Violent Organizations

Coordinator: Øystein H. Rolandsen

The organization of violent force is a phenomenon which takes many forms. A focus on political allegiance (e.g. “state” and “non-state”) has masked shared traits between disparate organizations such as: government armies, police forces, militias, vigilantes, rebels, political extremist groups and criminal networks. These have more in common than official political discourse allows. When identifying and analysing similarity and variation among these organizations, rather than sorting violent organizations by their putative political allegiance (or lack of such), research within this group is structured around fundamental organizational traits. These include: how members are recruited, trained, placed within an organizational framework, managed and held accountable according to a set of shared norms and laws. But, also, strategic choices and modus operandi in relation to the use of violence; the dynamic between various groups and organizations (violent or not); how violent organizations are used in the pursuit of political and economic goals.

This research group looks at a broad range of research questions including:

  • What creates the impetus for establishing or reforming violent organizations?
  • How do violent organizations recruit members and mobilise resources?
  • How do violent organizations develop group identity, instil notions of legitimacy and enforce discipline?
  • When do violent organizations use force and how do they seek political influence?
  • What is the effect of coercion and insecurity created by violent organizations?
  • What regulates the relationship between a violent organization and its external environment?
  • To what extent can outside organizations influence and even change violent organization?

The study of violent organizations requires the application of multi-disciplinary approaches from both the social science and the humanities, utilising a broad spectrum of quantitative and qualitative methods. This include, for instance, the study of rebel governance, violent extremism, security force assistance, military sociology, migration and radicalisation, local violence and vigilantism. Researcher within the group focus in particular on case studies of specific localities, countries and organizations, but various comparative approaches are also part of the repertoire. The focus of this research group is closely related to an ongoing realignment within conflict studies where organised violence is increasingly recognised as an overarching concept including all kinds of war related and collective violence. Research dissemination activities within the group is aimed at extensive international academic networks and at interaction with policy-makers and practitioners. 


Current Projects

Past Projects

Past Events


Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Sandnes, Marie (2022) The relationship between the G5 Sahel Joint Force and external actors: a discursive interpretation, Canadian Journal of African Studies. DOI: 10.1080/00083968.2022.2058572.
Kindersley, Nicki & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2019) Who are the civilians in the wars of South Sudan?, Security Dialogue 50(5): 383–397.
Jensehaugen, Jørgen (2019) Smokescreen Diplomacy: Excluding the Palestinians by Self-Rule, The Middle East Journal 73(2): 224–241.
Gates, Scott & Sukanya Podder (2015) Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance, and the Islamic State, Perspectives on Terrorism 9(4): 107–116.
Rolandsen, Øystein H.; Tove Heggli Sagmo & Fanny Nicolaisen (2015) South Sudan – Uganda Relations: The Cost of Peace, Conflict Trends 2015(4): 33–40.
Høigilt, Jacob (2015) Fatah from Below: The Clash of Generations in Palestine, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 43(4): 456–471.
Cohen, Dara Kay & Ragnhild Nordås (2015) Do States Delegate Shameful Violence to Militias? Patterns of Sexual Violence in Recent Armed Conflicts, Journal of Conflict Resolution 59(5): 877–898.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. (2015) Another civil war in South Sudan: the failure of Guerrilla Government?, Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(1): 163–174.
Breidlid, Ingrid Marie & Michael J. Arensen (2014) Demystifying the White Army: Nuer Armed Civilians' Involvement in the South Sudanese Crisis, Conflict Trends(3): 32–39.
Anderson, David M. & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2014) Violence as Politics in Eastern Africa, 1940–1990: Legacy, Agency, Contingency, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 539–557.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Cherry Leonardi (2014) Discourses of violence in the transition from colonialism to independence in southern Sudan, 1955–1960, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8(4): 609–625.
Holtermann, Helge (2014) Relative Capacity and the Spread of Rebellion: Insights from Nepal, Journal of Conflict Resolution 60(3): 501–529.
Holtermann, Helge (2014) How Can Weak Insurgent Groups Grow? Insights From Nepal, Terrorism and Political Violence 28(2): 316–337.
Cunningham, David; Kristian Skrede Gleditsch & Idean Salehyan (2013) Non-state actors in civil wars: A new dataset, Conflict Management and Peace Science 30(5): 516–531.
Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher (2013) Actor Fragmentation and Civil War Bargaining: How Internal Divisions Generate Civil Conflict, American Journal of Political Science 57(3): 659–672.
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2012) The Transnationalization of the Taliban, International Area Studies Review 15(3): 203–229.
Rustad, Siri Aas & Helga Malmin Binningsbø (2012) A Price Worth Fighting For? Natural Resources and Conflict Recurrence, Journal of Peace Research 49(4): 531–546.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Ingrid Marie Breidlid (2012) A Critical Analysis of Cultural Explanations for the Violence in Jonglei State, South Sudan, Conflict Trends(1): 49–56.
Marsh, Nicholas (2007) Conflict Specific Capital: The Role of Weapons Acquisition in Civil War, International Studies Perspectives 8(1): 54–72.
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (1997) Transcending Traditionalism: The Emergence of Non-state Military Formations in Afghanistan, Journal of Peace Research 34(3): 271–287.


Rolandsen, Øystein H. & M. W. Daly (2016) A History of South Sudan: From Slavery to Independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cunningham, Kathleen Gallagher (2014) Inside the Politics of Self-Determination. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gates, Scott & Kaushik Roy (2014) Unconventional Warfare in South Asia, Shadow Warriors and Counterinsurgency. Farnham: Ashgate.
Cederman, Lars-Erik; Kristian Skrede Gleditsch & Halvard Buhaug (2013) Inequality, Grievances, and Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics.

Book Chapter

Høigilt, Jacob (2018) Jihadisme, islamisme og krigen mot nyanser [Jihadism, Islamism, and the War on Nuance], in Høgestøl, Sofie; Anna Andersson; & Anne Christine Lie, eds, Fremmedkrigere: forebygging, straffeforfølging og rehabilitering i Skandinavia. Oslo: Gyldendal juridisk (299–320).
Marsh, Nicholas (2017) Angola, in Alusala, Nelson; & Mothepa Shadung, eds, Arms brokering in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies (1–8).
Marsh, Nicholas (2017) Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Alusala, Nelson; & Mothepa Shadung, eds, Arms brokering in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Institute For Security Studies (14–24).
Marsh, Nicholas (2017) Mozambique, in Alusala, Nelson; & Mothepa Shadung, eds, Arms brokering in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies (45–53).
Demetriou, Olga & Maria Hadjipavlou (2016) Engendering the Post-Liberal Peace in Cyprus: UNSC Resolution 1325 as a Tool, in Richmond, Oliver P.; & Sandra Pogodda, eds, Post-Liberal Peace Transitions: Between Peace Formation and State Formation. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (83–104).
Bjorvatn, Kjetil & Jacob Høigilt (2016) Youth and the Arab Revolutions, in Selvik, Kjetil; & Bjørn Olav Utvik, eds, Oil States in the New Middle East: Uprisings and stability. London: Routledge (39–56).
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2015) Heart or Periphery? Afghanistan's Complex Neighbourhood Relations, in Gates, Scott; & Kaushik Roy, eds, War and State-Building in Afghanistan: Historical and Modern Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury (245–279).
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2012) Warlordism: Three Biographies From Southeastern Afghanistan, in Suhrke, Astri; & Mats Berdal, eds, The Peace In Between: Post-War Violence and Peacebuilding. London: Routledge (173–191).
Kreutz, Joakim ; Manuela Torre & Nicholas Marsh (2011) Regaining State Control: Arms and Violence in Post-conflict Countries, in Greene , Owen ; & Nicholas Marsh, eds, Small Arms, Crime and Conflict Global Governance and the Threat of Armed Violence. London: Routledge (64–76).
Greene , Owen & Nicholas Marsh (2011) Armed Violence within Societies, in Greene , Owen ; & Nicholas Marsh, eds, Small Arms, Crime and Conflict Global Governance and the Threat of Armed Violence. London and New York : Routledge (79–104).
Borchgrevink, Kaja & Kristian Berg Harpviken (2010) Afghanistan: Civil Society Between Modernity and Tradition, in Thania Paffenholz , ed., Civil Society and Peacebuilding: a Critical Assessment. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner (235–257).
Harpviken, Kristian Berg(1998) The Hazara of Aghanistan: The Thorny Path Towards Political Unity, 1978-1992, in Atabaki, Touraj; & O'Kane, John, eds, Post-Soviet Central Asia. : I. B. Tauris(177–198).

Edited Volume

Gates, Scott; & Kaushik Roy, eds, (2014) War and State-Building in Afghanistan: Historical and Modern Perspectives. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Bloomsbury Studies in Military History.
Pérouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine (ed.) (2014) Boko Haram: Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. Leiden: African Studies Centre. West African Politics and Society Series.
Greene , Owen ; & Nicholas Marsh, eds, (2011) Small Arms, Crime and Conflict: Global Governance and the Threat of Armed Violence. London: Routledge. Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict.

Non-refereed Journal Article

Kindersley, Nicki & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2016) Prospects for Peace and the UN Regional Protection Force in South Sudan, African Affairs (Virtual Issue: Making Sense of South Sudan). DOI: 10.1093/afraf/adw067: 1–12.
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2010) Troubled Regions and Failing States: Introduction, Comparative Social Research 27: 1–23.

Popular Article

Carrozza, Ilaria (2020) Training Armed Forces in Africa: No Such Thing as a New Cold War, Corriere dell'Italianità, 12 November.
Stanton, Jessica; Ragnhild Nordås & Dara Kay Cohen (2015) Governments don’t outsource atrocities to militias. Here’s what really happens., Washington Post - Monkey Cage, 22 December.

PRIO Report

Miklian, Jason; Peer Schouten; Cindy Horst; & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2018) Business and Peacebuilding: Seven Ways to Maximize Positive Impact, PRIO Project Summary. Oslo: PRIO.

Conference Paper

Marsh, Nicholas & Øystein H. Rolandsen (2018) The impact of foreign security force assistance on security and governance in Mali, presented at Workshop on Security Force Assistance in Fragile States, Peace Research Institute Oslo, 5–7 December.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Nicki Kindersley (2016) They are not forbidden from using violence: State Responses to the Anyanya Insurgency in Torit, 1955–1972, presented at 35th Sudan Studies Association Conference , Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York, 28 May 2016.
Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora (2015) Actors, agendas and legal categories in post-war Colombia. Armed Non State Actors and Access to Health in Armed Conflict, presented at Armed Non State Actors and Access to Health in Armed Conflict, Oslo, 12.02.2015.
Høigilt, Jacob (2014) Fatah from below: The clash of generations in Palestine, presented at World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies, Ankara, 21 August.
Nordås, Ragnhild & Dara Kay Cohen (2012) Why Do Militias Attack Civilians? Violence by African Militias in Recent Armed Conflicts, presented at Conference on Paramilitaries, Militias and Civil Defense Forces in Civil Wars, Yale University, October 19–20.

PRIO Policy Brief

Rudolfsen, Ida (2019) Non-State Conflicts: Trends from 1989 to 2018, Conflict Trends, 2. Oslo: PRIO.
Cohen, Dara Kay & Ragnhild Nordås (2012) Sexual Violence in African Conflicts, 1989–2009: What the data show, CSCW Policy Brief, 2. Oslo: CSCW.

PRIO Paper

Breidlid, Ingrid Marie & Michael J. Arensen (2014) "Anyone who can carry a gun can go": The role of the White Army in the current conflict in South Sudan, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.
Rolandsen, Øystein H. & Ingrid Marie Breidlid (2013) What is Youth Violence in Jonglei?, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.
Harpviken, Kristian Berg (2010) Understanding Warlordism: Three Biographies from Southeastern Afghanistan, PRIO Paper. Oslo: PRIO.

Report - Other

Pérouse de Montclos, Marc-Antoine (2014) Nigeria’s Interminable Insurgency? Addressing the Boko Haram Crisis, Chatham House Research Paper. London: Chatham House.

Report - External Series

Høigilt, Jacob (2014) Why is there no third intifada? An analysis of youth activism in the West Bank, NEWME Reports, 5. Oslo: The University of Oslo.
Harpviken, Kristian Berg; & Kjell Erling Kjellman (2004) Beyond Blueprints: Civil Society and Peacebuilding, Concept Paper commissioned by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). .

Blog Posts

Democracy’s Scars: Adorno’s Lecture on Right-Wing Radicalism

Posted by Katrine Fangen on Thursday, 15 July 2021

The battle against fascism is never over; it must be fought anew by each generation and we must never forget what this ideology stands for. Theodor W. Adorno’s book is a wake-up call, because of its unfortunately continued relevance, writes Katrine Fangen. Liberal democracies are fragile and fascist tendencies will ... Read more »

NATO’s Exit From Afghanistan: ‘a brutal dilemma’

Posted by Kristian Berg Harpviken on Friday, 19 February 2021

NATO is facing ‘a brutal dilemma, NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said to the press ahead of NATO meeting of defense ministers on 17-18 February. The goal, said Stoltenberg, is that Afghanistan shall never again become a haven for terrorists attacking NATO and its allies. He continued: ‘While no ally ... Read more »

Inter-group Conflict: The Role of Weak State Structures and Exclusion

Posted by Ida Rudolfsen on Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Why do non-state groups engage in violent conflict with each other? Non-state conflict has been widespread in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including D.R. Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Burundi. This type of fighting includes both formally and informally organised groups who fight each other without engaging the state, such as ... Read more »

Governments Don’t Outsource Atrocities to Militias. Here’s What Really Happens

Posted by Jessica Stanton, Ragnhild Nordås & Dara Kay Cohen on Thursday, 7 January 2016

Refugees are fleeing Syria in such astonishing numbers because armed groups continue to target civilians with violence. That’s what we heard in September when the U.N. Human Rights Council discussed the most recent report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. The commission’s chair, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, made a plea ... Read more »

How did the San Bernardino Killers Obtain the Guns used to Commit the 2 December Massacre?

Posted by Nic Marsh on Monday, 7 December 2015

The guns were bought in a shop. How did the 13 November Paris Killers get their Guns? How did the Paris Killers Acquire their Guns? Read more »

The Threat from ISIS is not Military

Posted by John Mueller on Wednesday, 25 November 2015

For more than a decade, alarmists have essentially argued that, because the 9/11 attackers proved to be good with box-cutters, they would soon be able to fabricate nuclear weapons. And now, after the dramatic and horrible Paris terror attacks, a similar process of alarmed exaggeration seems to be happening with ... Read more »

How Can States and Non-State Actors Respond to Authoritarian Resurgence?

Posted by Erica Chenoweth on Monday, 20 July 2015

Two weeks ago, the Monkey Cage ran a piece by Matthew Baum and Phil Potter suggesting that the policy of “democracy-promotion” has gone out of style.[1] I think they’re right that in many circles democracy-promotion is politically passé and that, more broadly, democracy advocates are really having a tough couple ... Read more »

The "Resister’s Toolkit"

Posted by Erica Chenoweth on Monday, 29 June 2015

In his article in the May 2015 issue of APSR, Evgeny Finkel makes a splash by arguing that exposure to “selective repression” (such as surveillance, beatings, arrests, and torture) helps dissidents to develop a robust skill set with which to maintain enduring resistance later on. He supports this argument with ... Read more »

Is Boko Haram a Roving Bandit?

Posted by Kyle Beardsley & Kristian Skrede Gleditsch on Monday, 20 April 2015

In recent months, Boko Haram has devastated a number of communities across a vast swath of Northern Nigeria, and even reaching into Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Although Boko Haram has some territorial control in the border regions near Lake Chad, its attacks do not occur in a consistent geographic area, ... Read more »

Boko Haram does not have the Fire Power of the Islamic State

Posted by Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos on Friday, 23 January 2015

Boko Haram’s influence and cruelty is still increasing. On the 3rd of January the Islamist group first attacked Baga, situated at the riverside of Lake Chad in the north of the State of Borno. They then came back several days later and demolished the entire city and its surrounding villages. ... Read more »

How did the Paris Killers Acquire their Guns?

Posted by Nic Marsh on Wednesday, 14 January 2015

At present we have very little information on the guns used last week by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi to commit a massacre at the offices of the publication Charlie Hebdo; and by Amedy Coulibaly in several shootings in Paris. They were armed with Kalashnikov pattern guns, however as nearly 200 ... Read more »

The Taliban are an Organized Fighting Force

Posted by Kristian Berg Harpviken on Sunday, 8 June 2014

A new UN report blames the Taliban for a sharp rise in violence against civilians. The Taliban are an organized fighting force. They combine a relatively strong central command with a networked structure in which each of the various factions operate with considerable independence. Establishing control over certain territories has been ... Read more »

Activists, Authorities and the Problem of Telling the Difference

Posted by Christian Davenport on Thursday, 8 May 2014

Discussion about who killed Anna Mae Aquash of the American Indian Movement in the 1960s raises some interesting thoughts regarding what takes place when governments and challengers square off against one another. Underlying most research on the topic and popular understanding is the idea that governments and challengers represent different ... Read more »

Rwanda, Remembrance and Research: Or, How Rwandan Violence Taught Me to Embrace Subnational/Disaggregated Conflict Studies and Integral Conflict Research

Posted by Christian Davenport on Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fourteen years ago I began a journey to understand the political violence that took place in Rwanda during the year of 1994. Toward this end, I brought with me the skills that I had at that time: 1) an interest in media as well as government-generated data and content analysis, ... Read more »

Female Empowerment in DR Congo

Posted by Maral Mirshahi on Tuesday, 1 April 2014

In January 2014 PRIO researchers Gudrun Østby and Ragnhild Nordås went on a two-week fieldtrip to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu, DRC. The main purpose of the visit was to launch the new collaborative project, “Female Empowerment in Eastern DRC”, funded by the Research Council of Norway. This project ... Read more »

Old Wine in an E-bottle (or, The Text that Mistook Itself for a Tactical Shift)

Posted by Christian Davenport on Friday, 31 January 2014

On January 24th Barbara Walter wrote a fascinating blog entry entitled “The Text that Changed the World”. It noted that the “Ukrainian government” had issued a text message to “thousands of protesters” effectively telling them that they had been busted (i.e., they were identified as participating in a protest event). ... Read more »