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Rethinking the greed-grievance nexus: property rights and the political economy of war in Sri Lanka


Korf, Benedikt (2005). Rethinking the greed-grievance nexus: property rights and the political economy of war in Sri Lanka. Journal of Peace Research, 42(2):201-217.

Abstract

The literature on civil wars tends to understand greed and grievances in antagonistic terms of ‘either–or’. This article suggests that in the political economy of conflict, greed and grievances may be causally linked and reinforce each other: war (or shadow) economies of combatants and the survival economies of civilians are intertwined. Gains made by conflict entrepreneurs and war profiteers feed grievances about identity, economic inequality, and lack of political power. Once civil war is onset (for whatever reason), the political economy of war produces a self-sustaining logic of clientelism along the lines of perceived ‘friends’ and ‘foes’. These dividing lines get reinforced in everyday political networks of survival. This everyday clientelism, in turn, nourishes grievance discourses along the same lines. These grievances contribute to heighten the motivation for people to fight for ‘justice’. In this way, greed produces grievances, which in turn stabilize the war economy and offer economic opportunities for greedy entrepreneurs of violence. Case studies from Sri Lanka on local resource conflicts in the context of civil war support this proposition. They indicate that because of the civil war and the breakdown of state and civic institutions, ethnicity becomes a mechanism for civilian actors to access resources available largely through arbitrary power. Civilians thus become part of the ‘game’. In effect, this leads to ‘ethnicized entitlements’, where the ethnic groups are asymmetrically endowed with bargaining power to access resources, depending upon their affiliation with militant actors and their respective initial power resources. These ethnicized entitlements satisfy greed for some war winners and feed grievances among those at the losing end.

The literature on civil wars tends to understand greed and grievances in antagonistic terms of ‘either–or’. This article suggests that in the political economy of conflict, greed and grievances may be causally linked and reinforce each other: war (or shadow) economies of combatants and the survival economies of civilians are intertwined. Gains made by conflict entrepreneurs and war profiteers feed grievances about identity, economic inequality, and lack of political power. Once civil war is onset (for whatever reason), the political economy of war produces a self-sustaining logic of clientelism along the lines of perceived ‘friends’ and ‘foes’. These dividing lines get reinforced in everyday political networks of survival. This everyday clientelism, in turn, nourishes grievance discourses along the same lines. These grievances contribute to heighten the motivation for people to fight for ‘justice’. In this way, greed produces grievances, which in turn stabilize the war economy and offer economic opportunities for greedy entrepreneurs of violence. Case studies from Sri Lanka on local resource conflicts in the context of civil war support this proposition. They indicate that because of the civil war and the breakdown of state and civic institutions, ethnicity becomes a mechanism for civilian actors to access resources available largely through arbitrary power. Civilians thus become part of the ‘game’. In effect, this leads to ‘ethnicized entitlements’, where the ethnic groups are asymmetrically endowed with bargaining power to access resources, depending upon their affiliation with militant actors and their respective initial power resources. These ethnicized entitlements satisfy greed for some war winners and feed grievances among those at the losing end.

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28 citations in Web of Science®
39 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2005
Deposited On:16 Aug 2012 07:44
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:55
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:0022-3433
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343305050691
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-64163

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