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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Risks: Participation in an Ethnic Rebellion



Why do ordinary people take extraordinary risks and join an ethnic armed rebellion? This article tests a series of well-established hypotheses about selfish and identity based motivations and a new hypothesis based on prospect theory. It then employs a unique multimethod research strategy combining one of the most comprehensive datasets on insurgent recruitment that contains biographical information about 8,266 Kurdish militants with extensive fieldwork involving in-depth interviews with relatives of the militants to test these hypotheses. The findings show the decision to rebel is as much political as economic and social. While security concerns and expectations of benefits affect the decision to rebel, social commitments, identities radicalized by state repression, and collective threat perceptions among efficacious individuals generated by political mobilization, rather than preexisting ethnic cleavages, also lead to participation in an ethnic insurgency. The latter findings explain the durability of insurgencies with limited economic resources and their ability to attract educated fighters.


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Güneş Murat Tezcür is Jalal Talabani Chair of Kurdish Political Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida (;


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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Risks: Participation in an Ethnic Rebellion



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