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.
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