Social Networks and Migration in Wartime Afghanistan


Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2009) Social Networks and Migration in Wartime Afghanistan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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In ‘Social Networks and Migration in Wartime Afghanistan’, Kristian Berg Harpviken puts forward a theoretical framework for understanding the role of social networks in situations of war, disaster and forced migration. This approach recognizes that, during times of war, most people depend first and foremost on their personal relationships and the resources that can be mobilized through those. Inspired by social network theory, developed in fields such as economic and organizational sociology, Harpviken systematically applies and advances these theories with reference to forced migration. This analytical bridge-building brings new insights to the study of responses to armed conflict, where there has previously only been loose debate on whether social networks fragment or gain strength in the face of war.

Drawing on extensive fieldwork in the Herat area of Afghanistan, Harpviken analyzes wartime migration in Afghanistan and discusses how social networks help people cope, what kind of network is most effective in various contexts and what social networks provide. He looks at the role of social networks in informing decisions to flee, integration in exile, decisions to return as well as reintegration processes. As a result, Harpviken succeeds in challenging one-dimensional victim images of wartime migrants, emphasizing the importance of individual agency and network resources in responding to conflict and crisis.


'In this systematic analysis of wartime migration, Kristian Berg Harpviken shows how the evolving structure of social networks shapes the decisions of ordinary people to leave their homes and to return. Drawing on extraordinary research in two Afghan villages, this compelling work should be read by scholars and policy-makers alike.'
Elisabeth Jean Wood, Yale University and the Santa Fe Institute, USA

'Network theory has so far only been superficially referred to by students of civil war. Therefore it is all that more fortunate that Harpviken's impressive new book Social Networks and Migration in Wartime Afghanistan offers a systematic and innovative analysis of war-time social networks that breaks new theoretical ground on which future scholars of political violence and migration will be able to build whether they focus on Afghanistan or other conflicts. Firmly located in an explicitly sociological research tradition, his book constitutes an important counterweight to the increasing dominance of large-N studies testing various theories of political economy.'
Lars-Erik Cederman, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), Switzerland

'Kristian Berg Harpviken is among the few scholars to have met the empirical and conceptual challenges of analysing networks in conflict settings, as is amply shown in this timely and finely researched book on war and the Afghan diaspora.'
Nicholas Van Hear, The Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, UK

'Kristian Berg Harpviken's study of the decisions that Afghan villagers make about migration during wartime is an impressive scholarly achievement. It is substantively important (dealing with crucial matters of war and peace) and draws upon and contributes to important theoretical debates, most prominently in social-network theory. The threefold mix of on-the-ground empirical research with theoretical engagement and policy importance makes this a particularly strong contribution.'
Matthew Evangelista, Department of Government, Cornell University, USA

Reviews of the book

Glebova, Ksenia 2009 'Social Networks Essential for Wartime Afghans' (in Refugee Watch Online).

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