manfred, Berg and Simon, Wendt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, (pp. 225241).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jo, Hyeran. 2018. “Compliance with International Humanitarian Law by Non-State Armed Groups: How Can It Be Improved?Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law 19: 6388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnston, Patrick, Shapiro, Jacob, Shatz, Howard et al. 2016. Foundations of the Islamic State: Management, Money and Terror in Iraq, 2005–2010. RAND Corporation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keene, Edward. 2002. Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kenney, Michael. 2007. From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kahler, Miles, and Lake, David 2003. “Globalization and Governance.” In Governance in a Global Economy: Political Authority in Transition, Kahler, Miles and Lake, David A., eds. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chapter 1, pp. 1–32.Google Scholar
Keohane, Robert. 2002. Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Kivland, Chelsey. 2020. Street Sovereigns: Young Men and the Makeshift State in Urban Haiti. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. (manuscript forthcoming)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kolbe, Athena. 2013. “Revisiting Haiti’s Gangs and Organized Violence,” Working Paper 147 Households in Conflict Network. Scholar
Krasner, Stephen. 1993. “Westphalia and All That.” In Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change, eds., Judith, Goldstein and Robert, Keohane. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Chapter 9, pp. 235–264.Google Scholar
Krasner, Stephen. 1999. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krasner, Stephen D. 2004. “Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing StatesInternational Security 29(4): 85120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krasner, Stephen, and Risse, Thomas. 2014. “External Actors, State-Building, and Service Provision in Areas of Limited Statehood.Governance 27(4): 545567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lake, David. 1996. “Anarchy, Hierarchy, and the Variety of International Relations,” International Organization 50(1): 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lake, David A. 1999. Entangling Relations: American Foreign Policy in its Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Lake, David. 2009. Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Lake, David. 2010. “Rightful Rulers: Authority, Order, and the Foundations of Global Governance.International Studies Quarterly 54(3): 587613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lansing, J. Stephen. 2006. Perfect Order: Recognizing Complexity in Bali. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
LeBas, Adrienne. 2013. “Violence and Urban Order in Nairobi, Kenya and Lagos, Nigeria.Studies in Comparative International Development 48(3): 240262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, Peter. 2007. “An‐arrgh‐chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization,” Journal of Political Economy 115(6): 10491094.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeson, Peter, and Russ, Jacob W.. 2017. “Witch Trials.The Economic Journal 128(613): 20662105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lessing, Benjamin. 2015. “Logics of Violence in Criminal War.Journal of Conflict Resolution 59(8): 14861516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lessing, Benjamin. 2017. “Counterproductive Punishment: How Prison Gangs Undermine State Authority.Rationality and Society 29(3): 257297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lessing, Benjamin, and Willis, Graham Denyer. 2019. “Legitimacy in Criminal Governance: Managing a Drug Empire from Behind Bars.” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levitt, Steven, and Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2000. “An Economic Analysis of a Drug-selling Gang’s Finances.Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(3): 755789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Littman, Rebecca, and Paluck, Elizabeth Levy. 2015. “The Cycle of Violence: Understanding Individual Participation in Collective Violence.Political Psychology 36(S1): 7999.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Loyle, Cyanne, and Binningsbø, Helga Malmin. 2018. “Justice During Armed Conflict: A New Dataset on Government and Rebel Strategies.Journal of Conflict Resolution 62(2): 442466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mackie, Gerry. 1996. “Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention AccountAmerican Sociological Review 61(6): 9991017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mampilly, Zachariah Cherian. 2011. Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life During War. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
MINUSTAH/Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme. 2017. “Bay tèt yo jistis: Se faire justice soi-même ou le règne de l’impunité en Haïti,” Janvier. Scholar
MINUJUSTH. 2019. “La Saline: Justice pour les victimes l’Etat a l’obligation de proteger tous les citoyens.” Scholar
Moncada, Eduardo 2019. “The Politics of Criminal Victimization: Pursuing and Resisting Power,” Perspectives on Politics. doi: 10.1017/S153759271900029X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moore, E. F. 1964. “The Firing Squad Synchronization Problem.” In Sequential Machines, Selected Papers, Moore, E. F, ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, pp. 213214.Google Scholar
More, Sir Thomas. 1845. Utopia: Or the Happy Republic: A Philosophical Romance. London: Joseph Rickerby.Google Scholar
Mueller, John. 2000. “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War.’” International Security 25(1): 4270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ormhaug, Christin Marsh, Meier, Patrick, and Hernes, Helga. 2009. “Armed Conflict Deaths Disaggregated by Gender,” PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO. Scholar
Osorio, Javier, Schubiger, Livia, and Weintraub, Michael. 2019. “Historical Legacies of Conflict: From the Cristero Rebellion to Self-Defense Forces in Mexico,” working paper.Google Scholar
Pfeifer, Michael, ed. 2017. Global Lynching and Collective Violence: Volume 1: Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. University of Illinois Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, Brian. 2015. “How Does Leadership Decapitation Affect Violence?Journal of Politics 77(2): 324336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Probst, Janice, Glover, Saundra, and Kirksey, Victor. 2019. “Strange Harvest: A Cross-Sectional Ecological Analysis of the Association Between Historic Lynching Events and 2010–2014 County Mortality Rates.Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities 6(1): 143152.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reno, William. 2011. Warfare in Independent Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Risse, Thomas, and Stollenwerk, Eric. 2018a. “Legitimacy in Areas of Limited Statehood.” Annual Review of Political Science 21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Risse, Thomas, and Stollenwerk, Eric. 2018b. “Limited Statehood Does Not Equal Civil War.Daedalus 147(1): 104115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scharpf, Fritz. 2007. “Reflections on Multilevel Legitimacy,” MPIfG Working Paper 07/3, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Köln Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne, July.Google Scholar
Schwartz, Timothy. 2008. Travesty in Haiti: A True Account of Christian Missions, Orphanages, Fraud, Food Aid and Drug Trafficking. North Charleston, SC: Booksurge Publishing.Google Scholar
Shapiro, Jacob. 2013. The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Shapiro, Jacob, and Jung, Danielle. 2014. “The Terrorist Bureaucracy: Inside the Files of the Islamic State in Iraq,” The Boston Globe, December 14.Google Scholar
Sikkink, Kathryn. 2017. Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, Nicholas Rush. 2017. “New Situations Demand Old Magic: Necklacing In South Africa, Past and Present,” In Pfeifer, Michael, ed., Global Lynching and Collective Violence: Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Chapter 6, pp. 156–184.Google Scholar
Soifer, Hillel David. 2012. “Measuring State Capacity in Contemporary Latin America.Revista de Ciencia Política 32(3): 585598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spruyt, Hendrik. 1994 The Sovereign State and Its Competitors. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
Stewart, Meghan. 2018. “Civil War as State Building: Strategic Governance in Civil War.International Organization 72(1): 205226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Straus, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation Comparative Research on Genocide.World Politics 59(3): 476501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steele, Abbey. 2011. “Electing Displacement: Political Cleansing in Apartadó, Colombia.Journal of Conflict Resolution 55(3): 423445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Thurston, Robert. 2011. “Lynching and Legitimacy: Toward a Global Description of Mob Murder.” In Globalizing Lynching History: Vigilantism and Extralegal Punishment from an International Perspective, Manfred, Berg and Simon, Wendt, eds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Chapter 4, pp. 69–86.Google Scholar
Tolnay, Stewart Emory, and Beck, Elwood. 1995. A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882–1930. University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
US Army Field Manual 3–24: Counterinsurgency. 2006. FM 3–24/MCWP 3–33.5 Scholar
Valentino, Benjamin. 2005. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Venkatesh, Sudhir. 1997. “The Social Organization of Street Gang Activity in an Urban Ghetto.American Journal of Sociology 29(4): 427462.Google Scholar
Wagstaff, William, and Jung, Danielle. 2018. “Competing for Constituents: Trends in Terrorist Service Provision” Terrorism and Political Violence. DOI:0.1080/09546553.2017.1368494.Google Scholar
Weber, Max. 1918. “Politics as a Vocation.” In Gerth, H. H and Wright Mills, C (translated and edited), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1946, pp. 77128.Google Scholar
Weierstall, Roland, and Elbert, Thomas. 2011. “The Appetitive Aggression Scale – Development of an Instrument for the Assessment of Human’s Attraction to Violence.European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2(1): 8430.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Weintraub, Michael. 2016. “Legacies of Lynching: Racial Killings in the American South and Contemporary Homicides.” Unpublished manuscript. Available by request from author.Google Scholar
Williams, Michael. 2006. “The Hobbesian Theory of International Relations: Three Traditions.” In Classical Theory in International Relations, Beate, Jahn, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 11, pp. 253–276.Google Scholar
Willman, Alys, and Marcelin, Louis Herns. 2010. ““If They Could Make Us Disappear, They Would!” Youth and Violence in Cité Soleil, Haiti.Journal of Community Psychology 38(4): 515531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yates, Donna. 2017. “Community Justice,” Ancestral Rights, and Lynching in Rural Bolivia”; Race and Justice. Scholar

Save element to Kindle

To save this element to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Lynching and Local Justice
Available formats

Save element to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Lynching and Local Justice
Available formats

Save element to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Lynching and Local Justice
Available formats