Category Archives: Research

The importance of ‘micro-distances’ and individual characteristics for household surveys: understanding riots from Maharashtra to Assam

Posted by Jaideep Gupte

‘Communal violence’, as ethnic riots are termed in South Asia, is one of the major types of violence in evidence in the region today. Not only is it endemic and recurrent in ‘flash-point’ parts of the region, it is also wide spread. Data shows India experienced an average of over 64,000 riots[1] per year over the last decade, while 16 out of 28 of its states experienced more than 1000 riots in 2010.[2] In Maharashtra, where our panel study[3] is based, riots were initially infrequent, increasing drastically during the late 1970s, peaking in the early 1980s and have since remained at a high level of approximately 6000 riots per year spread across the state. Furthermore, while rioting has consistently fallen since the 1990s across India, Maharashtra stands as an exception.

The North-eastern state of Assam, virtually at the other end of India’s expanse from Maharashtra, is currently in the news as rioting there has killed over 50 in the past few days.[4] The media has been quick to latch on to the ‘communal’ nature of the violence, describing the violence as between Hindus and Muslims. But this categorisation has been conflated with a variety of explanations, ranging from having religious to political underpinnings, and even to issues of illegal immigration of Bangladeshi’s into the region. These categorisations all share some degree of truth. The region shares a very porous border with Bangladesh, with scores migrating seasonally (and illegally) into India in search of employment. A large number are also permanently settled in India, and remit earnings to Bangladesh. This situation has given the media ample cause to portray the current violence as between immigrants and the local Boro community, who are involved in their own struggle with Delhi for autonomy in the Boro Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD).

However, our research on rioting in India underlines that communal and ethnic categorisations are incomplete (see MICROCON Working Paper 62).[5] They do not fully capture the processes of perpetration, impacts or mitigation of the violence. There are five reasons for this: (1) First and foremost, is that the term ‘communal violence’ has been derived out of an imprecise historical usage – an argument persuasively put forward by Gyan Pandey.[6] The term was coined during colonial times to refer to local groupings, the nature of which the colonial presence failed to fully understand. (2) is that the terms ‘communal’ or ‘ethnic’ imply the violence is at a large scale, between entire communities or ethnicities. This hides the immensely destructive potential of smaller bouts of rioting, which can completely re-order day-to-day normality. (3) is that a wide variety of groups and actors are involved in bouts of rioting, and not all of these can be classified as communal or ethnic. Hindu-Muslim riots have also involved tribal communities (in Gujarat, for example), while the police have often been directly involved in the perpetration of violence around episodes of rioting. (4) is that women and men experience riots in varied ways, the nuances of which cannot be generalized by associating one gender with ‘the victims’ and the other with ‘the perpetrators’. Women are just as likely to perpetrate violence, as they are likely to be involved in its mitigation. Importantly, synergies and parallels between the experiences of women and men across ‘communities’ are often far stronger than those within communities. And (5) is that individual characteristics are crucial in determining how and by whom riots are perpetrated and experienced. A person physically perpetrates violence in public for a wide variety of reasons, not all of which are clearly understood through communal or ethnic framings. In my research I find that rioting often involves ‘dispossessed’ individuals, who partake in public riots to showcase individual strength.[7]

Understanding household vulnerability to violence

So how might vulnerability to such violence be accurately understood? In Maharashtra, where we’re studying 45 riot-prone neighbourhoods across nine districts, one of the significant factors is where the violence is perpetrated and experienced in relation to a number of local spatial characteristics, measured by what I term as ‘micro-distances’. I have not been able to find a more appropriate term in the literature to describe the small distances which individuals cover in no more than a few minutes by foot in their day-to-day lives – walking on the footpath, going to the market, school or neighbours house, for example (if there is a more appropriate term already in the literature, please point me in the right direction!). Indeed, I would argue that this kind of information, which describes each respondent household through a plethora of spatial information, would be an important addition to any household survey on poverty and vulnerability. Some surveys tend to retrospectively locate households by matching or comparing addresses. As I have explained in a previous blog however (Attrition: the scourge of tracing), this is not an easy task – ‘fourth house from well’ could be right next to ‘house near to temple’.  As social animals, how we interact with our surroundings and how our surroundings impact upon us are important in defining who we are and arguably, have a bearing on our development outcomes. Spatial information locates households within this space, and allows additional levels at which household data points can be interacted with one another.

Are micro-distances important and significant?

We find that they are. For example, how perpetrators, victims and witnesses relate with their belligerent neighbour, live in a dark alley way, are affected by a faulty water pipeline, or live far from public toilets, adds values to our understanding of riots which cover much larger areas. These distances not only help characterise vulnerability of secluded or peripheral households, but also help identify important nuances of vulnerabilities faced right across the spaces in which violence occurs. Preliminary analysis of spatial data from our sample neighbourhoods reveals that even though sustaining physical injury to person or damage to one’s property is a rare event during a riot, with only 0.03% of households in our sample falling under this ‘acute’ category (even though over 71% of our survey sites were affected by at least one riot), almost all such victims live within a 5-minute walk of another acute victim. In the adjoining picture, I show this pictorially for 14 of our survey sites. The maps shows a variety of data including roads/pathways, waterways, open spaces/gardens, bridges, police stations, schools, markets, clinics and gyms to name a few. Acute victims are plotted as red hexagons, and a 2.5-minute perimeter is highlighted in orange around each of them. Overlapping perimeters indicate that acute victims are within 5-minutes of one another. If we had not collected spatial information, it would not have been possible to locate vulnerability in this precise manner.

This preliminary result suggests that violence in riots that are purportedly ‘organic’, erupting suddenly as a result of long standing friction between communities, is in fact not singular or monotone. But it is formed of more complex events where violence is perpetrated at multiple levels, involving more brutal acts as well as minor offences. In Assam, it cannot be doubted that (illegal) immigrants are present and involved in the violence, neither can it be doubted that there are local groups who are already mobilised over a struggle to be autonomous. However, local scholars who have engaged with the under-currents leading up to the violence find “this tendency to conflate conflicts into easily identifiable ethnic constituencies simplistic, leaving little scope for either understanding or intervention”.[8] Because this violence so deeply affects already strained livelihood strategies, further (read long-term) research will undoubtedly reveal that issues of authority and legitimacy – at the individual level – are at the core of the violence. By this I mean that in situations where individuals feel economically, politically and socially dispossessed, being publically violent is an extremely effective strategy to showcase one’s capacity to provide for one’s household. Using micro-distances as I have suggested above, or other more locally specific micro-level analyses, is key in accurately understanding the vulnerabilities that directly and indirectly impact upon the individuals that perpetrate and experience riots. To this end, they can also explain much about why riots occur when and where they do, and importantly, who participates in them and why.

[1] Defined loosely under Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code as “Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.”

[2] Crime In India, various years. New Delhi: National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

[3] With Patricia Justino and Jean-Pierre Tranchant. Funded by the European Commission ( and the DFID-ESRC (“Agency and Governance in Contexts of Civil Conflict”

[5] Gupte, J. 2012. What’s civil about intergroup violence? Five inadequacies of communal and ethnic constructs of urban riots. MICROCON Research Working Paper 62, Brighton: MICROCON

[6] Pandey, Gyanendra. 1990. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. New York: Oxford University Press.

[7] Gupte, Jaideep. 2011. “Extralegal security and policing for the urban dispossessed in Mumbai.” In Urbanizing Citizenship: Contested Spaces in Indian Cities, eds. R Desai and R Sanyal. New Delhi: Sage.

[8] Barbora, Sanjay. 2012. “Identity of a recurring conflict.” The Hindu, July 31st. Available from (Accessed on 31/07/2012).


Implementing Experimental Games in Violence-Prone Neighbourhoods

Posted by Jean-Pierre Tranchant

As part of our study on violence-prone neighbourhoods described by my IDS colleague Jaideep Gupte [in his recent posts on attrition and tracing households across Maharashtra], we implemented behavioural games in conjunction with the second wave of our household survey. Trust, norms of fairness, or social cooperation are difficult to measure with household surveys, as responses might not relate to actual behaviours in an accurate manner. Experimental games have become a very popular solution to observe complex behaviour without the investment of a long term ethnographic study. [1] A useful game is a game that gives precise and predefined cues to respondents so that they form their decisions as they might in a real-life situation, and allows respondent decisions and behaviour during the game to be recorded for analysis. A good knowledge of the culture under study is then still needed to understand how people will play the game and draw appropriate interpretations. [2]

The main questions we are interested in answering through the games are around the role of social cooperation in conflict: does social cooperation mitigate conflict or is social cooperation a by-product of the absence of the conflict? Alternatively, is there a possibility that social cooperation actually makes conflict more likely? We also wish to shed light on the impact of ethnic, caste and religious heterogeneity on cooperation.

In this post, I would like to share our experience of actually running these games in the field. Most of the literature on experiments is about lab experiments – a highly controlled process where participants (usually graduate students) are seated in front of a computer. Field experiments, on the other hand, are much less controlled, and issues related to the organisation of games can have a large impact on the results.

We had to struggle between the conflicting needs of consistency and flexibility.  Running games across 45 sites in 9 districts in a state encompassing over 300,000 sq. km necessitated following strict procedures in order to maintain consistency across the games. Logistical realities, however, called for slack in the system so that we could adapt each game. Some of the questions we faced when implementing the games were – How many games to run? How many participants per game? Where to organise the games? and How to record individual decisions? The following insights come from two pilot sessions organised in Sangli and Kolhapur districts, at the border with the state of Karnataka.

How many games to run?

We had two extreme options here. One was to run one game session in each of our sites. This would have some advantages: it leaves more time for the team to recruit participants, the venue can be chosen to be very close to the site, and the number of participants remains small (our capacity to run games goes down with number of participants). But it involves organising 45 different sessions, thus increasing the cost, and preventing interactions between participants from different sites. At the other end of the spectrum, we could run a single game session in each district, pooling participants from all 5 sites. This would have the reverse virtues (less costly, possibility of inter-neighbourhood/town interactions) and caveats (too many participants, difficulty to recruit because of the distance). We opted for a middle-ground: we organised 2 sessions per district, one with participants from 2 sites together, and the other one with the three remaining sites. Since our sites are usually close to each other (within a city), this could be done without sacrificing proximity to the sites.

How many participants per game?

The protocols we designed were such that it was best to have a fixed number of participants per site, i.e. 6, across all games. In terms of logistics however, it is much easier to allow for some variation around a fixed target, without having to stick to it at all cost. Our team would go to the survey site one day before the games to formally invite 10 people per site (allowing 4 back-up for people not showing up on the day). They were promised 200 rupees for coming, plus the chance of earning more based on the outcome of the exercises (we did not speak of ‘games’ but of ‘exercises’). Importantly, the variable part of the payoff remained undetermined in order not to raise false expectations. Larger groups of participants are always preferable, but with 6 people per site we achieve a sample of 270 participants, producing statistically meaningful results. A higher number of participants would have proved extremely challenging in terms of recruitment, also we would need more cars to ferry participants to and from the venue, the venues themselves would have to be bigger and so on.

The selection procedure was random, i.e. we produced a list of households in each site where the ordering was random but stratified so that households with experience of civil violence were oversampled. Somewhat to the surprise of the team, we did not face much difficulty recruiting enough participants.

We faced more difficulties on the day of the game: our biggest problem was with people arriving late at the venue. We decided to play the games in venues close to the sites, so that some would be able to walk there if they wished so, rather than being dependent on our team’s car. On one occasion we had 17 participants in the venue waiting with increasing restlessness while waiting for the last participant to show up (she came by foot). Sticking to the protocol required us to wait, risking some people walking away. Starting the game with 17 would create an idiosyncratic deviation from the protocol. We decided to distribute tea, which created a respite of 5 minutes, but then came short of strategies. We finally decided to start as it was, and just as things had started, the 18th person walked in…

Where to organise the games?

As I mentioned above, we decided to go for venues close to the sites. A concern of the team was that people from different caste would not want to mix in the same car. Similarly, in more conservative segments of the society, women might not want to enter a car with men. Having venues so close that people could walk there was a way to address such problems. Additionally we chose venues that were neutral (not overtly religious for instance) and not intimidating for our respondents. We ended up using a public library and a marriage hall. Such venues are plentiful in urban India, and quite inexpensive to rent for the day. Even better, there was no need to plan much in advance.

How to record individual decisions?

This is a big question, each individual decision for any given round of any given game must be carefully recorded for later analysis but also for calculating individual payoffs to be distributed at the end of the session. In addition, the context in which players make their decisions is important to ensure anonymity, and lack of pressure. We could not use computers because most of the elder respondents are illiterate and/or unfamiliar with them. Instead we set up two or three ‘decision tables’ in each session staffed by a member of the team. In turn the participants would walk there alone, and from a distance to others make their decision known. We exploited this moment to ask post-decision questions which were useful for later interpretation. The pitfall was the time needed for each participant to walk the table for each decision, thereby slowing down quite a lot the rhythm of the games. At the decision tables we presented the money in front of the players and then asked for their decisions. In retrospect I think it would have been better to hand the money in envelopes to the players, thereby increasing their ownership of their endowment, and make altruistic decisions more costly.

Overall the experience was hugely positive. Importantly, all participants enjoyed their time – and were delighted when they discovered their payoff (average of 730 rupees). The team grew more comfortable at each iteration of the games and as their understanding of the games increased, so their enjoyment in running them. One can think that designing the game would be the most time-consuming part of the process but in fact this was done quickly. Rather, the logistics and the minute organisation of the games (who sits where, who plays first, where to play, etc) took a much bigger chunk of our time. Once we had a strategy in our mind, we ended up spending a lot of time buying stuff like pots, scissors, papers, badges, etc, and printing loads of papers. Working in an urban environment meant that we could do all that on the sites. Our PhD students Alia and Yashodhan, somewhat strained by weeks of fieldwork and painstaking data checking, regained all vitality playing arts and crafts. And seeing actual people playing games you so painstakingly designed was an incredible reward.

[1]Within MICROCON see Voors, M.J., E.E.M. Nillesen,  P. Verwimp, E.H. Bulte, B.W. Lensink and D.P. van Soest, 2012. Violent Conflict and Behavior: a Field Experiment in Burundi, American Economic Review, In Press or Lecoutere, E. B. D’Exelle, B. Van Campenhout, 2010. Who Engages in Water Scarcity Conflicts? A Field Experiment with Irrigators in Semi-arid Africa. MICROCON Research Working Papers 31

[2] For an excellent account on how field experiments relate to ethnographic knowledge see the collective book Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-Scale Societies, published in 2004 and edited by Henrich, Boyd, Bowles, Camerer, Fehr and Gintis.

Attrition: the scourge of tracing

Posted by Jaideep Gupte

We have now completed four out of nine districts[1] (my earlier post describing our panel study can be found here), although for logistical and security reasons, by the time this is posted, our fieldwork would already have been completed.

In the excitement and busy schedule of our fieldwork, it is easy to forget that some of the areas we are visiting, or travelling through, are not the safest. This afternoon as we were travelling between districts on a quiet stretch of road, our jeep was stopped by a gang of 10-15 young men (some were boys) who demanded a payment to let us through. From what I could see, they were unarmed. It was a routine I had seen before: a few of the boys lay down across the tarmac, a few raised their arms up high as if in prayer, while the others linked arms and crowded the single lane road to bring us to a halt. As soon as we did, the gang held on to the grill of our jeep till we opened the windows to talk. They claimed the payment was to be put towards the upcoming celebrations for Ambedkar Jayanti. However, the annual remembrance celebrations of Dr. Ambedkar, a prominent Dalit leader, were more than a fortnight away. Besides their initial ‘primordial’ display, the gang was very articulate, and talked to us in a calm manner; they even gave us a receipt for our payment. Our seasoned driver handled the negotiation calmly, and told us afterwards that all such proceeds would most likely be used to acquire tharra (moonshine).

Attrition, or the fact that households initially included in the sample are missed in subsequent waves, is the scourge of panel studies. This is because attrition in social surveys is rarely ‘at random’, and can therefore quickly eat away at the validity and reliability of the data. Because our panel study on household vulnerability to civil violence is the first of its kind in India, we had very little prior knowledge to estimate the magnitude of attrition rates we would face. Other panel study’s in India have experienced around 20% attrition,[2] but these are much larger samples over much longer periods of time. We are aiming for half that – a tall ask, specially given the urban and peri-urban, and at times, unstable nature of our sample.

We are tracing 1089 households, but a large part of our study also uses the neighbourhood as unit of analysis. For one, we are interested in seeing how neighbourhood level dynamics interact with household vulnerability. It is therefore important to maintain households as well as neighbourhoods within our sample. For this reason, our tracing protocol is slightly different from a standard household panel in that if we find that a respondent household has moved out of our neighbourhood, it makes little sense in us tracing that household.[3] We treat that household as a lost household, and replace it. We only trace relocated households if they have moved within or near the original neighbourhood. We also often find the exact house, but with nobody at home – in these instances, we wait; as long as our budget allows. In some sites, when neighbours mentioned that members of our respondent household had gone to the market, or were away temporarily, supervisors returned to a house four or five times in a day to check if the family had returned. This is repeated on following days if the team is surveying sites in the same city or district.

Overall, we are managing to keep attrition to a bare minimum – we have only replaced a handful of households. A few lessons we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Nearly all of our successful traces are due to our GIS information.
    1. Why GIS and not GPS? GPS is a ‘positioning system’ technology which uses satellites to triangulate position, while GIS refers to tools which map ‘geographic information’, which may or may not use information from satellites. In dense slum areas or inside tenement blocks in state-provided housing projects, for example, GPS is of little use in finding the exact door at which to make our survey call. A few meters here or there, means you end up walking down the wrong lane, and it can be extremely time-consuming to re-trace steps. We therefore relied on GIS maps.
    2. Neighbourhood mapping: addresses in low-income neighbourhoods in India are monotone, particularly so in informal settlements. At times, several hundred families will all identify their residential address by a common local landmark (a shop, mosque, temple, cross-road, or “under flyover bridge” for example). So neighbourhood level mapping becomes essential. During the first wave, we painstakingly mapped each survey site, marking down most visible land-marks and adding in ‘voting booth zone’ demarcation information used by the Election Commission. This information proved to be highly effective on the ground, since even the smallest visible landmarks (‘the Banyan tree’, ‘the well’, or ‘small statue/idol’) are much easier to locate than street names. Local residents often wouldn’t know the names of the streets we were enquiring about, but could easily point out these visible land marks.
  2. Ensuring adherence to best-practice at the survey site: it can not be stressed enough how arduous tracing households is. The temperature in interior Maharashtra where we are is not helping – it is already above 40oC, and likely to reach 50oC in the coming weeks. We therefore had to think carefully about building in incentives to ensure attrition rates were kept to a minimum, and no households were lost due to inadequacies on our part.
    1. Replacement households are a good incentive strategy. We are requiring that the size of our sample is maintained through replacement households. Not only do these replacement households function as a second stage baseline for subsequent survey rounds, they also ensure that there is no incentive to report a household as missing. In fact, a completely new household requires more effort on the part of the enumerator since introductions, building rapport, and the household roster all have to be done from scratch. The flip side of this is that for genuine replacements, we need to ensure that the enumerator has adequate support from other team members or the supervisor if necessary.
    2. Anonymous maps – originally, our plan was to provide the enumeration team with site maps which did not show respondent household codes. The thinking was that households which appeared ‘inaccessible’ or in hard to reach areas, should not automatically be identified as such, and thus create an incentive for them to be marked as missing. However, we quickly learned that this was not working, and was counterproductively increasing the logistical workload for the enumeration team. Providing maps which displayed respondent household codes meant the team knew exactly where to look for each respondent, and this freed up much time for other tracing activities.
    3. Daily data reliability check – We’re using a mobile data capture program on Android tablets to collect our survey data (I’ve described this in my earlier post which can be found here). As soon as the day’s data is downloaded, we begin a series of reliability checks on the data – including ensuring all target households have been found or replaced, changes to household composition have been marked correctly, and several other consistency checks. We often don’t finish before midnight, but we are finding it essential to complete the checks on the day to ensure the task doesn’t pile up, and that any inconsistencies can be corrected before we travel to the next site. We also found it important to work with enumerators to correct mistakes while the interview was still fresh in their memory. We found a clear indication that doing this improved the overall quality of the data day by day.
    4. Enumerator recall. While we placed emphasis on re-hiring much of our team from the first phase, we did not rely on team members to recall the locations of sites or households. When they did remember, it was good to be able to triangulate with the GIS information. But in general, since each enumerator literally visits hundreds of households, and is so focused on the mechanics of the survey instrument, we felt it would over burden them to keep track of household locations as well. It worked well to keep the tracing duties purely within the supervisorial team, while the enumerators were simply shown the doors at which calls were to be conducted.

For the most part, our plans have fallen into place, and fieldwork completion is eminent in the coming weeks. My colleague from IDS, Jean-Pierre Tranchant has joined the travelling party in interior Maharashtra, while Patricia Justino reports that the enumeration team on the western coast has completed its sites. Next, our team moves on to conducting ‘interaction games’ with a sub-set of our respondents. We are all very excited about including this new and innovative method to study cooperation, risk-aversion and trust into our study – Jean-Pierre blogs on this next week, so watch this space!

[1] With Patricia Justino and Jean-Pierre Tranchant. Funded by the European Commission ( and the DFID-ESRC (“Agency and Governance in Contexts of Civil Conflict”

[2] For example, the four rounds of the Rural Economic and Demographic Survey (REDS) in India between 1971 and 2006 experienced 17.5% attrition.

[3] Budget constraints meant we could not do neighbourhood level surveys of the new neighbourhoods, and could only contact the relocated household if they had provided a contact mobile phone number to ask a basic set of questions on their circumstance.

Agency and Governance in Violence Prone Neighbourhoods: tracing households across Maharashtra

Posted by Jaideep Gupte

I’m writing this from Pusad, in Yavatmal district, where we have begun the meticulous task of tracing 1100 households in 45 violence prone neighbourhoods across nine districts in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. We have three enumeration teams in place. One has begun the tracing exercise from the coast, in Mumbai and Thane. Along with two doctoral students, Alia A and Yashodhan G, I am travelling with the second and third teams which have begun a westward journey from Nagpur district, roughly 850 kms east of Mumbai, by jeep.

As with the first wave of our longitudinal study[1] in 2010, the start of the second wave has been marked with the sombre news of a high casualty attack involving Maoist rebels. This time, 12 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed in an IED explosion in the neighbouring district of Gadchiroli. Initial reports suggest that 25kgs of explosive had been buried in the middle of the road, and detonated by a solitary person from less than 70 feet away. The explosion left behind a crater 6 feet deep and 15 feet wide. The CRPF men were travelling in a mini-van type vehicle, with no additional protection, and so stood no chance of survival. Discontent and grievances in these isolated tribal areas continue to be extreme, but recent government efforts pushing for inclusion have also met resistance. The union rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, was in the area to promote tribal rights over selling bamboo, something which is currently controlled by the Forest Department. Tribals from Mendha-Lekha, a near-by village have recently become the first in India to officially be given the right to sell bamboo harvested from the surrounding forest areas. At the same time however, the villagers continue their closeness with the Maoist rebels – local police had noticed villagers had stopped using the roads in the days leading up to the blast.

The urban and peri-urban areas which our study focuses on are prone to low-intensity violence and crime. We are using GPS aided-GIS (open source Quantum GIS) to locate households and are collecting survey data on Androidtouch-screen tablets. We are using an open source mobile data capture platform called Open Data Kit, which had seed funding from Google and is now being developed by PhD students at the University of Washington.[2] Programming our questionnaires onto the tablets, localising the text into Marathi and Hindi, training the enumeration team, and building in protocols to safeguard respondents, researchers and the data from any harm has taken a huge amount of effort. But now that we’re able to start working on the data literally minutes after our enumerators leave the respondent household, is extremely exciting. For one, data cleaning can be done in real-time, and any mistakes corrected at source. Plus, we’re not carrying around stacks of paper questionnaires in our already over packed jeeps. Most importantly for our panel study however, we can also monitor attrition rates precisely.

An example from yesterday: we used GIS information from our last round to locate the exact house in which our survey was conducted (last time we randomly selected neighbourhoods, then randomly selected households within those neighbourhoods). When our enumerator starts a survey call at a house, she confirms the same family name at the address as last time. But as the data from her tablet is downloaded onto my laptop, I can compare ages and relationships to see that the current occupants are in fact members of the younger brother’s family, while the older brother has moved out with his wife and children. This changes how we interpret this household’s vulnerabilities and decisions. I can now include this household, trace the older brother’s household or replace it with a completely new household. Having real-time feedback such as this vastly improves our decisions in the field and can make tracing much more precise and cost effective. I can also see that the quantities of lentils, ghee, fruit and meat consumed or the numbers of goats or buffalo owned seem abnormal in certain households – I can see who the enumerators for those particular households are, and immediately ask them to confirm. In most cases they remember the exact details from the interview so can confirm if that was a indeed a typo, and any discrepancies can be smoothed out. In case there is still doubt, re-visiting the household is a ready option since we’re still at the site!

In some survey sites, we are seeing vast differences since we last visited them two years ago. In Mumbai, we seem to be racing against the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, who are clearing some of our survey sites for in-situ redevelopment. Slum dwellers are being given compensation to rent elsewhere while the original sites are being developed into formal/legal buildings.[3]  These families are almost impossible to trace. If we are lucky, we find that they have constructed a shack across the road or are staying on illegally to have continued access to their original sources of livelihood or access to local clinics where they have built a familiarity with the doctors. If they have moved elsewhere, even within the city, tracing them implies a huge cost and provides little added value to a neighbourhood based study.

While the enumerators are conducting their calls, it gives me a chance to briefly interact with some of the neighbourhood residents (some remember me from last time, so the conversation can last longer), take notes on the spatial layout, and to make any corrections to our maps. Here in Yavatmal district I noticed brand new high-tension electricity wires installed over one of our survey sites. Casual chit-chat at a local drinks stall reveals excitement that such development has come to the area. But, as one boy explains, the high-tension wires make it harder to splice on illegal connections, so they have to find other means of getting by – interestingly, from the data that’s already on my laptop, I can see on average the site receives electricity for 18 hours a day, which is about the same as two years ago. But there are a few households in our sample who now report less than 6 hours of electricity, while one is not connected to electricity at all. More detailed analysis might reveal patterns of who is cut-out when service provision is formalised, and whether such formalisation can reinforce segregation. In another district, two of our sites were severely affected by arson, in one almost all the shacks were burned, while in the other, the residents managed to control the blaze to small section. Again, we are hoping our panel study can reveal in more detail how this has impacted our sample, and how households cope with such shocks.

We still have a long way to go – just under forty more sites to survey. We are fortunate to have a very dedicated research team to work with, so I am hoping to report the successful completion of the data collection exercise by mid-April!

[1] With Patricia Justino and Jean-Pierre Tranchant. Funded by the European Commission ( and the DFID-ESRC (“Agency and Governance in Contexts of Civil Conflict”

[2] Recently, the Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) program at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) (supported with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) used ODK to significantly shorten the feedback loop from data collection to course-correction, allowing them to identify challenges with real-time data and address issues at a rapid pace –

[3] I have written elsewhere about the pros and cons of such redevelopment – Gupte, Jaideep. 2010. Security Provision in Slum Re-Settlement Schemes in Mumbai: A Case Study of the Lallubhai Compound Settlement, Mankhurd. Mumbai Reader 09 (1): 263-279.

Violent Conflict and Incomplete Control

This blog was first posted on 1 July 2011 by Lawrence Haddad, IDS Director, on his Development Horizons blog and reproduced here with his kind permission.

In June I spent the day at a conference hosted by IDS on the Micro Analysis of Violent Conflict, organised by an EC supported research consortium, MICROCON.

 The Director of MICROCON, IDS Fellow Patricia Justino, kicked things off by pointing out that the starting point in 2006 was that (a) most work on violence and conflict is at the state level, (b) we knew very little about the impacts of conflict and violence on ordinary people and (c) very little about how people can and cannot “navigate” (a term introduced by Philip Verwimp, one of the co-Directors of MICROCON) their ways through it–ways, which if uncovered, will provide important clues and cues to policy formulation in this area.

Some reflections

  1. MICROCON has made a very conscious effort to collect data, sharing it as widely as possible. As Chris Cramer, one of the participants, said, if truth is the first casualty of war then evidence is one of the key battlegrounds–in other words, data can help shed light on dynamic, chaotic and uncertain contexts. Tilman Bruck (DIW in Germany) and Gary Milante (World Bank and an author of the latest WDR) spoke about how we can be more systematic about collecting data in conflict areas, using panels and more standard definitions of key variables.
  2. The people focus is simple, but powerful. It helps delve into the household (do conflict and violence affect intrahousehold power dynamics in predictable ways? Do regular empirical observations –e.g. greater resources in the hands of women empowers them–hold when conflict is the shock?). It also helps us understand how institutions (in terms of norms, rules of the game and organisations) can lead to and be born from violent conflict (e.g. the importance of restoring health and education services—even if not focused on the poorest–is a way of signalling that normality is returning and hope invested in a peaceful solution is less likely to be squandered).
  3. Incomplete control. We heard about Stathis Kalyvas’ incomplete control hypothesis of when political actors use violence. When they have complete control (hence the Clash picture) they don’t need to use violence and when they have no control violence is counterproductive as they have no information to make the violence selective.
  4. Conflict can turn things upside down. Like in some parallel universe, university degrees are good things in peacetime but in conflict they can be a signal to help target elites.
  5. Policy priorities. We heard from the policy-oriented participants how difficult it is to prioritise and sequence interventions in conflict affected and post-conflict settings, because everything seems to need addressing. The conclusion seemed to be “it’s almost more important to prioritise something than what is that is prioritised”. In the nutrition area, I highlighted how the presence of violence and conflict (and their apparently unpredictable distribution of impacts) made it even more important to protect the first 1000 days of an infants life, regardless of whether they are malnourished or not.

This is an exciting area. While I suspect the “impact of conflict” evidence is well on its way to being filled, the gap that is now yawning is the “impact of conflict prevention and mitigation interventions”. That would build on the work of MICROCON version 1 and would be a good focus for MICROCON version 2.

Feminist Curiosity: Taking a critical view of wars and violence


Posted by Colette Harris

Cynthia Enloe, that superb analyst of gender and international conflict, constantly reminds us of the importance of using a feminist curiosity. She defines this as a kind of curiosity that refuses to be lazy about the uncritical acceptance of ‘naturalised’ expressions – ‘peace activists’, ‘child soldiers’, or ‘occupation authorities’, for instance – and instead insists on taking them to pieces to examine how they work. By this she means examining the work they do in concealing hegemonic power relations.

I use hegemonic here in the Gramscian sense of naturalised and thus concealed power in the form of ideology created by elites for the very purpose of preventing the rest of us from even having this kind of curiosity in the first place, let alone doing anything with it. A feminist curiosity then can be interpreted as one that takes women’s lives seriously, not because women merit greater attention than men but rather because the significant amount of political manoeuvring that goes on to make them seem unimportant suggests something crucial is being concealed here that we need to examine in order to understand the functioning of politics more generally. [1]

A feminist curiosity can further be of use in examining and unpacking the power system enshrined in that political category termed ‘gender’, in which male/female symbolises an intrinsic relationship of inequality. Here, I want to move the discussion beyond personal relationships to the issue of masculinism – that is, to a way of doing/thinking/conceptualising/articulating infused with an outlook resulting from a hegemonic view of the world deriving from privileging traits associated with middle-class white masculinity, while those associated with femininity are correspondingly devalued.

 Commonly associated traits include:

Masculine = strong, prudent, responsible, objective, and willing to fight, rational and a strategic, global thinker

Feminine = weak, emotional, irrational, passive, nurturing, needing protection from violence, localised thinking, limited to domestic horizons

In this way masculinism supports multiple hierarchisations of human society – including racism as well as sexism. [2]
Indeed, masculinism has long been used to devalue men of the global south, portrayed as effeminate or hypermasculine, both negative terms used in comparison with the ideal white middle-class European male, as well as lower-class white men. [3]

It has further been shown that masculinist language is routinely used by those encouraging involvement in violence. This ranges from Carol Cohn’s [4] and Myriam Miedzian‘s [5] studies of rhetoric used at the top levels of the US government including by presidents, to my own studies of men on the ground being incited to participate in violence in African and Asian wars.

Masculinism is further intrinsically involved in the language of militarism, with phrases that practically cry out for dissection, such as ‘collateral damage’, ‘friendly fire’ and ‘failed states’. Thus, the effects of the binary divisions discussed above go far beyond the meanings ascribed to male and female bodies and the resulting power inequalities, to the way gender ‘functions as a symbolic system: our ideas about gender permeate and shape our ideas about … politics, weapons, and warfare’.

The work of Enloe, Cohn and many others shows us the importance of exercising our own curiosity as we watch on our television sets, read in our newspapers or listen on the wireless to accounts by journalists, politicians and analysts presenting issues around violent conflict. We need to apply such curiosity to documentaries such as John Pilger’s latest (The war you don’t see [6]) in which he interviews the heads of the BBC and ITV news services, as well as well-known print journalists, about why they had not been more curious about the stories governments were telling them about their reasons for invading Iraq.

We need to apply our curiosity in fact to every war story we hear and similarly ask why it is being reported in this way, who benefits from its being reported like this, whether it matters if we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked and how we can prevent this.

One way we can do this is to cultivate tools for applying our feminist curiosity through studying the works of the above authors and others who apply a similar curiosity to their own political analyses. We need to understand that not only is it important to be critical about what is said but also about the very criteria selected for analysis. True curiosity will find us burrowing deep beneath the surface to tease out the links that have been obscured perhaps deliberately in order to prevent our understanding them.

Many of Enloe’s lectures are available on Youtube. I particularly recommend her ‘Women and Men in the Iraq War: What Can Feminist Curiosity Reveal?’ even for those of you not from the United States as it tells us so much we hadn’t even thought of about militarism and the costs of war both in human and economic terms. While on the surface Enloe mainly focuses on women, careful listening will reveal the fact that what she is actually doing is to pull apart the platitudes that hide from us what the politicians and other elites don’t want us to know about the mechanisms by which they deliberately manipulate the public into supporting their wars, while quietly ensuring the costs are born by individuals and their families.

Other videos available on YouTube and elsewhere help us cultivate if not a feminist curiosity then at least a highly critical political one. The documentaries of Adam Curtis and John Pilger, the lectures of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, all of these help us cultivate our curiosity in useful directions that can help us understand more about the militarism and war culture in which our nations and with them we ourselves are embedded.

Cynthia Enloe (2004) The curious feminist, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

 Cynthia Enloe (2007) Globalization and militarism: feminists make the link, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield

Kimberly Hutchings (2008) Cognitive short cuts, in Jane Parpart and Marysia Zalewski (eds), Rethinking the Man Question: Sex, Gender and Violence in International Relations, London: Zed, 23-46.

Charlotte Hooper (1998) Masculinist Practices and Gender Politics: The Operation of Multiple Masculinities in International Relations, in Marysia Zalewski and Jane Parpart (eds), The “Man“ Question in International Relations, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 28-53.

Mrinalini Sinha (1997) Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishman’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali‘ in the late nineteenth century, New Delhi: Kali for Women.

E.g. Carol Cohn (1993),Wars, Wimps, and Women: Talking gender and thinking war, in Gendering War Talk, Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott (editors) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993, pp. 225-246.

Myriam Miedzian (1992) Boys will be boys: breaking the link between masculinity and violence, London: Virago.

Broadcast in the UK on ITV1 on 14th December 2010, it is now available in segments at: Pilger’s The invisible government is also well worth watching

Conflict Traps: How does poverty cause war, and how does war cause poverty?

Posted by Patricia Justino

This year’s World Development Report, published a couple of weeks ago, emphasises the fact that one of the biggest drivers of poverty in the developing world is violent conflict. One of the biggest risks for developing countries, it argues, is that of being caught in a conflict trap – a vicious circle whereby poverty stokes conflict, and conflict in turn increases poverty.

Over the past few years, one of MICROCON’s main aims has been to unpack the interaction between poverty and conflict at the micro-level, in order to uncover the role of dynamic local processes in the outbreak and duration of civil wars, and the impact of armed conflicts on the livelihoods of individuals and households affected by violence.

I would like to use this blog post to briefly summarise some of our main findings about the main channels that link poverty and conflict, as well as the findings from a related research network, the Households in Conflict Network.

I will start with the impacts of war on poverty. Research to date tells us this impact operates through several channels. The first two of these are ‘physical capital’ and ‘human capital’. Physical capital refers mainly to assets such as houses, land, labour, cattle and other productive assets. These are often destroyed or looted during wars, which deprives households of important sources of livelihood, although other households may benefit from looting and the redistribution of assets.

Human capital refers to the characteristics of households which allow them to perform labour and so to earn a living. Such capital can be lost through the deaths of, and injuries to, household members, as well as through psychological trauma, malnutrition and the denial of education. Such losses can severely impair households’ earning ability.

The nature and extent of the impact of these types of war-induced shocks is determined to a large extent by the way in which different individuals and households respond to war-induced shocks. There is currently little understanding about how war-time and post-war coping strategies differ, but it seems clear that people adopt a complex set of strategies such as diversification of land holdings and crop cultivation, storage of grain, resorting to sales of assets, and migration – and such strategies may also include fighting, looting, support for armed groups and participation in illegal activities.

One of the most under-researched areas in looking at the impact of war on poverty is that of institutional change. Institutional change can have a considerable impact on the level and dynamics of poverty in wartime, because they affect the nature, organisation and use of violence in civil wars. Two areas of institutional change remain particularly under-researched.

First, is the way in which war changes social cohesion and norms of cooperation. The impact of these changes on individual and household poverty levels and dynamics can be significant because these changes affect people’s ability to rely on community relations in times of difficulty, including accessing particular employment or credit arrangements. These effects are largely determined by changes in household composition and the displacement and migration of households to safer areas. They are also caused by the dynamics of the conflict itself, such as people denouncing each other, different groups turning against each other and changes in levels of trust.

Conversely, some studies have found that there can be some positive effects of exposure to violence, especially through increased political participation of those affected. However, evidence on both positive and negative effects is still scarce, and there is a need for more studies that combine in-depth social analysis with larger quantitative studies.

Second, is the effect of war on political institutions and local governance. These effects are likely to be important in contexts of civil war because during such wars property rights are insecure and often cannot be enforced because the state has lost the monopoly of violence and the rule of law does not operate.

There is also likely to be profound institutional transformation during violent conflict. The type of institutions that emerge during violent conflict determines the access of households to education opportunities, to buy land and other assets, to borrow funds and invest them in productive activities and to have a voice in socio-political decisions in their communities.

The reverse chain of causation – from poverty to war – has been the subject of a significant body of work over the past decade. An influential body of cross-national empirical work has yielded some important findings, most famously that civil wars are more likely to take place in poor countries. However, the cross-country work gives us only limited accounts of the mechanisms through which low incomes amongst a large portion of society affect the outbreak of civil war.

Why would those living under precarious economic conditions participate in and support civil wars? Traditional political science literature attributes participation in violence to the presence of material incentives, and many studies have supported this view. A related view has also been supported, that it may be too costly for people not to participate, due for instance to the danger of being associated with the other side of the conflict.

In addition, many other studies have shown that many people may become soldiers for less directly material reasons, from misery and a lack of voice, to a whole range of socio-emotional motivations such as grief, anger, pride in participation, or to gain a new sense of hope and dignity.

Literature on the role of poverty in collective mobilisation is contradictory, with some emphasising the role of ‘greed’ in mobilisation, whilst others present evidence for the role of inequalities and grievances conceptualised in a variety of ways. How can we account for these seemingly contradictory findings? While poverty, inequality, social exclusion, discrimination and other sources of grievances exist in most societies, only a handful of countries have experienced civil wars because not all countries have in place appropriate structures and institutions that allow the translation of grievances into acts of violence and rebellion.

In addition, armed conflict cannot be sustained without material and financial support. Therefore, poverty per se is unlikely to be a sufficient condition to trigger civil war, but may be instrumental to the organisation of collective violence when other conditions are in place.

In spite of considerable progress in our understanding of the channels linking poverty and war over the past decade, our knowledge is still quite limited. It is vital that progress continues to be made towards better estimation of the effects of civil wars on individual and household poverty levels and dynamics, and more systematic theorisation of channels whereby warfare affects poverty. This will contribute towards more realistic post-conflict social policies to reduce poverty and increase economic resilience amongst those living with violence. It will also have important implications for the sustainability of peace as protection strategies adopted by individuals and households in conflict areas have a considerable impact on the organisation and duration of warfare.

You can find a more detailed analysis of these issues in my MICROCON paper ‘War and Poverty’.