The industrial organization of rebellion

Paul Staniland studies armed groups in Kashmir in a new paper:

Being awash in cash and AK-47s has no single impact on how groups are built and behave. Material resources have fundamentally different effects depending on the social-institutional context into which they flow. This article has shown that whether or not an insurgent resource curse afflicts armed groups hinges on their levels of integration. Organizations built through strong preexisting ties can rapidly absorb and use large resource endowments without losing discipline, whereas fragmented groups built on weak social ties fall prey to military ineffectiveness and internal conflict. Social dynamics are the crucial conditioning variable that tells scholars and analysts how resources and organizations intersect.

I think the comparative analysis of rebel groups is one of the more interesting areas of comparative politics and international relations right now. This papr’s a good example.

PhD candidates: There is enough data, qualitative and quantitative, that if a future scholar wanted to revolutionize the field (s)he would probably start to bring these accounts together in the formal theory of industrial organization and institutions, or start to use “cross-rebel” data to test tightly-specified theories. The best books and articles have largely been case studies dancing around theory but avoiding a head on collision. I suspect we would find unusual or counterintuitive things that would be helpful.

I started to move in this direction with this paper, though on a relatively specialized topic. If my life and brain had not been overtaken by field experiments, I might have moved further in the rebellion direction. One more casualty of the experiments fad and glut.