Who, Where and Why: Understanding Microfoundations of Civil War

Project Leader

Desirée Nilsson, Associate Professor

Project Period


Project Participants

Hanne Fjelde, Assistant Professor
Lisa Hultman, Associate Professor

Project Description 

Why do some violent conflicts evolve into devastating events with large civilian death tolls, whereas others are less severe and terminate more swiftly? The quantitative research has approached this question with empirical tests on national level, focusing on state level attributes. However, civil wars are local events, and they evolve in interaction between warring actors.

This project advances this literature through a disaggregated analysis of new and unique micro-level data on the conflict behavior of warring actors and their geographical location. Three puzzles are examined: (1) why rebel groups deliberately kill civilians; (2) why rebel groups engage in battle with other rebel groups; and (3) why some rebel groups are offered peaceful bargains by the government to end their fighting. Through disaggregation, we make the actors and their interaction the focal point of our analysis, and hence advance our understanding of local determinants of conflict and the relationship between different types of violence.

We will rely on Uppsala Conflict Data Project’s new geo-referenced conflict events data, which are unique in their spatial and temporal coverage, and in their level of disaggregation by conflict actor. This will allow us for the first time to answer pertinent questions regarding who fights in civil war and where the fighting takes place, and provide more refined answers to the question of why some conflicts become violent and intractable. 

Related Publications and Working Papers 

Fjelde, Hanne and Gudrun Østby, 2014. Socioeconomic Inequality and Communal Conflict: A Disaggregated Analysis of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1990–2008, International Interactions, 40(5): 737-762.

Fjelde, Hanne and Lisa Hultman, 2014. “Weakening the Enemy: A Disaggregated Study of Violence against Civilians in Africa”, Journal of Conflict Resolution 58(7): 1230-1257. For a recent blogpost on this topic see Political Violence at a Glance

Fjelde, Hanne and Desirée Nilsson. 2012. "Rebels Against Rebels: Explaining Violence Between Rebel Groups", Journal of Conflict Resolution 56(4):604-628.

Hultman, Lisa. 2012. "Military Offensives in Afghanistan: A Double-Edged Sword", International Area Studies Review 15(3):230-248.

Hultman, Lisa. 2012. “Attacks on Civilians in Civil War: Targeting the Achilles Heel of Democratic Governments”, International Interactions 38(2):164-181. 

Main Financial Support

The Swedish Research Council

Useful links

The Swedish Research Council