Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

The psychology of security threats in ethnic warfare: evidence from Rwanda's genocide

McDoom, Omar Shahabudin (2011) The psychology of security threats in ethnic warfare: evidence from Rwanda's genocide. PSPE working papers (5, 2011). London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

Full text not available from this repository.


This article addresses the role of threat in explanations of ethnic and other inter-group conflict and examines two issues in particular. First, it explains how security threats work by providing micro-level evidence of the psychological causal mechanisms behind them. Second, it contributes to two longstanding meta-theoretical debates in security studies on the causes of ethnic warfare. It asks how important are emotions – such as fear, resentment, and hostility - compared first with structural and materialist factors in explanations of ethnic conflict, and compared second with rationalist approaches. On the first issue, the article identifies four psycho-social mechanisms at work when an ethnic in-group faces a security threat: boundary activation, out-group derogation, out-group homogenization; and in-group cohesion. I show that the greater the threat, the stronger each of these psychological effects. Addressing the two meta-theoretical debates, the article suggests they present a false theoretical choice. Both emotions and material opportunities matter in ethnic conflict, and emotion and rationality are not opposing alternatives. I propose then two simple but fundamental precepts to refine existing theories. First, I distinguish between support for violence - which I term ethnic mobilization – and participation in violence - which I term ethnic violence. Emotions matter for mobilization, but material opportunities matter more for violence. Second, I apply an axiom in social psychology - that emotion and reason interact in numerous ways in individual judgement and decision-making - and illustrate these psychological mechanisms using micro-data. The article draws inter-regional and inter-temporal comparisons from within the case of Rwanda’s civil war (1990-94). The war culminated in a genocide that involved one of the most rapid and deadly mobilizations of a civilian population in world history. It uses a combination of survey data of ordinary Rwandans, content analysis of national radio broadcasts, and micro-case studies of four Rwandan communities.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2011 The Author
Divisions: Government
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Date Deposited: 19 May 2011 13:48
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2023 23:23

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item