Ideology in armed groups

19 Oct 17

Ideology in armed groups

Research on political violence requires increased attention to the multiple roles of ideology, a new academic paper argues.

Recent research has made important progress in illuminating the role of ideology in explaining high-risk collective action and political violence. However, many fundamental questions remain.

A new paper co-authored by Nuffield DPhil student Matthew Zelina attempts to move beyond the dominant focus on programmatic orientations, endorsing a more nuanced approach to the conceptualization of ideology.

The authors give the examples of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Colombia or the Shining Path (PCP-SL) and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in Peru as just a few examples of Marxist insurgent groups that operate in similar environments, yet have striking divergences in their ideological doctrines. These differences in ideology have significant implications for group internal organization, institutional setup, and behaviour towards civilians.

Based on a discussion that maps out two important dimensions of ideological variation – the external intrusiveness and internal institutionalization of ideology – the authors argue that research on ideology and political violence has tended to focus on extreme cases of “strong ideology,” while neglecting the implications of “weak ideology” as a result. The paper goes on to explore the relationship between ideology and emotion, and suggests that ideology may help transform certain emotions, and that group-based emotions can be mobilized to promote particular ideas.

“More research is needed to understand the varying degrees of success with which ideologically driven aspirations are met,” explain the authors. “We need to explore how doctrines, principles, and ideas trickle down from the leadership of an organisation to subgroups and individual cadres. ‘Do groups that exercise an ideology based on hate, rather than fear, yield violence in a different way?’ is another question we need to answer.”

The paper, “Ideology in Armed Groups” was co-authored by Matthew Zelina with Livia Isabella Schubiger from the London School of Economics and Political Science and University of Zurich