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Ordering Violence: Explaining Armed Group-State Relations from Conflict to Cooperation, Paul Staniland

Reviewed by Laia Balcells
 

Paul Staniland's remarkable book takes steps to unpack the complex relations between states and nonstate armed groups, which can take diverse forms and have very different implications for governance, state building, and violence. Far from the simple government versus rebel-group dichotomy, Staniland defends that there are various ways in which these actors interact and form “wartime orders.” As he puts it, he understands state-group relations as a spectrum rather than a dichotomy (88). The main factor underpinning such orders is government ideology, which will determine how much of a threat the government perceives a given group to constitute. Hence, ideology and, consequently, politics are put at the center of the explanation of state–rebel group relations. By doing this, the book defies numerous accounts (and theoretical models) of domestic armed strife that have discounted the centrality of politics in explaining their dynamics. It also makes a somewhat uncomfortable statement: states do not treat all their challengers equally. Staniland discusses the weight of history in ideological projects: there is a remarkable persistence of ideological projects and frames, which shape how states relate to nonstate groups. While this persistence is theoretically puzzling, it is empirically not surprising. Also, it resonates when trying to make sense of state

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