The state is the main perpetrator of violence against noncombatant and civilian populations—often its own citizens.  Although recent research has shed significant light on the causes and dynamics of insurgent violence, state violence remains noticeably under-explored.  We plan to build on these recent advances to broaden and deepen our understanding of state violence.  More specifically, we acknowledge the shift away from an explanatory paradigm that has all too often depicted violence as the outcome of irrational impulse and plan to move toward an analysis focusing on the strategic and organizational underpinnings of violence.

Three distinctive features characterize this area of research.

First, the focus is on principles of variation. The decision to commit violent acts against civilian populations may be grounded on different types of motivations: strategic, ideological, and expressive. Further, this decision may emerge at various levels of the state apparatus. In some cases, the state leaders are the planners; in other cases, subordinates of various ranks take the initiative; and some times, the task is farmed out to paramilitary groups.  Our goal is to account for the variation in the loci of decisions and in their motivational underpinnings. Similarly, state agents vary with regard to their propensity to enact the orders broadcasted by the center. We will examine how different types of organizational settings affect this propensity.

Second, this field calls for a diverse toolkit: dataset building and analysis, ethnographic fieldwork, primary historical research, and formal modeling of decision-making processes, among others.  We will strive to be simultaneously analytical and deep and we are, therefore, interested in research that either mixes methods or seeks to be informed by additional methods.

Third, this field is inherently interdisciplinary. We will borrow insights from the sociology of state organizations and the sociology of group processes. We will draw on the strategic models of political conflicts and contention developed in political science. Finally we will incorporate the insights of political anthropology, history, and area studies.

The workshops will emphasize research design and actively promote interdisciplinary interaction.  We encourage applications from students throughout the humanities and social sciences that focus on the etiology, organization, and effects of state violence; combine a close attention to the empirics with an investigation of patterns of variation; and attempt to link fine-grained dynamics on the ground with macro processes.  We welcome applications that cover the phenomenon of state violence in all historical periods and all geographic areas


  • Jaime Amparo Alves

    University of Texas / Austin, Anthropology

    State Terror, Necropower, and the Politics of Everyday Life in a Sao Paulo's Shantytown
    The work seeks to provide an ethnographic analysis of local forms of politics within the context of state deadly violence against Black youth in the shantytown of Jardim Angela, in the municipality of São Paulo. The research aims at fostering a more nuanced theoretical understanding of the multilayered aspects of resistance strategies to state-sanctioned lethal violence perpetrated by, but not limited to, the police force. This entails a consideration of at least three types of factors: actual violent acts, their symbolic dimensions, and the historical and structural conditions within which violence emerges. Carrying in depth ethnographic work with Jardim Angela youth and Educafro’s political organizers – a black youth NGO at Jardim Angela - will afford an understanding of the correlation between vulnerability to deadly violence and social class, age, gender, place, and race. It will also reveal the multifaceted dimension of the politics slum residents embrace to challenge patterns political and economical violence in the urban landscape.
  • Yael H Berda

    Princeton University, Sociology

    Administrative memory and colonial legacies: a comparative analysis of colonial bureaucratic practices and their impact on contemporary border control adminstration in Israel and India
    My project will explore the colonial legacy of state violence and uncover how it shapes contemporary state bureaucracies. Specifically, the project will trace how bureaucracies “pick up” their organizational habits by contrasting border control administrations in two post colonial societies – India and Israel. The empirical framework will thus be historical comparative and draw on British colonial archives located in India and Israel. In addition, to underscore how colonial legacies shape practices, I will also conduct a comparative ethnography of the two border sites. I have developed two core concepts that will serve as tools to trace and map colonial legacies. The first is the concept of "administrative memory" – the practices, schemas and repertoires of action that remain part of an institutional logic long after the regime and its agents have ceased to hold power. The second is a model of a colonial Ideal type of bureaucracy, as opposed to the classic Weberian model of Bureaucracy, which can further our understanding of the particularities of colonial state violence and its My methods will be historical comparative and ethnographic and take place in two stages. First, I will examine the archives of the British mandate in Palestine, currently located in Jerusalem, and the colonial archive in Calcutta.Second, I will conduct comparative ethnographies of border policing practices in Israel and India. At this preliminary stage I will be concentrating on the archives in India and Israel.
  • Daniel Blocq

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Sociology

    The Use of Nonstate Actors in Counterinsurgency Campaigns
    In times of civil war, when central authority is challenged or contested by insurgents, the state typically adopts different strategies to restore or maintain its authority. One of these strategies may involve a resort to nonstate actors in counterinsurgency campaigns. This use of non-state actors can take different forms, ranging from loose and short term support or alliances with pre-existing groups to firm and durable cooperation with groups that have been organized by the state for the purpose of counterinsurgency. Past and present conflicts in the Balkans, Burundi, Colombia, Congo, Mozambique, Sudan and many other places demonstrate the employment of this strategy of using non-state actors in counterinsurgency, yet a systematic analysis has hitherto remained absent. From within the context of the second civil war in Sudan, I intend to explore temporal and spatial variation with respect to the use of groups of non-state actors by the state in counterinsurgency campaigns.
  • Brett Logan Carter

    Harvard University, Government

    On the Sources of Value for Conflict
    Despite recent gains in patterns of violence in civil war, social scientists still lack a compelling theoretical explanation for how autonomous political units - insurgents and states alike - come to value certain conflicts relative to other policy options. My dissertation builds a series of a game theoretic models of intergroup conflict that study the sources of value for conflict within a political unit, as well as how these values are mediated by political institutions and social dynamics. The models conceptualize conflict and infrastructural improvement to the domestic economy as competing investment strategies available to a leader, who seeks to maximize personal consumption while also satisfying the demands of a political elite. The models make three important theoretical contributions. First, the models improve upon existing economic theories of conflict by incorporating recent gains in endogenous economic growth theory to explain variation in the quantity and objectives of conflict at different stages of economic growth. Second, by recognizing the endogeneity of political institutions to the incidence and nature of conflict, the models provide a more compelling account of the effects of 'politics' on the conflicts a group ultimately pursues. And third, the models introduce dynamics not generally incorporated into political economic models by considering the effects of demographic change on recruitment strategies, as well as how preferences for the quantity of recruitment are conditioned by competition between leader and elite for the loyalty of the group's conflict apparatus.
  • Sheena E. Chestnut

    Harvard University, Government

    Ethnic Minorities in Chinese Foreign and Domestic Policy
    What factors influence the integration of ethnic minorities in non-democratic political regimes? This project argues that states respond to ethnic diversity by pursuing a variety of legitimation strategies among minority populations. It examines the political, economic, and social policies employed by the People’s Republic of China toward its fifty-five ethnic minorities. I suggest that the ways in which these practices balance autonomy for and assimilation of ethnic groups can provide new insights into how non-democratic regimes foster a sense of national unity within a multi-ethnic environment.
  • Robert L. Harkins

    University of California / Berkeley, History

    Fear and Trembling: Religious Violence and the Crucible of Conformity in the English Reformation
    My proposed study is an analysis of the process of religious dissimulation and conformity in early modern England, particularly during the heresy prosecutions under Queen Mary I. This study will attempt to reorient the history of the English Reformation by emphasizing the ways in which state violence, and in particular the crisis of coerced conformity, had a lasting impact on the intellectual, cultural, and social conceptions of the relationship between the subject and the state. This project will also address the ideological underpinnings of state-directed religious persecution, and attempt to understand the objectives of the prosecuting regime. While early modern polemicists vehemently denounced religious conformists, in praxis there was often a practical flexibility and acceptance of those who had reluctantly recanted. Through a close analysis of letters, unpublished papers, and ecclesiastical and state records, I aim to show that while an act of recantation or conformity may be viewed as a moment of religious inconstancy, it can conversely be viewed as the fulfillment of one’s duty to civic authority. By attempting to understand recantation within its specific political and religious context, I hope to thereby explain how conformity was often a socially excusable and intellectually tenable response to state violence.
  • Jeong-Chul Kim

    Northwestern University, Sociology

    Creation of Collaborators by the Imperial State: A Case Study of the Japanese Colonial Rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945
    This study intends to examine the formation, development, and identity of pro-Japanese collaborators during the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Specifically, this research will demonstrate how the Japanese imperial state encouraged collaboration for the efficient management of its empire, how Koreans decided to collaborate with the Japanese, and how collaborators’ identity developed from collaborators to national traitors. To this end, this study will focus on the collection and review of historical and contemporary data on the Japanese imperial policies and pro-Japanese collaborators located in colonial archives and government and civic research institutes in both South Korea and Japan. Archival data will include imperial Japanese wartime policies during the Pacific War and distributions and characteristics of colonial administrative organizations and collaborationist activities in Korea. Multiple sources such as diaries, letters, published articles, published memoirs, and video recordings will provide information on the identities of collaborators, what they did and said, and where and how they lived. I will probe the processes of the creation of collaborators and their changing identities through social network analysis and content analysis.
  • Andrew M. Linke

    University of Colorado / Boulder, Geography

    Local Patterns of Kenyan Election Violence - Disaggregating Influential Actors and the Conditions of Conflict
    Violent conflict often surrounds national elections in Africa’s weakest states. While hailed by many commentators as an exemplary model of democratic governance in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya’s December 2007 election was marred by serious inconsistencies and bouts of internecine political violence. In the months leading up to this election both major parties accused the other of encouraging violence against their supporters. After the election, Kenya’s two largest ethnic groups were pitted against one another in violence throughout the country. My research constitutes an investigation of conflict dynamics and patterns of violence surrounding presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya since the country’s first multi-party campaigns in 1992. More specifically, a large portion of my research investigates trends in state-sponsored violence. I employ descriptive and predictive spatial-statistical methods to an original dataset of violent events occurring throughout time in Kenya. I supplement these data with archival research in Kenya, and interviews with humanitarian organization researchers and victims of violence. Violent event data is matched by detailed socio-economic and structural data, including election results by administrative unit. Theoretically, my work is framed within the behavioral approach to political violence and the threat state violence poses to democratic consolidation.
  • Rahul S. Mahajan

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Sociology

    The Organizational and Strategic Logic of Counterinsurgency: U.S. Interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam
    Counterinsurgency is distinguished from conventional warfare by the fact that the "battlespace," is the general population, rather than being a physical space. Counterinsurgency theory, developed by military analysts, maintains that this means that effective counterinsurgency involves "winning hearts and minds" and restrictions on use of force to be minimal in scope and highly selective in nature; yet these dicta are rarely followed in actual situations. This dissertation will look in-depth at three cases of U.S. intervention – Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam – which have generated an extensive counterinsurgency literature. It will map out the multiple strategic logics that actually obtain in counterinsurgency, some involving tendencies toward selective violence and others involving tendencies toward indiscriminate violence. This will be analyzed as a result of the tension between political imperatives toward control and allegiance and military imperatives toward destruction of the enemy. Endogenous determinants, which develop out of the dynamic of violence, will be disentangled from potential exogenous ones that come from external factors like rigidity and unwillingness to learn of the U.S. Army bureaucracy. Formal modeling, including game theory and particularly evolutionary game theory, will be used to elaborate and categorize the different strategic logics in the most effective way.
  • Mark Rice

    State University of New York (SUNY) / Stony Brook University, History

    The Peripheral State: Chile and its Frontiers, 1860-1890
    My research proposes to investigate Chile’s Nineteenth-century militarism and state development through the prism of the frontier between the years of 1860 and 1890. Through this, I hope to re-center the role of the modernizing State in the dynamic and conceptual framework of the Latin American frontier. Starting with an era of relative political stability in 1860, Chile rapidly consolidated it military power to expand its territory into two distinct and different frontier zones – starting first in the Araucanía region in the South and later in the North in lands taken from Bolivia and Peru in the 1879 War of the Pacific. Unlike most of the center-periphery relationships described by historians of Latin America, Chile’s frontiers were not stateless zones. Instead, the Chilean periphery was an arena where the militarized liberal State first developed and executed its practices of state violence, categories of citizenship and exclusion, and efforts at economic and political modernization. Equally important in this narrative was the role played by thousands of indigenous people, foreign nationals, and peasants who constantly fought, negotiated, and helped determine the practices and ideologies of the modern Chilean State.
  • Ashley D. Thirkill-Mackelprang

    University of Washington, Political Science

    Strategic Terror or Macabre Expression: Explaning Variations in Civilian Targeting Among Paramilitaries, the State, and the FARC in Colombia
    The proposed project uses qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis to explain variations in the type and amount of violence that paramilitary, military, and guerrilla groups direct at civilians in different locations of Colombia. To test hypotheses derived from strategic/instrumental, expressive and symbolic explanations of violence, qualitative process tracing of group decision-making processes will be used in addition to quantitative statistical analysis of a dataset that the author will construct. The database of social network (dyadic) data on the number and manner of attacks (who attacks who with what kind of violence and how much) will be created using README software (King et al) and KEDS programming code (Schrodt et al).
  • Patrick Gerard Tobin

    University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill, History

    From Crime to Punishment: The Holocaust Perpetrators of Einsatzkommando Tilsit, 1933-1958
    My proposed project examines the history of members of Einsatzkommando Tilsit, a group of German men involved in the state-sponsored murders of over 5,000 Jewish men, women, and children in Lithuania in 1941. Though this unit existed only several months, the time period of this proposal examines nearly thirty years of German history, from the experience these men had during the Nazi rise to power to their trial in 1958 for the executions. This, the so-called Ulm Einsatzkommando Trial of 1958, was itself a key moment for West Germany in articulating its relationship to the Nazi past. Examining the deep history of this single unit therefore opens up key avenues for understanding not only how the state used its own citizens to commit mass murder, but also how the successor state attempted to come to terms with the violence of its predecessor. The guiding questions are how these men became Holocaust perpetrators during the war, and how they attempted to reintegrate into West German society after the war.