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The Subtle Social Consequence of Civil Wars: Psychological Distress and the Transformation of Social Networks in Sri Lanka

Conflict
Ethnic Conflict
Political Psychology
Political Violence
War
Matthias Fatke
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU
Matthias Fatke
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU
Markus Freitag
Universität Bern

Abstract

Civil wars entail many harmful consequences for the population well beyond physical injuries and casualties. In fact, more recent research has pointed out the psychological distress due to civil wars. It has been largely overlooked, however, that not only immediate experiences from civil wars can cause psychological distress, but also the social processes that transform social networks. Building on the work by Wood (2008), we argue the wartime transformation is enduring and persists even after the civil war has ended. And precisely these social processes are responsible for the psychological footprint on civilians. We test this claim using original survey data collected in Sri Lanka that has witnessed a devastating civil war between 1983 and 2009. Results of our regression analysis indicate that transformations due to the civil war are indeed associated with higher levels of war-related psychological distress. The relationships persist even when controlling for direct and indirect experiences from the civil war. Moreover, interaction effects show that particularly those express distress due to social processes who have not experienced the war directly. Social processes even appear more relevant than having participated in the war. These findings contribute to our understanding of the long-term detrimental effects of civil wars for the civilian population.