When and How Does Inequality Cause Conflict? Group Dynamics, Perceptions and Natural Resources

Led by Elise​ Must
Jan 2014 - Dec 2016

PhD project at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Thesis advisers: Paul Mitchell (LSE) and Gudrun Østby (PRIO)

Abstract of Dissertation


Recent advances in conflict studies have led to relatively robust conclusions that inequality fuels conflict when it overlaps with salient group identities. 

Central to quantitative studies supporting this relationship is a stipulated causal chain where objective group – or horizontal – inequalities are translated into grievances, which in turn form a mobilization resource. 

All these studies are however limited by their use of objective measures of inequality, which leaves them unable to directly test the assumed grievance mechanism. 

In four papers I argue that objective asymmetries are not enough to trigger conflict. For people to take action on horizontal inequalities, they will have to be aware of them and consider them unjust. 

In the first paper, 'Perceptions, Horizontal Inequalities and Civil Conflict', I use data from the World Values Survey to show that perceived rather than objective economic inequality between sub-national regional groups is associated with increased risk of civil war. 

In the second paper, 'Injustice is in the eye of the beholder: Perceived Horizontal Inequalities and Communal Conflict in Africa', I analyse 20 countries covered by the Afrobarometer Surveys. I conclude that combined objective and perceived economic ethnic inequality, political ethnic inequality, and particularly perceived political ethnic inequality, increase the risk of between-group conflict. 

In the third paper, 'Expectations, Grievances and Civil Unrest in Emerging Petrostates. Empirical Evidence from Tanzania', I present evidence suggesting that those who feel that their region has been treated unfairly by the government are most prone to support and participate in civil unrest. I base my conclusions primarily on survey data collected in 2015. 

In a final article, 'From Silence to Storm. Investigating Mechanisms Linking Structural Inequality and Natural Resources to Mobilization in Southern Tanzania', I rely on 35 semi-structured interviews to argue that natural gas mismanagement triggered group grievances, which in turn fuelled civil unrest.

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