Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-mp689 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-21T04:47:58.771Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

A Plague of Initials: Fragmentation, Cohesion, and Infighting in Civil Wars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 May 2012

Kristin M. Bakke
University College London. E-mail:
Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham
University of Maryland and Peace Research Oslo Institute
Lee J. M. Seymour
Institute of Political Science atLeiden University, the Netherlands E-mail:


How do we conceptualize the fragmentation of internally divided movements? And how does variation in fragmentation affect the probability and patterns of infighting? The internal politics of non-state groups have received increasing attention, with recent research demonstrating the importance of cohesion and fragmentation for understanding conflict dynamics. Yet there is little consensus on how to conceptualize fragmentation, the concept at the center of this agenda, with authors using different definitions and measures. In this paper we conceptualize fragmentation along three constitutive dimensions: the number of organizations in the movement; the degree of institutionalization across these organizations; and the distribution of power among them. We then show how variation across these dimensions can explain variation in important conflict processes, focusing on infighting.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2012

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.)


Ahlquist, John. 2010. “Building Strategic Capacity: The Political Underpinnings of Coordinated Wage Bargaining.” American Political Science Review 104(1): 171–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Almond, Gabriel A. 1958. “Research Note: A Comparative Study of Interest Groups and the Political Process.” American Political Science Review 52(1): 270282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.Google Scholar
Asal, Victor, Brown, Mitchell, and Dalton, Angela. Forthcoming. “Why Split? Organizational Splits among Ethno-Political Organizations in the Middle East.” Journal of Conflict Resolution.Google Scholar
Atlas, Pierre M., and Licklider, Roy. 1999. “Conflict among Former Allies after Civil War: Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Lebanon.” Journal of Peace Research 36(1): 3554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baldwin, David. 2002. “Power and International Relations.” In Handbook of International Relations, eds. Carlsnaes, Walter, Risse, Thomas and Simmons, Beth. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Barnett, Michael, and Duvall, Raymond. 2005. “Power in International Politics.” International Organization 59(1): 3975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Benford, Robert D. 1993. “Frame Disputes within the Nuclear Disarmament Movement.” Social Forces 71(3): 677701CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Biddle, Stephen. 2006. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Bloom, Mia M. 2003. “Ethnic Conflict, State Terror and Suicide Bombing in Sri Lanka.” Civil Wars 6(1): 5484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bloom, Mia M. 2004. “Palestinian Suicide Bombing: Public Support, Market Share, and Outbidding.” Political Science Quarterly 119(1): 6188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brooks, Risa, and Stanley, Elizabeth, eds. 2007. Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness. Stanford: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brubaker, Rogers. 2004. Ethnicity without Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brumfiel, Elizabeth, and Fox, John, eds. 2003. Factional Competition and Political Development in the New World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Bujra, Janet. 1973. “The Dynamics of Political Action: A New Look at Factionalism.” American Anthropologist 75(1): 132152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bunce, Valerie. 1999. Subversive Institutions: The Design and the Destruction of Socialism and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butler, Christopher, Carey, Sabine, and Mitchell, Neil. 2011. “Delegating Repression: Pro-Government Militias and Human Rights Violations” (working paper, University of New Mexico, University of Mannheim, and University College London).Google Scholar
Cederman, Lars-Erik. 2008. “Articulating the Geo-Cultural Logic of Nationalist Insurgency.” In Order, Conflict, and Violence, eds. Kalyvas, Stathis, Shapiro, Ian, and Masoud, Tarek. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Chandra, Kanchan. 2004. Why Ethnic Parties Succeed: Patronage and Ethnic Head Counts in India. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Checkel, Jeff, ed. Forthcoming. Transnational Dynamics of Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Christia, Fotini, and Semple, Michael. 2009. “Flipping the Taliban: How To Win in Afghanistan.” Foreign Affairs 88(34): 3445.Google Scholar
Collier, David, and Gerring, John. 2009. Concepts and Method in Social Science: The Tradition of Giovanni Sartori. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Collier, Paul, and Hoeffler, Anke. 2004. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.” Oxford Economic Papers 56(4): 563595.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cunningham, David. 2006. “Veto Players and Civil War Duration.” American Journal of Political Science 50(4): 875892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cunningham, David., Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Salehyan, Idean. 2009. “It Takes Two: A Dyadic Analysis of Civil War Duration and Outcome.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 53(4): 570597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher. 2007. Divided and Conquered: Why States and Self-Determination Groups Fail in Bargaining Over Autonomy. PhD diss., University of California, San Diego.Google Scholar
Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher. 2011. “Divide and Conquer or Divide and Concede: How Do States Respond to Internally Divided Separatists?American Political Science Review 105(2): 275297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher., Bakke, Kristin M., and Seymour, Lee J. M.. Forthcoming. “Shirts Today, Skins Tomorrow: Dual Contests and the Effects of Fragmentation in Self-Determination Conflicts.” Journal of Conflict Resolution.Google Scholar
Doyle, Michael, and Sambanis, Nicolas. 2000. “International Peacebuilding: A Theoretical and Quantitative Analysis.” American Political Science Review 94(4): 779801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dunlop, John B. 1998. Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duverger, Maurice. 1963. Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State. New York: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
Ellis, Stephen, and Sechaba, Tsebo. 1992. Comrades against Apartheid: The ANC and the South African Communist Party in Exile. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Fagan, Jeffrey. 1989. “The Social Organization of Drug Use and Drug Dealing among Urban Gangs.” Criminology 27(4): 663669.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 1996. “Explaining Interethnic Cooperation.” American Political Science Review 90(4): 715735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 97(1): 7590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Filippov, Mikhail, Ordeshook, Peter C., and Shvetsova, Olga. 2004. Designing Federalism: A Theory of Self-Sustainable Federal Institutions. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Findley, Michael, and Rudloff, Peter J.. Forthcoming. “Combatant Fragmentation and the Dynamics of Civil War.” British Journal of Political Science.Google Scholar
Flint, Julie, and de Waal, Alex. 2008. Darfur: A New History of a Long War. London: Zed Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gates, Scott. 2002. “Recruitment and Allegiance: The Microfoundations of Rebellion.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46(1): 111130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
George, Alexander L., and Bennett, Andrew. 2004. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Goertz, Gary. 2006. Social Science Concepts: A User's Guide. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Greenhill, Kelly M., and Major, Solomon. 2007. “The Perils of Profiling: Civil War Spoilers and the Collapse of Intrastate Peace Accords.” International Security 31(3): 740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hale, Henry. 2008. The Foundations of Ethnic Politics: Separatism of States and Nations in Eurasia and the World. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horowitz, Donald 1985 Ethnic groups in conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Iyob, Ruth. 1997. The Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jankowski, Martin Sanchez. 1991. Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, Douglas. 2003. The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Johnston, Patrick. 2007. “Negotiated Settlements and Government Strategy in Civil War: Evidence from Darfur.” Civil Wars 9(4): 359377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Judah, Tim. 2002. Kosovo: War and Revenge. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2003. “The Ontology of Political Violence: Action and Identity in Civil Wars.” Perspectives on Politics 1(3): 475494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2008. “Ethnic Defection in Civil War.” Comparative Political Studies 41(8): 10431068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kenny, Paul. 2010. “Structural Integrity and Cohesion in Armed Organizations: Evidence from Protracted Conflicts in Ireland and Burma.” International Studies Review 12(4): 533555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koopmans, Ruud. 1993. “The Dynamics of Protest Waves: West Germany, 1865–1989.” American Sociological Review 59(5): 637658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lawrence, Adria. 2010. “Triggering Nationalist Violence: Competition and Conflict in Uprisings against Colonial Rule.” International Security 35(2): 88122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyall, Jason. 2010. “Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War.” American Political Science Review 104(1): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, John D., and Zald, Mayer N.. 1977. “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 82(6): 12121241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McColl, Robert W. 1969. “The Insurgent State: Territorial Bases of Revolution.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 59(4): 613631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McLauchlin, Theodore, and Pearlman, Wendy. 2012. “Out-Group Conflict, In-Group Unity?: Exploring the Effect of Repression on Intramovement Cooperation.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 56(1): 4166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nilsson, Desirée. 2008. “Partial Peace: Rebel Groups Inside and Outside of Civil War Settlements.” Journal of Peace Research 45(4): 479495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
North, Douglass. 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, Mancur. 1982. The Rise and Decline of Nations. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Orwell, George. 2003. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
Pearlman, Wendy. 2009. “Spoiling Inside and Out: Internal Political Contestation and the Middle East Peace Process.” International Security 33(3): 79109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearlman, Wendy. 2011. Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearlman, Wendy., and Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher. Forthcoming. “Nonstate Actors, Fragmentation and Conflict Processes.” Journal of Conflict Resolution.Google Scholar
Petersen, Roger. 2002. Understanding Ethnic Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Posen, Barry. 1993. “The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict.” In Ethnic Conflict and International Security, ed. Browned, Michael. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Posner, Daniel N. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Prunier, Gérard. 2008. Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Reno, William. 2011. Warfare in Independent Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roeder, Philip. 2007. Where Nation-States Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Sakwa, Richard. 2011. The Crisis of Russian Democracy: The Dual State, Factionalism and the Medvedev Succession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Sartori, Giovanni. 1970. “Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics.” American Political Science Review 64(4): 10331053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shih, Victor. 2009. Factions and Finance in China: Elite Conflict and Inflation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Siegal, Bernard, and Biels, Alan. 1960. “Conflict and Factionalist Dispute.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 90(1): 107117.Google Scholar
Simmel, Georg. 1955. Conflict and the Web of Group-Affiliations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Simon, Herbert A. 1953. “Notes on the Observation and Measurement of Political Power.” Journal of Politics 15(4): 500516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sinno, Abdulkader H. 2008. Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Chris. 2009. “LTTE: A Movement of Liberation and National Oppression.” In Armed Militias of South Asia, eds. Gayer, Laurent and Jaffrelot, Cristophe. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Snyder, Timothy. 2010. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Staggenborg, Suzanne. 1986. “Coalition Work in the Pro-Choice Movement: Organizational and Environmental Opportunities and Obstacles.” Social Problems 33(5): 374390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Staniland, Paul. 2009. Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse. PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
Staniland, Paul. Forthcoming. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Insurgent Fratricide, Ethnic Defection, and the Rise of Pro-State Paramilitaries.” Journal of Conflict Resolution.Google Scholar
Stedman, John Stephen. 1997. “Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes.” International Security 22(2): 553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stein, Arthur A. 1976. “Conflict and Cohesion: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 20(1): 143172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tanner, Victor, and Tubiana, Jerôme. 2007. “Divided They Fall: The Fragmentation of Darfur's Rebel Groups” (working paper #6, Small Arms Survey/Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment).Google Scholar
Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tarrow, Sidney. 2007. “Inside Insurgencies: Politics and Violence in an Age of Civil War.” Perspectives on Politics 5(3): 587600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tilly, Charles. 2004. Social Movements: 1768–2004. New York: Paradigm Publishers.Google Scholar
Tishkov, Valery. 2004. Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Toft, Monica Duffy. 2003. The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Varshney, Ashutosh. 2002. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Varshney, Ashutosh. 2003. “Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Rationality.” Perspectives on Politics 1(1): 8599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walter, Barbara F. 2002. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walter, Barbara F. 2006. “Building Reputation: Why Governments Fight Some Separatists but Not Others.” American Journal of Political Science 50(2): 313330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walter, Barbara F., and Kydd, Andrew. 2002. “Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence.” International Organization 56(2): 263296.Google Scholar
Wedeen, Lisa. 2008. Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weinstein, Jeremy. 2007. Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Weintraub, Michael. 2011. “Fighting Together: Rebel Group Alliances in Civil War.” Presented at the International Studies Association Annual Meeting, Montréal, Quebec, March 16–19.Google Scholar
Wimmer, Andreas. 2008. “The Making and Unmaking of Ethnic Boundaries: A Multilevel Process Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 113(4): 9701022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wood, Elisabeth. 2009. “Armed Groups and Sexual Violence: When Is Wartime Rape Rare?Politics and Society 37(1): 131161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wood, Reed. 2010. “Rebel Capability and Strategic Violence against Civilians.” Journal of Peace Research 47(5): 601614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yablonsky, Lewis. 1959. “The Delinquent Gang as a Near-Group.” Social Problems 7(2): 108117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zald, Mayer N., and McCarthy, John D.. 1980. “Social Movement Industries: Competition and Cooperation among Movement Organizations.” In Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change, ed. Kriesberg, Louis. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
Zariski, Raphael. 1960. “Party Factions and Comparative Politics: Some Preliminary Observations.” Midwest Journal of Political Science 4(1): 2751.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zuckerman, Yitzhak. 1993. A Surplus of Memory: A Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zürcher, Christopher. 2007. The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict and Nationhood in the Caucasus. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar