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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mobilization in civil war : latent norms, social relations, and inter-group violence in Abkhazia Shesterinina, Anastasia


What explains individual and small group mobilization for inter-group violence? How does participation in inter-group violence inform high-risk action in subsequent cycles of mobilization? This dissertation poses four puzzles of violent mobilization across the pre-, civil war, and post-war stages in the conflict cycle to analyze mobilization in civil war. These puzzles place the question of civil war mobilization in a historical trajectory of conflict and include pre-war violent mobilization despite the risks of state repression and inter-group opposition; immediate mass mobilization on a weaker side in the war at the stage of civil war onset; retention of fighters in the course of civil war; and protracted violent mobilization in the post-war period. Analysis is based on over 150 in-depth interviews with participants and non-participants in mobilization and extensive archival and secondary material gathered through fieldwork over 2010-2013 in Abkhazia—a case of civil war and Georgia’s breakaway territory,—Georgia, and Russia. The wide scope of Abkhaz mobilization in the pre- (1921-1992), civil war (1992-1993), and post-war (1993-2008) periods allows examining within-case temporal and spatial variation, tracing the process of mobilization across the conflict cycle, and drawing generalizable conclusions. The study adopts a normative, socially-embedded approach to mobilization in civil war and critically engages with rationalist approaches to civil war. Explanation of mobilization is achieved through the conceptual and theoretical development of the latent normative framework activation mechanism. This normative framework for action, comprising underlying social norms, emergent understandings of history and identity, and resultant prescribed action, forms in the pre-war period, to be activated at the civil war onset stage through threat-framing triggers at the micro, meso, and macro levels of the social structure. Individuals and small groups adopt varying mobilization roles depending on whether threat perception is self- or collectivity-oriented. The normative framework transforms and continues to affect mobilization in the course of the war and in the post-war period. This research contributes to our conceptual and theoretical understanding of participation and organization of inter-group violence, the interaction between norms and social relations in civil war mobilization, research methods in conflict zones, and the understudied case of Abkhazia.

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