New article by John Gledhill analyses 'opportunities' as driver of armed conflict

01 November, 2018

A new article by John Gledhill analyses and disaggregates the concept of 'opportunities' in the context of armed conflict. 

In studies of armed conflict and civil war, it is common to distinguish between explanations that focus on the motives of insurgents and accounts that examine opportunities for rebellion. But what do scholars actually mean by ‘opportunities’? Some invoke the concept when referring to contexts in which states cannot suppress rebellion. For others, opportunities exist where insurgents have access to resources that facilitate the realisation of collective violence. And a third group refers to opportunities when discussing both of the above contexts. Across the field, then, the concept is used inconsistently.

Consequently, I propose two conceptual clarifications. Drawing on insights from sociological literature, I argue that ‘opportunities’ should be disaggregated into two, more finite concepts: opportunity structures, understood as arrangements that inform externally imposed constraints on insurgency; and organisational resources, understood as means that shape the internal capacity of armed groups. Second, I suggest that conflict scholars should consider both material/institutional and social/normative dimensions of each disaggregated concept. To illustrate the heuristic benefits of the proposed framework, I use it as a basis for exploring variation in collective violence in Albania during the 1990s. That variation appears puzzling when seen through aggregated lenses but is explicable when examined through disaggregated lenses.

John Gledhill (2018) 'Disaggregating Opportunities: Opportunity Structures and Organisational Resources in the Study of Armed Conflict', Civil Wars, DOI: 10.1080/13698249.2018.1525676