Qualitative comparison of different paths that civil wars follow

We use coordinated fieldwork and analysis to understand how civil wars emerge, unfold and end or transform over time in a range of cases around the world

This project will contribute to research and policy on civil war by conceptualising civil war as a
process that connects the pre-war, war and post-war stages of conflict through changing
interactions between state, non-state and external actors and populations and identifying different
paths that civil wars follow based on these changing interactions.

While it is recognised that efforts to sustain peace are required not only once civil war breaks out,
but also before and after, we currently have limited understanding of how conflicts turn violent, how
civil wars evolve over time and why some persist whereas others do not within and across cases.
This project will study civil war comparatively as part of the broader conflict to understand how civil
wars unfold from the pre- to post-war stages in different ways, with a focus on how the different
stages relate to one another and how transitions between and within the stages take place.

This research will be guided by a number of questions:

1. What are the paths to civil war onset?

  1. How do non-state groups mobilise and organise before the war?
  2. What role do relations among state actors and between these actors and non-state groups and populations play in transitions to violence?
  3. How do external actors contribute to the outbreak of war?

2. How do different paths to civil war shape wartime dynamics?

  1. How does the nature of actors at the beginning of civil war shape the fighting?
  2. How do wartime strategies and institutions developed by armed actors change over time?
  3. How do external actors contribute to these changes?

3. How do wartime dynamics and outcomes shape the post-war potential for peace?

  1. How do wartime relations between armed actors and populations affect post-war peacebuilding?
  2. What forms of “conflict” and “peace” emerge from different paths when civil wars end?
  3. How does conflict transform when the fighting subsides?

Using an actor-centered, relational approach to civil war, we will identify a range of pre-war, war and
post-war interactions between state, non-state and external actors and populations, theorise
different paths that civil wars follow based on the changing interactions between these actors and
map all recent civil wars to select a number of cases for fieldwork-intensive qualitative comparison.

The research team will then collect primary and secondary data, trace the process within each case
and compare pre- to post-war paths in the selected cases to produce high-quality academic and
policy outputs. Our focus on how participants perceive, interpret and adapt to changing
circumstances in different contexts will help shape new insights on and responses to civil war that
are grounded in lived experiences of conflict.


In each case selected for the project, the research team will carry out semi-structured interviews
with state officials, non-governmental organizations, journalists, ex-combatants and local leaders.
We will rely on ethnographic observation to adjust interview questions to the particular local
context. Archival materials and secondary literature will help us contextualise and check the quality
of the interviews. The resulting high-quality data will form the foundation for analysing civil war as a
process and identifying civil war paths that require different responses.

Africa (coming soon)
Middle East (coming soon)