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Using Case Studies to Expand Economic Models of Civil War

  • Nicholas Sambanis (a1)

This article draws on a comparative case study design to refine formal-quantitative models of civil war, expanding them to highlight political processes that lead to civil war. It uses 21 case studies of civil war onset and avoidance to show the shortcomings in prominent rationalist models of civil war that rely heavily on economic variables. These shortcomings include measurement error, unit heterogeneity, model misspecification, and lack of clarity about causal mechanisms. Additionally, the greed/grievance distinction that underlies the economic models is misguided. This article analyzes civil war not as a discrete phenomenon, but rather as one phase in a cycle of violence. Economic models of civil war, however, rely on theories that cannot distinguish effectively between civil war and other forms of political violence. To explain civil war, we must explain why various and often conflicting micro-level motives combine to produce political violence with the characteristics that we attribute to civil war. If we cannot understand why we get civil war instead of other forms of organized political violence, then we do not understand civil war.Nicholas Sambanis thanks Keith Darden, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Jennifer Hochschild, Stathis Kalyvas, Bruce Russett, Jack Snyder, Sidney Tarrow, Charles Tilly, and seminar participants at New York University and the University of Chicago for very useful comments, as well as Annalisa Zinn and Steve Shewfelt for excellent research assistance. He also gratefully acknowledges financial support from the World Bank's Post-Conflict Fund and from the Russell Sage Foundation, where he was fortunate to spend a year of academic leave working on this and related projects. This research is part of the Political Economy of Civil War, a collaborative project between Yale University's U.N. Studies Program and the World Bank's Conflict and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit.

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