The Program on Political Violence (PPV) at CPOST, led by Assistant Directors Ben Lessing and Paul Staniland, explores the interactions of states and armed groups across a broad range of contexts: from full-blown conflict to overt cooperation and murkier forms of intertwining in between.   The end of the Cold War has brought a decrease in conventional forms of armed conflict, but also the rise of new forms of organized violence that do not always fit well into established analytic frames. Consequently, PPV  addresses a broad range of phenomena, including civil wars, criminal conflict, electoral violence, and armed state building (and its reversal), involving many types of armed groups, including militaries, police, insurgents, drug cartels and other criminal groups, paramilitaries, militias, and armed political parties. 

PPV aims to use new concepts, theory, and evidence to re-think the nature of political order in the contemporary world. To that end, we encourage work that combines international and comparative politics. We take international and transnational processes seriously, ranging from the Global War on Drugs to foreign sponsorship of militant groups. This international dimension is yoked to an emphasis on local contextual knowledge, qualitative and quantitative data uncovered through fieldwork, and sub-national comparisons. Our work speaks to enduring scholarly puzzles about the nature of political order, as well as policy issues in contexts as diverse as Mexico’s drug war, civil war in Iraq, militias and elections in Rio de Janeiro, and peace processes in Burma/Myanmar.

Ongoing projects examine the organization of insurgent groups, violence and police corruption, varying armed political orders between states and armed groups, electoral violence, sub-national variation in governance and state authority, the origins and power of prison gangs, and the politics of paramilitaries and militias.

Current research questions include:

  •       When and why do armed groups get involved in electoral politics?
  •       When do governments and drug cartels engage in sustained armed conflict?
  •       Why do states sometimes cooperate with non-state armed groups, and sometimes instead target them for destruction?
  •       When does government support for militias strengthen state authority, and when does it undermine it?
  •       Do prison gangs grow stronger as incarceration rates rise?
  •       How do governments identify and evaluate internal threats?