Explanations for Political Violence

Political violence, as defined by Patrick O’Neil is “violence outside of state control that is politically motivated”(O’Neil 211). He states that revolutions, wars, riots, strikes, and even more peaceful protests, fall under this term of ‘political violence.’ He then explains how scholars separate the causes of political violence into three separate categories: institutional, ideational, and individual. These categories do not always have the clearest boundaries and often cross over one another. However, I believe that the most convincing explanation for political violence is the institutional explanation. O’Neil states that “existing institutions encouraging violence or contracting human action creating a violent backlash” (O’Neil 212) is the reasoning behind the institutional explanation. Take the example of the country of Bangladesh. On January 22nd and 23rd, reports from both CNN and The Guardian were released stating that thirty people had died and over 7,000 were detained due to political violence. Both reports explain, that rallies by both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party, and the Awami League, the party holding power, were suppose to occur on January 5th of 2015, a year after Bangladesh’s disputed elections. While the Awami League did not proceed, the BNP continued with their rally calling for reelection, claiming the election of 2014 “was a farce”. In addition, they were also protesting the government’s block of social media apps such as Viber that allowed them to put together these protests.

The example of Bangladesh helps to explain why the institutional explanation is the most convincing. The issues of the elections and the blocking of social media are both institutional problems that then lead to the people speaking out. As O’Neil states this explanation helps to determine the root source of the problem. This perspective helps us to understand why people felt the need to resort to violence. As O’Neil writes “it shows a necessary condition for violence to take place” (O’Neil 211). Without having a full understanding of the main issue, we cannot proceed to determine why opposing ideas exist or why individuals feel the need to then speak out against the government. The institutional explanation is the building block for both the ideational and individual explanations.

Work Cited:

Ahmed, Farid, and Tim Hume. “31 Dead, 7,000 Arrested in Bangladesh Political Unrest – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Burke, Jason, and Saad Hammadi. “30 Dead as Bangladesh Political Violence Escalates.” The Guardian. N.p., 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

O’Neil, Patrick H. 2015. Essentials of Comparative Politics, 5th Edition. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.


8 thoughts on “Explanations for Political Violence

  1. The argument that the institutional category is the best explanation for political violence. Most institutions are formed to meet a need and serve the common good. Overtime, institutions can become out of step with the political and social views of the people that they serve. When the institution fails support these views, political violence is often the only method left open to force change.

  2. I agree that the institutional approach is the most convincing explanation for political violence as described by O’Neil. One point that lead me to believe this was when he says, “institutions define and shape human activity” (O’Neil 211). He is stressing the fact that all aspects of human life revolve around institutions. Institutions are the main part of the state and can therefore restrict or allow argument against the government. If institutions are restricting or allowing argument, they are constraining or enabling political violence and therefore the institutional explanation is the most convincing. I also see the other two explanations, ideal and individual, as aspects included in the institutional explanation. The institutional explanation contains all aspects of a state’s life and can explain the “root cause” of violence.

  3. The three explanations for political violence overlap each other at some degree. I agree that the institutional explanation is the most convincing explanation for political violence. According to O’Neill, “institutional explanations can be seen as a quest for a ‘root source’ for violence” because institutions are organizations that “define and shape human activity” (211). Institutions have standards and beliefs that will stimulate political violence. Once institutions start to fail, ideas and individuals then proceed to explain political violence. Failed institutions lead to ideational explanation for political violence that illustrates these failures and promotes violence. This further causes individuals to carry out violence. Institutional, ideational, and individual explanations work in conjunction with each other, but I believe that the institutional explanation is the most convincing explanation for political violence because disruption in institutions is the initial factor that will spark both the ideational and individual explanation toward political violence.

  4. I agree that the institutional explanation for political violence is the best out of the three explanations O’Neill gives. People can individually think what they want as much as they want to, but it is close to impossible to achieve something alone in the political world. There needs to be an institution of some sort that brings people together to achieve a goal. Whether this goal is violent or not does not matter. These institutions give people a better reason to achieve their goal. In the case of political violence, a group that dislikes the current status quo of the country would be very likely to come together and create an insurgency. Also, terrorism institutions are ones that are unhappy with the world’s status quo and want to send a message to the world. That would be impossible without the institution itself.

  5. There could be various factors that contribute and explain why political violence occurs. The institutional approach is a good explanation for it but I also think that we can’t eliminate the consideration of ideational and individual explanations. Even though institutions can shape human activity, but I really do believe that institution can be a reflection of society. We shape our states, governments, and institutions base on our ideas and beliefs. When there is conflict, it usually means that there is a diversity in society whether it is cultural or political. We also have to consider external influences that may shape our decisions and ideas and thus react in a way that seems more convenient which could be a violent reaction in authoritarian or other regimes.

  6. I agree that the most convincing explanation for political violence in the institutional explanation, but I also believe that the ideational explanation is nearly as important. In the case of Bangladesh, obviously the institutional factors were a major cause for the political violence that took place, but the violence would not have occurred if the ideas of the need for violence to generate change weren’t so prominent in the public sphere. I argue that the root source of the violence was that the political attitude (either radical or reactionary) of the public. Because there was little faith in the idea that the government would be able to change on it’s own, people felt taking up violence was necessary, instead of peaceful protesting, making the ideational explanation a very large factor in the event as well as the institutional explanation.

  7. I agree with Erin’s assertion that the institutional explanation best answers the cause of political violence. O’Neil refers to institutions as the “root source for violence” and thus relegates the other two explanations to inferior importance (O’Neil, 211). Ideational and individual explanations are still valid, but conflicts do not often stem from them alone. For example, Nazi Germany’s state-sponsored terrorism of Jews cannot simply look to Hitler for an individual explanation. Rather, one must look at the economic institution and the severe financial toll of World War One and the reparations following the Treaty of Versailles on Germany. Therefore, it would be best to look immediately at the institutional failures or frustrations to explain why political violence occurs.

  8. It is difficult to attribute political violence to a single cause, and there are many factors that might influence one’s decision to become politically violent. Rebelling against the institution, however, is a large component of many acts of political violence. An institution such as a school can create controversies that result in violence. The current tension surrounding race in places like Missouri is an outcry against institutions who perpetuate this racism. If those who feel victimized by institutions continue to suffer, then this frustration may result in acts of political violence against the institutions.

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