Rethinking Violence

From Belfer Center Studies in International Security

Rethinking Violence

States and Non-State Actors in Conflict

Edited by Erica Chenoweth and Adria Lawrence

Foreword by Stathis Kalyvas

An original argument about the causes and consequences of political violence and the range of strategies employed.





An original argument about the causes and consequences of political violence and the range of strategies employed.

States, nationalist movements, and ethnic groups in conflict with one another often face a choice between violent and nonviolent strategies. Although major wars between sovereign states have become rare, contemporary world politics has been rife with internal conflict, ethnic cleansing, and violence against civilians. This book asks how, why, and when states and non-state actors use violence against one another, and examines the effectiveness of various forms of political violence.

In the process of addressing these issues, the essays make two conceptual moves that illustrate the need to reconsider the way violence by states and non-state actors has typically been studied and understood. The first is to think of violence not as dichotomous, as either present or absent, but to consider the wide range of nonviolent and violent options available and ask why actors come to embrace particular strategies. The second is to explore the dynamic nature of violent conflicts, developing explanations that can account for the eruption of violence at particular moments in time. The arguments focus on how changes in the balance of power between and among states and non-state actors generate uncertainty and threat, thereby creating an environment conducive to violence. This innovative way of understanding violence deemphasizes the role of ethnic cleavages and nationalism in modern conflict.

ContributorsKristin M. Bakke, Emily Beaulieu, H. Zeynep Bulutgil, Erica Chenoweth, Kathryn McNabb Cochran, Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, Alexander B. Downes, Erin K. Jenne, Adria Lawrence, Harris Mylonas, Wendy Pearlman, Maria J. Stephan


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262014205 304 pp. | 6.125 in x 9.25 in


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262514286 304 pp. | 6.125 in x 9.25 in


Erica Chenoweth

Erica Chenoweth is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and an Associate of the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School.

Adria Lawrence

Adria Lawrence is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University and a Research Fellow at Yale's MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.


Stathis Kalyvas.


  • This pathbreaking collection forcefully destroys old paradigms and provides important new optics through which to study violence in war.

    Robert I. Rotberg

    Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Harvard Kennedy School

  • This volume gathers an impressive cast of young scholars who critically examine the use of violence by, and against, states using a rich array of methodological approaches and empirical cases. Taken as a whole, this collection highlights the promise of a bold research agenda that argues for understanding political violence as a dynamic process whose nature and timing are shaped by balance of power considerations rather than ancient hatreds or modern ideologies.

    Jason Lyall

    Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University