Author Archives: Daniel Blocq

Collective Action and Civil War in Africa

Civil war is an everyday reality for many people across the globe. The impact for civilians is immense, both during and after conflict. Nonetheless, comparatively few sociologists have engaged in the study of civil war in recent years. In my research, I try to address this gap.

A great deal of action that occurs during civil wars – e.g., mobilization, desertion, defection, and collective violence – can be usefully studied from a collective action perspective. In my research, I often adopt such a perspective. By doing so, I do not only try to explain social behavior, but also attempt to generate new questions pertaining to the study of collective action. Watch the video to find out more about those questions, as they emerged from my research on the civil war in southern Sudan!

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“Risk-Aversion with the United Nations”

In March 2013, a coup took place in the Central African Republic (CAR). Following a rebel attack on the capital of CAR, the president fled, and rebels took control of the government. The situation in the capital became dismal, with rebels “looting, abducting, raping and killing — even breaking into an orphanage to steal whatever they could, according to Amnesty International”. In response to the precarious situation, the United Nations prepared to evacuate its non-essential staff members.

In the course of 2013, the UN redeployed its staff members. Redeployment has, according to the president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), not resulted in effective operations. In an open letter to the United Nations, the president of MSF complained of the “unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system in the Central African Republic”. He argued that the UN produces “extremely risk-averse analyses.” Continue reading

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Political Anarchy, Civil War and Violence as Consequences of Social Movements?

A few weeks ago, a Libyan militia group kidnapped the Prime Minister of the country. The abduction followed shortly after two military operations that were carried out by United States commandos. The operations led to the arrest of two Libyan citizens who are suspected of terrorist activity. Many Libyans disapproved of the U.S. military operations, and blamed the Libyan government for having tacitly approved of them.

According to the BBC, a spokesman of the militia group initially claimed that the kidnapping of the Prime Minister was directly related to the US raids. Soon after this news release, the militia group however asserted that the arrest was unrelated to the American military operations. The group had allegedly apprehended the Prime Minister for questioning “on the orders of the prosecutor general”. The Justice Minister denied. But doubts remain about the involvement of political actors in the kidnapping.

The story illustrates the level of anarchy that exists in post-revolution Libya. Continue reading

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From Peaceful Activism to Violent Insurgency

Last month, the New York Times posted a video of a summary execution of Syrian soldiers, which was carried out by Syrian insurgents. The article that accompanied the video emphasized the ferociousness of the act. The author suggested that this type of behavior poses a dilemma for leaders of countries who consider support for insurgents. The depth of that dilemma partly depends on the extent to which these actions represent the behavior of the Syrian insurgency at large. If the video is indeed representative of the Syrian insurgency, what can we expect from Syrian insurgents when they get the upper hand in the conflict? How will the insurgents treat Syrian citizens? And will they implement the social and political changes that activists called for in the streets of Damascus and other cities in the spring of 2011? Continue reading

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New Perspectives on Civil War

In recent decades, few sociologists have engaged in the study of civil war. For many individuals across the world, civil war is nonetheless an important reality, worthy of sociological attention. As a new contributing editor, I will try to increase such attention. Using this platform, I will raise sociological questions about civil war, and identify points at which sociologists can contribute to, or have contributed to, our understanding of civil war. The current debate on Syria will serve as a starting point.

Syria has been engaged in a civil war for more than two years now. Recently, a chemical attack on civilians took place. Various world leaders have held the Syrian regime responsible for the attack. They have accordingly been discussing a punitive expedition against the Syrian regime. The plans for such an expedition have been put on hold, pending plans for a diplomatic resolution. But the possibility of a punitive expedition is still present. Such an expedition would, arguably, not serve to topple the regime. However, it could influence the support of the Syrian army for the regime. Military support for the Syrian regime deserves attention. Continue reading

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