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Social Dynamics of Civil Wars

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - CIVILWARS (Social Dynamics of Civil Wars)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-12-31

Each year, civil wars cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of injuries and massive destruction. Displacement is consubstantial to these conflicts, the millions of refugees that pour into neighbouring countries create regional instabilities. To the immediate cost, counted in trillions of euros (destruction, refugees, emergency aid, peace-keeping), must be added the indirect costs - ecological disruption, the destruction of historic sites, chaotic urbanisation, the transformation of land structures - which shatter the futures of societies for decades to come, well beyond the end of the conflicts themselves.
Although located in areas perceived as out of the way, civil wars engage not only the founding principles of international order, but the very internal organisation of our societies. Indeed, civil wars, just like social margins, are laboratories of new political technologies that can be implemented elsewhere (Tullis 1999, Kraska 2001). Civil wars, without foreshadowing a common future, can be considered indicators or accelerators of global trends such as electronic surveillance, privatisation of essential Governmental functions, or security-centred approaches to social issues. Finally, whether through migration, individual engagements or the media, these wars contribute to the redefinition and the radicalisation of identity divides. For instance, the rising rejection of Islam in Western countries or the Shia/Sunni conflicts in the Middle East are at least in part the result of civil wars.
In addition, since the end of the Cold War, civil wars represent almost the totality of conflicts. They affect mostly States that are ethnically diverse. These wars have a distinctly transnational character: armed organisations have in most cases a sanctuary in a neighbouring country and non-military external actors (IOs, NGOs) intervene on both sides of the border. They rarely lead to a change in international borders; annexation, a rare event, is almost never recognised internationally today; secessions remain infrequent (Atzili 2012; Zacher 2001). In the end, the territories are more stable than the States. Contrary to the Elias' model, where the political centre defines its territorial control, borders are today largely stable due to international constraints. Rather, what is at stake in war is generally the control or neutralisation of the political centre. Even if they have little chance of success, the opposite dynamic, genuinely transnational (Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s or Syria-Iraq in 2014), is even more interesting to analyse, as these situations offer a contrario insight into the dominant logic.
The structural similarities of contemporary civil wars suggest the possibility of a theoretical model based on a comparative approach. However, as some authors have noted, social sciences are struggling to understand extreme situations. These events are conceptually fertile, since the violent rupture of the daily routines makes visible, through contrast, the very foundations of social order. Consequently, the study of civil wars opens up promising avenues for general sociology and political thought more broadly.
Under this programme, the European Union has given us the freedom to do fieldworks, and organise workshops, seminars and writing residencies. In return, we have committed to conducting leading-edge research, namely by taking risks and breaking with the dominant paradigm that currently dominates the study of civil wars.
The paradigm produced by this ERC project was validated by the scientific community at the Final Conference held in Paris from 29th September to 2nd October 2021.
The first contribution of our research is epistemological, consisting of a critique of the neo-positivist paradigm. The ERC paradigm is radically different. It is a qualitative model that takes the views of those involved into account and questions the social construction of developments. It is a field survey-based paradigm that firmly rejects the outsourcing of data collection as a valid method of investigation. For more, see: Baczko, A. & Dorronsoro G. "For a Sociological Approach to Civil Wars", Revue française de science politique, vol. 67, no. 2, 2017, pp. 309-327.
Our model provides a different way of looking at the reconfigurations of social relationships in times of civil war. Civil war is often associated with the disintegration of social ties; a situation that is worse than war between countries because it results in the breakdown of law and order, in arbitrary violence, and in the breakdown of deep, family or friendly relationships. In reality, civil war reveals that violence is the bedrock of society. (See the book published by the ERC: Politiques de la violence. [..])
Civil war is neither chaos nor the general disintegration of relationships between individuals, but rather a violent reconfiguration of social relationships, and it is for this reason that it is characterised by excess: an excess of institutions, of laws, of concurrent political projects. (Read the thesis developed under the ERC project by Adam Baczko).
We have thus sought out propensities, i.e. the measurable impact of measures that, in all probability, come together to guide behaviours.
We have undertaken work to define the State and have reached the conclusion that no State has a monopoly on violence. Research carried out as part of the ERC’s MXAC thematic project has shown that, in Mexico and Central America, informal rules make it possible to maintain social routines despite the ultra-violent environment. For more information on the MXAC thematic project, please see: Blazquez, A., & Le Cour Grandmaison (2021), R and Aviña, A. (2021).
However, there is a monopoly of international representation, which brings with it considerable advantages. The upshots of this monopoly – particularly the possibility of international economic or security agreements – constitute a guarantee that, while not absolute, remains significant. (Please see the PI book: The Transnational Government of Afghanistan. A Disaster Foretold (2020)).
Based on our theoretical paradigm, a civil war will be defined as the co-existence within the same national territory of different social orders that have a violent relationship. (See the ERC book: Le gouvernement des Kurdes. Gouvernement partisan et ordres sociaux alternatifs, developed under the supervision of Gilles Dorronsoro).
Our work is based on quasi-longitudinal empirical studies, which have helped familiarise their authors with the societies they are studying. The two methods most commonly used are (semi-structured and unstructured) interviews and direct observation. As surprising as it may seem, this ‘traditional’ method is being increasingly side-lined by expert reports and studies on wars. The most interesting sociological enigmas are systematically ignored in favour of factors whose key characteristic is that they are quantifiable.