Contextualizing the Institutional Mechanisms of Ethno-Nationalist Insurgencies


Prof. Lars-Erik Cederman, ETH Zurich
Prof. Simon Hug, University of Geneva

Christa Deiwiks, ETH Zurich
Julian Wucherpfennig, ETH Zurich


Leading political economists emphasize the impact of materialist and logistical factors on conflict while down-playing the role of ethnicity (Fearon & Laitin 2003; Collier & Hoeffler 2004). While some question this “non-result” and attribute more causal power to ethnic factors, it remains the dominant view of the field (e.g., Sambanis 2004). Our project questions this claim. Far from being immaterial to conflict, we postulate that powerful excluded minorities have not only the means but also the motivations to challenge majority groups.

The proposed research relies on the guiding principles of the ECRP project. By disaggregating the nation-state, our focus will shift from general measures of ethnic diversity to measures sensitive to institutionally conditioned power relationships (Principle I). This shift in levels of analysis reveals that prevailing group identities and relevant institutions depend on conflict themselves and have to therefore be treated as integrated components of conflict processes (Principle III). Moreover, these reciprocal relationships require consideration of cross-border linkages (Principle II).

Our research unfolds in three steps. First, we assess how institutions affect the boundaries between the constitutive parts of the Basic Centre-Periphery (BCP) configuration. Different institutional arrangements determine the access to central power enjoyed by peripheral actors. These actors’ geographical location is also of great importance (Buhaug & Gates 2002). Hence, we study the geopolitical dynamics involving centre-periphery dyads at the group level. Furthermore, it is necessary to study how conflict influences both identities and institutions. Institutional choices are affected by previous conflict patterns and peripheral ethnic identities form in response to logistical conditions and institutional developments.

By addressing these theoretical tasks, we put the literature on nationalist insurgencies on a more solid conceptual footing. This research combines innovative formal modelling techniques, such as rational-choice and computational models, with the overall project’s data sources, including geographic information systems (GIS).


GROWNet Conference 2008


Buhaug, Halvard, and Scott Gates. 2002. "The Geography of Civil War". Journal of Peace Research 39(4):417-433.

Collier, Paul, and Anke Hoeffler. 2004. "Greed and Grievance in Civil War." Oxford Economic Papers 56 (4):563-95.

Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. 2003. "Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War." American Political Science Review 97 (1):75-90.

Sambanis, Nicholas. 2004. "Using Case Studies to Expand Economic Models of Civil War". Perspectives on Politics 2(2):259-279


  • Wucherpfennig, J., Metternich, N., Cederman, L.-E., and Gleditsch, Kristian S. (2012). Ethnicity, the State and the Duration of Civil War. World Politics 64(1):79-115.
  • Deiwiks, C., Cederman, L.-E. and Gleditsch, K.S. (2012). Inequality and Conflict in Federations. Journal of Peace Research 49(2): 289-304.
  • Cederman, L.-E., Weidmann, N.B., and Gleditsch, K.S. (2011). Horizontal Inequalities and Ethno-Nationalist Civil War: A Global Comparison. American Political Science Review 105(3):478-95.
  • Wucherpfennig, J., Weidmann, N. B., Girardin, L., Cederman, L.-E. and Wimmer, A (2011). Politically Relevant Ethnic Groups across Space and Time: Introducing the GeoEPR Dataset. Conflict Management and Peace Science 28(5):423-37 .
  • Weidmann, N. B., Rød, J.K. and Cederman, L.-E. (2010). Representing Ethnic Groups in Space: A New Dataset. Journal of Peace Research 47(4) 491-499.
  • Cederman, L.-E. and Gleditsch, K. S. (2009). Introduction to Special Issue on "Disaggregating Civil War". Journal of Conflict Resolution 53: 487-495 .
  • Cederman, L.-E., Buhaug H. and Rød, J. K. (2009). Ethno-Nationalist Dyads: A GIS-Based Analysis. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53: 496-525.
  • Cederman, L.-E. and Gleditsch, K.S. (2009). Disaggregating Civil War. Special Journal Issue. Journal of Conflict Resolution.
  • Cederman, L.-E., Girardin, L. and Gleditsch, K. S. (2009). Ethno-Nationalist Triads: Assessing the Influence of Kin Groups on Civil Wars . World Politics 61: 403-437.
  • Deiwiks, C. (2009). Populism. Living Reviews in Democracy 1. [www]  
  • Buhaug, H., Cederman, L.-E. and Rød, J.-K. (2008). Disaggregating Ethno-Nationalist Civil Wars: A Dyadic Test of Exclusion Theory. International Organization 62(3): 531-551. [pdf]