Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

“Wanton and Senseless” Revisited: The Study of Warfare in Civil Conflicts and the Historiography of the Algerian Massacres

  • Jacob Mundy (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 20 November 2013

Over the past two decades, attention in the social sciences increasingly has been drawn to the problem of violent civil conflicts, a problem that has disproportionately affected Africa more than any other region. Two approaches to this problem have come to dominate the field: attempts to understand the root causes of civil conflict and attempts to understand the dynamics of its violence. Critics of the former approach have elaborated the ways in which the etiological agenda itself makes, and then politically mobilizes, the reality it claims to find. The goal of this article is to elaborate a similar critique for the latter agenda by examining the productive and destructive interaction between theoretical assumptions and empirical realities that have informed attempts to understand the Algerian massacres of the late 1990s. The overall intention is not to promote a new understanding of those atrocities. Rather, it is to gain a deeper insight into the processes by which episodes of mass civil violence become objects of scientific analysis—and thus objects for political utilization—despite their having emerged from an empirical milieu of contested, ambiguous, and indeterminate realities.


Au cours des vingt dernières années, l’attention s’est portée dans les sciences sociales et naturelles sur les problèmes liés à la violence dans les conflits civils, une situation qui touche démesurément l’Afrique plus que toute autre région. Deux approches du problème dominent aujourd’hui ce domaine de recherche: celle qui tente de comprendre les causes premières des conflits civils, et celle qui tente de comprendre la dynamique de la violence qui s’y rattache. Les critiques de la première approche ont mis à nu les manières dont l’agenda étiologique lui-même façonne et mobilise politiquement la réalité qu’il trouve soi-disant. L’objectif de cet article est d’élaborer une critique similaire de l’agenda soutenant la deuxième approche en examinant la nature productive et destructive de l’interaction entre les suppositions théoriques et les réalités empiriques qui ont informé des tentatives menées pour comprendre les massacres en Algérie dans la fin des années 90. L’intention globale n’est pas de promouvoir une nouvelle compréhension de ces atrocités. Le but est en revanche d’accéder à une perception plus élaborée des processus par lesquels des épisodes de violence civile deviennent des objets d’analyse scientifique, et par la même objets à usage politique, en dépit du fait qu’ils naissent d’un milieu empirique de réalités contestées, ambiguës, et mal déterminées.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Lahouari Addi . 1998. “Algeria’s Army, Algeria’s Agony.” Foreign Affairs 77 (4): 4453.

Roland Bensted . 2011. “A Critique of Paul Collier’s ‘Greed and Grievance’ Thesis of Civil War.” African Security Review 20 (3): 8490.

John Richard Bowen . 1996. “The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict.” Journal of Democracy 7 (4): 314.

Rogers Brubaker , and David D. Laitin . 1998. “Ethnic and Nationalist Violence.” Annual Review of Sociology 24: 423‒45.

David Campbell . 1998. National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Paul Collier , Anke Hoeffler , and Dominic Rohner . 2009. “Beyond Greed and Grievance: Feasibility and Civil War.” Oxford Economic Papers 61 (1): 127.

Christopher Cramer . 2002. “Homo Economicus Goes to War: Methodological Individualism, Rational Choice and the Political Economy of War.” World Development 30 (11): 1845‒64.

Fawaz A Gerges . 2005. The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Errol A. Henderson , and J. David Singer . 2002. “‘New Wars’ and Rumors of ‘New Wars.’International Interactions 28 (2): 165‒90.

Kalevi Jakko Holsti . 1996. The State, War, and the State of War. New York: Cambridge University Press.

S. P Huntington . 1992. “The Clash of Civilizations?Foreign Affairs 72 (3): 2249.

Dietrich Jung , ed. 2003. Shadow Globalization, Ethnic Conflicts and New Wars: A Political Economy of Intra-State War. New York: Routledge.

Stathis N Kalyvas . 1999. “Wanton and Senseless? The Logic of Massacres in Algeria.” Rationality and Society 11 (3): 243‒86.

Luis Martinez . 2001. “Algérie: Les massacres de civils dans la guerre.” Revue Internationale de Politique Comparée 8 (1): 4358.

T. David Mason . 1989. “Nonelite Response to State-Sanctioned Terror.” The Western Political Quarterly 42 (4): 467‒92.

T. David Mason , and Dale D. A. Krane . 1989. “The Political Economy of Death Squads: Toward a Theory of the Impact of State-Sanctioned Terror.” International Studies Quarterly 33 (2): 175‒98.

Erik Melander , Magnus Oberg , and Jonathan Hall . 2009. “Are ‘New Wars’ More Atrocious? Battle Severity, Civilians Killed and Forced Migration Before and After the End of the Cold War.” European Journal of International Relations 15 (3): 505‒36.

J Mueller . 2000. “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War.’International Security 25 (1): 4270.

Edward Newman . 2004. “The ‘New Wars’ Debate: A Historical Perspective Is Needed.” Security Dialogue 35 (2): 173‒89.

William Reno . 2011. Warfare in Independent Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hugh Roberts . 1998. “The International Gallery and the Extravasation of Factional Conflict in Algeria.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 12 (1): 209‒46.

Lotta Themnér , and Peter Wallensteen . 2012. “Armed Conflicts, 1946‒2011.” Journal of Peace Research 49 (4): 565‒75.

Charles Tilly . 2003. The Politics of Collective Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Benjamin Valentino , Paul Huth , and Dylan Balach-Londsay . 2004. “‘Draining the Sea’: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare.” International Organization 58 (2): 375407.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *