Mobilising Under Uncertainty in Civil War

Event summary by our intern Ronan McLaughlin:

Dr Anastasia Shesterinina’s talk addressed the question of how ordinary people navigate the uncertainty of war’s outset to arrive at different mobilisation decisions, from fleeing to fighting. In tackling this issue, Dr Shesterinina presented her findings from over 8 years working on the Abkhaz-Georgia conflict, research which includes data gathered from over 180 in-depth interviews with participants and non-participants in the Abkhaz mobilisation. Dr Shesterinina began by highlighting some of the common approaches to understanding mobilisation in civil wars. She discussed factors such as socio-economic grievance, security calculations and community norms, and emphasised the particular inadequacy of rational risk assessment approaches which fail to account for the uncertainty and limited information which typically characterise the outbreak of conflict.

Returning to her research, Dr Shesterinina then went on to explain her theory of mobilisation under uncertainty, a three-stage approach which focuses on the formation of conflict identities, collective threat framing and the importance of identity during and after conflict. A key theme throughout this talk was the importance of considering mobilisation in historical perspective, often many of the factors which influence the mobilisation decisions of an individual or group have deep foundations which pre-date the onset of war. In addition to Dr Shesterinina’s fascinating lecture, this event was equally successful in terms of audience engagement, with insightful questions and comments ranging from the role of women in mobilisation, to the application of this research to other contexts and conflicts around the world. Overall, a great opportunity for all who attended to engage with a leading academic, and to learn more about important research on an understudied, yet intriguing, area of the world.