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Fear, Distrust and Protection in Violent Societies

Enzo Nussio

abstract Within the context of fear, distrust and protection in violent societies, this research project includes three separate but related individual studies. The first two are in advanced phases. Both are thematically related to my doctoral research about former illegal combatants, but use different theoretical and methodological approaches. One focuses on trust of state institutions, the other on illegal collective protection mechanisms. The third study is still in a relatively early stage and integrates the concepts of fear, distrust and protection into one theoretical framework.
• Trusting the Enemy – Determinants of Confidence in State Institutions among Ex-Combatants (with Ben Oppenheim, UC Berkeley): This project is based on a survey with former combatants of illegal armed groups in Colombia (1485 ex-members of guerrilla and paramilitary groups). It intends to identify the determinants of their level of trust in state institutions. Ex-combatants can be seen as an extreme case of distrustful people since not only rhetorically, but by their very act of taking up arms, they have proven their disagreement with the legitimacy of the state. Constructing trust in state institutions is hence a crucial issue in the aftermath of their participation in political conflict in order to prevent reengagement in violent behavior.
• Breakdown of Protection or New Contestation? Reasons for Urban Violence after Illegal Armed Group Demobilization (with Kimberly Howe, Tufts University): This project draws on a mixed methods design and explores the case of the paramilitary demobilization in Colombia. Although the demobilization of illegal armed groups is commonly used as a violence reduction strategy, our municipality-level panel database suggests that the paramilitary demobilization did not have a beneficial impact on homicide rates. In order to understand this unfavorable development more closely, a case study identifies the causal mechanisms relating demobilization to violence in urban contexts. Among other explanations, the breakdown of the earlier protection system provided by the paramilitaries may account for this evolution.
• Fear in Violent Societies – Constructing a Multidisciplinary Theoretical Framework: Systematic research on fear (especially fear of crime) has often focused on countries with relatively low violence rates. This project looks at fear in violent societies and how it relates to distrust and protection (benefiting from findings of Project 1 and 2). The three concepts have been separately analyzed in a wide range of disciplines. However, the aim of this project is to combine them in an integrated theoretical framework. I hypothesize that high fear and low trust levels in violent societies lead predominantly to either individual avoidance behavior or informal collective protection strategies. Both strategies may have detrimental effects on a societal level and perpetuate violence.
keywords fear; distrust; protection; violence; conflict; security; demobilization; illegal armed groups; Latin America
partner Political Science Department, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
type applied research project
status scheduled
start of project 2012
end of project 2013
additional informations
topics fear; distrust; protection; violence; conflict; security; demobilization; illegal armed groups; Latin America
methods survey research; mixed methods; case studies
contact Enzo Nussio