Interpreting the ideological evolution of an insurgency: Lessons from the North Caucasus, 2007-2015

Ideology has fallen badly out of fashion. In the study of political violence in particular, it is often pushed to the margins, and there is considerable scepticism over its importance. Yet violent political actors often devote substantial effort to shaping interpretations of their activities, and explanatory models that neglect ideology typically rely on a narrow understanding of the concept and leave important questions about its role unanswered. This thesis interrogates ideology’s role in political violence through a rich empirical study of the insurgency that operated in Russia’s North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. It applies Social Movement Theory to unique datasets to understand how movement actors defined the conflicts they were engaged in and sought to persuade others to participate, and how internal and external contexts influenced these ideas. In doing so, it establishes the insurgency as ideologically shallow and weakly integrated, and argues that identity and pragmatism were more central to its ideological vision than specific grievances or goals. This thesis significantly advances our understanding of the insurgency and generates important insights into the role of ideology in political violence more broadly. At the same time, it contributes important methodological innovations to the study of clandestine social movements.

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