Political Violence and the State

Comparative Politics
Contentious Politics
Ethnic Conflict
Human Rights
Political Sociology
Political Violence
Section Number
Section Chair
Niall O Dochartaigh
National University of Ireland, Galway
Section Co-Chair
Stefan Malthaner
European University Institute

The Section addresses the multi-faceted and complex role of the state in processes of armed conflict as well as the state-building practices and aspirations of insurgents. Political violence is intrinsically connected to the state. Not only do many militant or insurgent groups address, challenge, or seek to overturn governments, but violence is also a defining element of state practices and institutions.

Repressive reactions to oppositional movements, coercive forms of social exclusion and control, and military interventions can drive processes of escalation and radicalization. Political violence, in other words, typically emerges from interactions between oppositional groups and state actors.

Yet the notion of the state as a coherent, monolithic entity is too simplistic. What is commonly referred to as “the state” comprises networks of local and central actors and institutions, collaborating and competing in various ways, and forming alliances with business elites, social movements, or other societal groups to further their interests. The boundaries between state and private actors, legal and illegal activities, and public and private resources can become blurred or cease to exist. While, in some cases, this phenomenon has its roots in incomplete processes of monopolizing and centralizing the means of legitimate coercion, in other cases, it is the increasing privatization and commodification of security that undermines the state’s supposed control over violence. Alternative forms of governance and control emerge at the margins or in the shadows of official state institutions. Moreover, the state is also itself transformed in processes of political violence. Its legitimacy and political institutions may suffer. Ruling parties, institutions, and public discourse can radicalize in confrontation with, and in parallel with, the radicalization of oppositional movements. And over the course of violent conflicts military tasks are sometimes delegated to informal death-squads, paramilitary groups, or local “self-defense” committees, with hybrid actors emerging at it the state’s boundaries.

There is also another side to the role of the state. Oppositional groups not only challenge an incumbent government, they also seek to build a new state, by seceding or transforming the political order. Even when not able to militarily control an area, insurgent groups often seek to clandestinely control parts of a population, using forms of political mobilization, coercion, and social authority and control. Political violence, in other words, involves rebel governance as a state-building practice and some violent conflicts end ultimately with the capture of the state, or the creation of a new state, by insurgent groups.

This proposal includes five Panels proposed by Standing Group members. This leaves space for further Panels to be proposed when the general call is issued by the ECPR in December. We have also outlined three further Panels for illustrative purposes, as an indication of the kinds of proposals we expect will emerge in response to the general call.


1. Paramilitaries, Militias, and self-defense groups: The fluid boundary between state and non-state armed actors.
Chair: Francis O’Connor
Co-Chair: Stefan Malthaner, HIS Hamburg
Paramilitaries, Militias, and self-defense groups often represent the unseen but widely experienced distinction between the state's legitimate authority and its capacity for extra-legal violence. In authoritarian democracies they often serve as the concealed infrastructure of coercion. However, notwithstanding their integration as part of the state's security apparatus, they can also often develop autonomous logics which eventually pose a substantial threat to their former benefactors.

2. Deradicalisation and the State
Chair: Gordon Clubb, Leeds University
Co-Chair: Jerome Drevon, University of Manchester
This Panel examines deradicalisation initiatives aimed at dissuading people from involvement in political violence . It explores the influence of former combatants on attitudinal support and opposition to violence among young people in their communities. It examines the role and structure of the networks formed by former combatants, the framing of their disengagement from violence, and their societal impact.

3. Dealing with the past: how states deal with the memory and legacies of political violence
Chair: Thomas Leahy, National University of Ireland Galway
Co-Chair: Niall Ó Dochartaigh, National University of Ireland Galway
The Panel examines how states to deal with the legacy and memories of political violence. Among the mechanisms it explores are truth recovery processes such as truth commissions, as well as amnesties and the drive for historical prosecutions. It looks too at examples where states have engaged in organised ‘forgetting’ of the memory and legacies of a conflict.

4. Recent trends in European counterterrorism: a comparative perspective
Chair: Manni Crone, DIIS, Denmark
Co-Chair: Laurent Bonelli, université de Paris X, France
The Panel surveys key trends in European counterterrorism in recent years, emphasizing the value of comparative perspectives and addressing a wide range of cases. Panel participants will include Francesco Ragazzi, university of Leiden, the Netherlands and Fabienne Brion, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

5. From Rebellion to the Emergence of quasi-states. Alternative Modes of Governance among Jihadi-Salafist Groups
Chair: Miriam M. Müller, HIS Hamburg
Co-Chair: Bryniar Lia, University of Oslo
Especially during long-term violent conflict, state control may gradually deteriorate and be replaced by any effective alternatives of creating and maintaining order. In this process, insurgent and rebel groups may seize and maintain control over territory and populace and in some cases rebel governance gradually develops into quasi-states. In doing so, these groups not only rely on military strength to gain territorial control but also on notions of the state and concepts of governance, as well as established institutions and repertoires of practices. This panel invites different theoretical and empirical perspectives on the role of violence for establishing territorial and social control, on the dynamics and forms of rebel governance, and the institutions and quasi-states that emerge in this process with a focus on the current projects of land seizure being pursued by violent groups of the Jihadī-Salafist movement. Possible cases of comparison may include the “Islamic State” (Syria and Iraq), Fattah Al-Sham (formerly Nusra-Front in Syria), Al-Qaida on the Arab Peninsula (Yemen), Al-Shabab (Somalia), or Boko Haram (Nigeria).


6. Negotiation and peace processes: state engagement with armed opponents
This Panel examines the dynamics of negotiation between states and armed opponents, analyzing the relationship between violence and negotiation and looking at the role of mediation.

7. Notions of the state in revolutionary and insurgent perspective
The Panel explores how militant movements and armed groups develop notions of the state that shape their violent strategies and how they seek to build political institutions and “shadow governments” based on these images of the state.

8. Escalation and negotiation
This Panel examines the relational dynamics of escalation and radicalization and patterns of interaction between the state and oppositional forces. It analyses both protest policing and “counter-terrorism” policies.

Panel List

P082Dealing with the Past I: How States Deal with the Memory and Legacies of Political Violence View Panel Details
P083Dealing with the Past II: Memories of Political Violence View Panel Details
P137Former Combatants, De-Radicalisation and the State - co-sponsored with S56 View Panel Details
P142From Rebellion to the Emergence of Quasi-states. Alternative Modes of Governance among Jihadi-Salafist Groups View Panel Details
P229Militant Mobilisation and the State View Panel Details
P242Negotiations, Peace Processes, and Violence View Panel Details
P253Paramilitaries, Militias, and Self-defense Groups: The Fluid Boundary between State and non-state Armed Actors View Panel Details
P298Post-conflict Transitions, Legitimacy and the Effects of Violence View Panel Details
P312Rebel Governance, Alternative Orders, and Contested Sovereignty View Panel Details
P313Recent Trends in European Counterterrorism: A Comparative Perspective View Panel Details
P356State Responses, Repression, and Political Violence View Panel Details
Share this page

"Politics determines the process of "who gets what, when, and how"" - Harold Lasswell

Back to top