War Economies


International Workshop co-organized by
the School of Historical Studies and the School of Social Science

Institute for Advanced Study, 3-4 June 2016

Organizers: Nicola Di Cosmo, Didier Fassin and Clémence Pinaud

The relationships between warfare and economy are complex and multifaceted. On the one hand, conducting war necessitates human, material and immaterial resources. It induces the production of weaponry, intelligence, communication, technologies, infrastructures and institutions. On the other hand, war-making leads to displacement of populations, subservience of the vanquished, plunder of local communities and devastation of entire territories. It represents a high cost in human lives and capabilities as well as destruction of natural resources and loss of fiscal revenues. In other words, from an economic perspective, warfare is both productive and destructive, generative and predatory.

From Charles Tilly to Andreas Wimmer, social scientists have analyzed the major role wars have played in the historical processes of nation building and state formation, particularly in modern Europe. In parallel, the phenomenon of warlordism has called the attention of historians working in pre-modern China as well as of political scientists studying contemporary Africa on non-state actors. The recent turn to the more specifically economic dimensions of warfare has led to inquiries into the control of critical resources, the development of organized crime and the implications for the local populations. But this interest in the economies of warfare among social scientists in the past decade cannot be isolated from the concomitant anxieties of contemporary societies regarding terrorist groups and quasi-state agents, such as Al-Qaeda, Daech, Boko Haram, and others, which have raised considerable war chest to develop their activities.

The international workshop convened at the Institute for Advanced Study by the School of Historical Studies and the School of Social Science focuses on non-state war economies. However, it will question the distinction between non-state and state actors, exploring their dangerous liaisons and the way in which the former alternately divert or use the resources of the state and the latter profit from the criminal and predatory activities of warlords and mafias. Besides, it does not take for granted the notion of warfare, considering that the delimitation between war and non-war is itself problematic, that there are continuities in social networks between prewar patronage and crime, war domination and predation, and postwar clientelism and corruption. Furthermore, the analysis of the economic dimensions of war is not restricted to the local actors and includes outside players, be they imperial powers, international peacekeepers or humanitarian agents. Finally, the experience of people living in war zones and the links between warfare and warfare are examined. These topics are addressed by historians, anthropologists, economists and political scientists.


Workshop Participants

Jonathan Benthall (University College London)

William Caferro (Vanderbilt University)

Christopher Cramer (University of London)

Nicola Di Cosmo (Institute for Advanced Study)

Didier Fassin (Institute for Advanced Study)

Ana María Ibáñez Londoño (University Los Andes, Bogotá)

Philippe Le Billon (University of British Columbia)

Catherine Lutz (Brown University)

Zachariah Mampilly (Vassar College)

Edward McCord (George Washington University)

Carolyn Nordstrom (University of Notre Dame)

Clémence Pinaud (Indiana University)

William Reno (Northwestern University)


Program, Abstracts, and Papers