Challenges to Civil War Research Introduction to the Special Issue on Civil War and Conflicts

By Andersen, Dorte; Barten, Ulrike et al. | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Challenges to Civil War Research Introduction to the Special Issue on Civil War and Conflicts


Andersen, Dorte, Barten, Ulrike, Jensen, Peter S., Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


From 1945 to 1999, there were roughly 130 civil wars that each killed at least 1,000 people.1 As of 2009, there are still many ongoing civil conflicts, e.g. in Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq. Civil wars and conflicts have been the subject of much research from many different perspectives. Historians, anthropologists, economists, political scientists, lawyers and sociologists have all studied them. It is, however, rare that these researchers cooperate and exchange ideas. For that reason, the Department of Border Region Studies organized a multidisciplinary conference entitled, 'The Roots of Civil Wars and Conflicts and Their Influence on the Transformations of State and Civil Society Institutions. held at Alsion, University of Southern Denmark, Sonderborg.

Thus, this Special Issue presents papers related to the topic of civil wars approached by scholars from different fields. The first article 'Disaggregated Perspectives on Civil War and Ethnic Conflict: Prospects of an Emerging Research Agenda., written by Tim Dertwinkel, presents an economic/political science approach to the study of civil war. The second article is Kenneth Øhlenschlæ ger Buhl's 'Legalization of Civil Wars: The Legal Institutionalization of Non-International Armed Conflicts., which presents a legal understanding of civil war. These two articles relate to the concept of civil war as well as its implications for their respective fields. The third article is Steen Bo Frandsen's 'The Breakup of a Composite State and the Construction of a National Conflict: Denmark and the Duchies in the 19th Century., which brings in a historical perspective. This article is highly empirical as Frandsen focuses on a particular location. 'A Simple Tool needed to a Complex Situation: A Development Worker's Perspective on the use of Vocational Training to Augment the Peace Process in Sudan. rounds of this special issue presenting a practitioner's perspective.

Certain constraints have made it necessary to split this Special Issue in two. The majority of papers are included here, but one of the next issues of the Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe will contain a special section devoted to the last three papers on this topic. These are a sociological and two anthropological papers: the first is entitled 'Wars, Civil Wars and State-formation in the Twentieth Century., by Lars Bo Kaspersen; and the second is Tom Trier's examination of 'Inter-Ethnic Relations in Abkhazia.; and the third is Christian Kordt Højbjerg's 'Root Causes: The Inversion of Causes and Consequences in Civil War..

Before introducing the papers in this issue, some common themes and issues are presented below. Even though the papers are drawn from different academic disciplines, they often face the same difficulties. However, the ways in which these are addressed may differ and a theme can be approached from many angles.

Civil wars are generally understood as conflicts located internally within a state's territory. However, as this collection of articles illustrates, there are significant difficulties involved in defining the concept of civil war, as well as in determining the differences between war, civil war and civil conflict. This is true both within each field of research and in the interdisciplinary research field as a whole. As Tim Dertwinkel states in the context of political economy, there is: "[...] a lack of theoretical clarity on the very concept of civil war itself and on the theoretical problem how to disentangle civil war from other forms of political violence such as military coups or large scale ethnic riots" (cf. Dertwinkel). Discrepancies between the disciplines also illustrate a lack of conceptual clarity; the legal definition of a civil war is "a non-international armed conflict" (cf. Buhl) in anthropology, civil war is "a complex concept", the definition of which depends on the context in which war occurs (cf. Højbjerg); and, in military terms, "there are no civil wars only wars" (cf. …

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