November 2, 2022

Strategic Violence


  • Recap
  • Electoral Violence
  • Power Consolidation

Strategic Ethnic Violence:

Fearon and Laitin (2000) identify different different strategic logics:

  • “elite manipulation”
    • political elites encourage/foment ethnic violence for strategic reasons
  • “on-the-ground”
    • ordinary people have incentives to participate in ethnic violence

Elite Manipulation

Political elites may encourage violence for several reasons:

  • Win Elections:
    • increase attractiveness of ethnic vs other parties
    • suppress/displace voters for rival parties
  • Consolidate power:
    • shift balance of power within ethnic group
    • establish political dominance of one ethnic group

Violence as a means to accomplish these goals (directly or indirectly)

Wilkinson (2004)

Theorizes two strategic logics for ethnic violence:

  1. Electoral incentives create a motive to perpetrate violence

  2. Electoral incentives shape the opportunity for violence (the use of state/police forces to limit violence.)


Key empirical implications:

  • ethnic parties must have capability to foment violence (yes)
  • ethnic parties stand to gain from violence, should encourage it (anectdotally)
  • violence is more likely near elections, and when elections are competitive (close) (maybe)
  • violence should actually affect voting (yes)
  • non-ethnic parties stand to lose, should stop violence

Wilkinson (2004): Opportunity

People with control over state/police/military forces have much stronger capacity to stop violence.

  • e.g., arresting/shooting rioters likely to bring a halt to violence.
  • Are there strategic incentives for governments to stop or permit violence to continue?

Confrontations across India in 2002 (squares), but major riots (dark circles) limited to Gujarat

Wilkinson (2004)

Why did Gujarat permit riots to occur while other states did not?

Wilkinson (2004)

Government strategy dictated by elections: will only stop violence if they directly or indirectly depend on votes of people targeted by the riots

This can happen under two sets of conditions:

  1. When many parties compete successfully, minority group voters can determine who wins. Permitting riots that target this group may cost any ruling party victory at the next election.

  2. When only a few parties are competitive, only parties that need the support of minority voters will stop riots against that group (non-ethnic parties stop violence; ethnic parties do not).