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Agency, perception and the economics of internal wars


  • Kelly Nelson


Economic approaches to armed conflict have largely explained rational choice among rebel groups through quantitative analyses that focus on structural variables and ignore agency. This paper is an empirical analysis of decision-making among rebel groups in civil wars focusing on variables that actors influence. The hypothesis was that rebels calculated their expected gains and opportunity costs when deciding to engage in a civil war and that the rebels and government manipulated these expectations intentionally through actions or unintentionally through perception. In two case studies, the governments' actions to increase the opportunity cost and input cost of rebellion, the rebels' actions to lower their input costs and increase their chances of victory, and the rebels' perceptions regarding their probability of victory all influenced decisions. The evidence supported the hypothesis that rebellion is a rational choice and demonstrated that agency and perceptions were more important than structural factors to the decisions.

Suggested Citation

  • Kelly Nelson, 2012. "Agency, perception and the economics of internal wars," International Journal of Development and Conflict, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, vol. 2(1), pages 1250002-125.
  • Handle: RePEc:gok:ijdcv1:v:2:y:2012:i:1:p:1250002

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    Cited by:

    1. Mihalache-O'Keef, Andreea S., 2018. "Whose greed, whose grievance, and whose opportunity? Effects of foreign direct investments (FDI) on internal conflict," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 187-206.


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