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Terrorism and Civil War: A Spatial and Temporal Approach to a Conceptual Problem

  • Michael G. Findley (a1) and Joseph K. Young (a2)

What is the relationship between civil war and terrorism? Most current research on these topics either explicitly or implicitly separates the two, in spite of compelling reasons to consider them together. In this paper, we examine the extent to which terrorism and civil war overlap and then unpack various temporal and spatial patterns. To accomplish this, we use newly geo-referenced terror event data to offer a global overview of where and when terrorist events happen and whether they occur inside or outside of civil war zones. Furthermore, we conduct an exploratory analysis of six separate cases that have elements of comparability but also occur in unique contexts, which illustrate some of the patterns in terrorism and civil war. The data show a high degree of overlap between terrorism and ongoing civil war and, further, indicate that a substantial amount of terrorism occurs prior to civil wars in Latin America, but yet follows civil war in other regions of the world. While the study of terrorism and of civil war mostly occurs in separate scholarly communities, we argue for more work that incorporates insights from each research program and we offer a possibility for future research by considering how geo-referenced terror and civil war data may be utilized together. More generally, we expect these results to apply to a wide variety of attitudes and behaviors in contentious politics.

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Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
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