Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Kristin M. Bakke (a1), Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham (a2) and Lee J. M. Seymour (a3)


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.



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

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

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

  • Kristin M. Bakke (a1), Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham (a2) and Lee J. M. Seymour (a3)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.