Theories of Violent Conflict: An Introduction

Theories of Violent Conflict: An Introduction

Theories of Violent Conflict: An Introduction

Theories of Violent Conflict: An Introduction


This revised and updated second edition introduces students of violent conflict to a variety of prominent theoretical approaches, and examines the ontological stances and epistemological traditions underlying these approaches.

Theories of Violent Conflict takes the centrality of the 'group' as an actor in contemporary conflict as a point of departure, leaving us with three main questions:

• What makes a group?

• Why and how does a group resort to violence?

• Why and how do or don't they stop?

The book examines and compares the ways by which these questions are addressed from a number of perspectives: primordialism/constructivism, social identity theory, critical political economy, human needs theory, relative deprivation theory, collective action theory and rational choice theory. The final chapter aims to synthesize structure and agency-based theories by proposing a critical discourse analysis of violent conflict.   

With new material on violence, religion, extremism and military urbanism, this book will be essential reading for students of war and conflict studies, peace studies, conflict analysis and conflict resolution, and ethnic conflict, as well as security studies and IR in general.


When I was completing the second edition of this book in December 2015, two Somali nomads announced on a Dutch news website that they were planning to take legal action against the Netherlands. While herding their cattle south of Mogadishu, the two men had fallen victim to a drone attack. They were hit by an American missile that was aiming to target a convoy of cars allegedly transporting members of the Al Shabaab organization. One nomad lost both his daughters, was severely injured himself and saw most of his cattle annihilated. The two men hold the Dutch state accountable for the American drone attack. Over the past years, the Dutch military intelligence agency (MIVD) has intercepted millions of telephone calls and texts messages by Somalis by means of a satellite receiver stationed in the small Frisian village of Burum. The mobile phone ‘meta-data’ (collected for an antipiracy operation named ‘Ocean Shield’) was shared with the American NSA, and allegedly used to plan the drone attack. According to the Dutch lawyer representing the victims, these actions are ‘culpably negligent’. By providing telecom data to the NSA, the Netherlands is considered co-responsible for the attacks.

Violent conflict and warfare have become increasingly remote and interconnected at the same time, tying people and places together in unprecedented ways. In the four years separating this second edition with the publication of the first edition of Theories of Violent Conflict, it is the increasing interconnectedness of violence that strikes me as most significantly new. This adds to the ongoing challenge for students of violent conflict to unravel the complexity of the web of relations and alliances producing contemporary war and violence, and the ways clusters of conflict cross-infect and exacerbate each other. The multifacetedness of today’s violent conflict calls for researchers who can draw on a multiplicity of analytical vocabularies. In this second edition, apart from case-study updates, I have included a number of new voices and directions. Among them are ideas on assemblage analytics, new sections on the conceptualization of violence (and how it differs from aggression), religion and extremism, and more explicit references to gender, postcolonial studies and performance studies. Also, this second edition includes a more elaborate discussion of the critical political economy approach to violent conflict and addresses the ‘spatial’ and ‘practice’ turn in the field. Again, students in the MA Conflict Studies and Human Rights at Utrecht University were of invaluable help in thinking through the selected approaches, offering feedback and pointing out new directions. In many ways, this new edition is the product of our collaboration. Working at the Centre for Conflict Studies is fun and a privilege thanks to Chris van der Borgh, Mario Fumerton, Georg Frerks, Luuk Slooter, Lauren Gould, Nora Stel, Toon Dirkx, Niels Terpstra and Floor Zweerink. I am grateful to the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) for providing me with a writing grant, which enabled me to write the first edition of the book. In addition, I am . . .

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