Ordinary People, Extraordinary Risks


Güneş Murat Tezcür, Ph.D., the Jalal Talabani Endowed Chair of Kurdish Political Studies in the UCF Department of Political Science, recently published an innovative article in the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association.

Under what conditions does an individual willingly risk his or her life for a political cause? Dr. Tezcür explains that this question is central to global peace and security in contemporary times characterized by ongoing civil wars and the rise of extremist movements.

He addresses the question by focusing on the Kurdish insurgency in an article published in the May 2016 issue of American Political Science Review titled ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Risks: Participation in an Ethnic Rebellion.’

The article is based on one of the most comprehensive datasets about a violent insurgency containing biographical information of more than 8,200 militants. It took Dr. Tezcür more than seven years to build this dataset.

Dr. Tezcür tests a series of hypotheses based on selfish and non-selfish motivations. He employs advanced statistical techniques such as Random Coefficient models and spatial visualization. He also draws insights from extensive interviews he conducted with the families of militants to understand the factors contributing to their decision to join an armed rebellion at great personal cost.

“I grew up in a country where many young people leave everything behind and decide to take arms against the state with awareness that they would die at a very early age. I wanted to make sense of their motivations,” Dr. Tezcür said when asked about his own motivation to research the topic.

In the article Dr. Tezcür explains that for some individuals, joining the insurgency offers the opportunity for social mobility. For others, it is a way to seek security or revenge in the face of state repression. In other cases, family loyalties and commitments play decisive roles.

One of the most interesting findings of the article concerns the motivations of politically efficacious recruits who lack a history of political violence, have high levels of economic endowments, and do not come from politicized families. Dr. Tezcür builds on prospect theory to argue that these individuals develop collective threat perceptions during their non-violent political activities.

This finding has three significant implications. First, it highlights the role of ideological framing by political organizations in shaping the decision to fight in addition to sociological and economic factors. Next, it explains the durability of insurgencies with limited resources and their ability to motivate their fighters. Finally, it provides clues about the motivations of foreign fighters with relatively high endowments who travel abroad to fight on behalf of extremist movements.

Read Dr. Tezcür’s article here.

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