Diffident Dissident: How Civil Society Influences Armed Intrastate Conflict and Political Violence

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The U.S government has for many years extended rhetorical and material support for civil society organizations in many developing country contexts. Part of this support is justified on the basis that it reduces civil conflicts and political violence. This dissertation features three empirical analyses that assess the grounds for such assumptions, including whether the strength of civil society influences the onset of civil conflicts, how civil conflicts unfold (i.e., predominantly violent or nonviolent), and the severity of violence during armed intrastate conflicts. The first and second papers, which employ a large-N statistical analysis complemented by an examination of the case of South Africa during the 1980s, draw on interdependence theory to explain how loss aversion incentivizes well established and economically integrated civil society groups to avoid civil conflict or adhere to mass nonviolent protest methods. The third paper evaluates whether armed rebel groups with organizational roots in civil society have advantages in developing rebel governance and controlling information about their operations that reduce their targeting of civilians and fatalities in battles with government forces. Analysis of armed insurgencies from 1988-2017 finds negligible support for these propositions. Together these essays suggest that policymakers recalibrate their broad expectations regarding civil society’s role in political violence.