Cities on Fire: Social Mobilization, State Policy, and Urban Insurgency Comparative Political Studies
Paul Staniland  |  December 1, 2010

Major theories of civil war emphasize the social and military attributes of rural terrain as key causes of conflict. This focus has led scholars to ignore important urban insurgencies in the Middle East and South Asia. This article makes two arguments about the roots of urban insurgency. First, it shows that robust urban social mobilization is possible and common. This can provide a social base for rebellion in areas that prevailing theories deem unlikely sites of civil war. Second, the article argues that, given social mobilization, urban insurgency emerges when security forces are politically constrained in their use of violence, opening space for sustained violence. A study of the rise of insurgency in Karachi from 1978 to 1996 and discussions of Iraq and Northern Ireland illustrate the plausibility of this argument. State policy and strategy, rather than state capacity, can play a central role in civil war onset.