CSCW: Microfoundations of Civil War (2003-2012)

Coordinator: Jon Elster

Microfoundations of Civil War

Focusing on the individual decisions that lead to the initiation, continuation or cessation of civil war, this working group seeks to identify how root causes of civil war shape the motivations and constraints of individual action. Centrally important is what one might call the ‘hermeneutic problem’ of identifying motivations of leaders and followers in insurgency movements. How to impute motivations when statements about motivation may themselves be motivated? The group looks at what role religion plays in civil war, and it studies belief formation more generally in a civil war setting.

Among other activities, workshops have been held around the following themes so far:

  • Techniques of violence in civil war (20-21 August 2004)
  • Thucydides (25-26 February 2005)
  • Transitional justice and civil war settlements (18-19 October 2005)
  • The role of first actors (17-18 August 2006)
  • Mimicry in Civil War (7-8 December 2007)

In addition the group has been involved in setting up, and holding workshops in Bogota, Colombia. These workshops have focused mainly on Law issues, but also such themes as transitional justice.

Members of the group, jointly with members of other working groups, will undertake field trips to countries currently in the middle of a civil war.



Jon Elster

Jon Elster

Working Group Leader, CSCW; Professor, Columbia University


Past Events


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Baev, Pavel K. (2006) Thucydides' Three Security Dilemmas in Post-Soviet Strife , Journal of Military Ethics 5(4): 334–352.


Petersen, Roger D. (2011) Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict. : Cambridge University Press. .

Book Chapter

Elster, Jon(2005) Suicide Missions: Motivations and Beliefs Making Sense of Suicide Missions. : (233–258).

Edited Volume

(2010) Distributive Justic in TransitionsTorkel Opsahl Academic Epublisher and PRIO. FICHL Publication Series (No.6).