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Road to Rebellion: The Development of Ethnic Terrorism

Boylan, Brandon (2013) Road to Rebellion: The Development of Ethnic Terrorism. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Why does widespread terrorism develop from some ethnic groups but not others? I define this type of violence - ethnic terrorism - as terrorism conducted in the name of an ethnic identity group. This dissertation examines the development of ethnic terrorism with a framework drawn from the motives, means, and opportunities (MMO) structure familiar from criminal law. I argue that the motive for ethnic terrorism is the violation of ethnic groups’ human security; the means is sponsorship primarily by the host ethnic group but also by foreign actors; and the opportunity is a vacuum in political space created by the departure of nationalist leadership, which allows terrorist elites to rise to dominate the ethno-political agenda. Each is necessary for the development of ethnic terrorism.

I conduct paired comparisons between the Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka and the Basques and Catalans in Spain to test this argument. The Tamils and Basques have encountered intense and long-lasting terrorism through the respective campaigns of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), while the Sri Lankan Muslims and Catalans have witnessed little violence emanating from within their communities. Data collected from fieldwork in Sri Lanka and Spain support the argument that human security violations, sponsorship, and political vacuums explain large-scale ethnic terrorism. In addition, I estimate a series of regression models to assess the generalizability of my argument. I have created a new statistical dataset on ethnic terrorism that covers the globe by merging publicly available data on ethnic groups and terrorist incidents at the ethnic group-year unit of analysis in accordance with an original coding methodology. The models provide broad support for the argument.

This research advances a three-tiered theory to understand ethnic terrorism, especially the dimension that has been underdeveloped in the terrorism literature: opportunity structure. Terrorism develops when nationalist actors willingly or inadvertently cede to terrorist organizations the occasion to dominate the ethno-political agenda. It also contributes to the burgeoning literature that explores linkages between human security and political violence and broadens understanding of terrorism in the discipline marked primarily by interest in jihadist phenomena.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Boylan, Brandonbmb55@pitt.eduBMB55
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSeybolt, Taylor
Committee MemberKenney, Michael
Committee MemberNelson, Paul
Committee MemberNovosel, Tony
Date: 26 June 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 9 October 2012
Approval Date: 26 June 2013
Submission Date: 18 February 2013
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 219
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: terrorism, ethnic conflict, political violence
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2013 19:49
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2018 05:15


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