Summary: This entry, which contains slightly less than 1500 words, defines political violence, explores its rise as an academic field of study and discusses contemporary criticisms of this scholarly work as well as theoretical alternatives.
Political violence is very simply using physical violence for political gain. It is both a subject of inquiry and an indicator of conflict. The term political violence is used broadly and can include such actions as riots, assassinations, terrorism, coups d'etat, peasant wars, rebellions, civil wars and revolutionary warfare.
Political violence did not become a bona fide area of academic inquiry until the 1960s. At that time, however, new theoretical arguments emerged, cross-national analysis based on aggregate data became possible, and there was a heightened sensitivity to rising third world insurgency and increasingly violent protest in western societies. This combination of factors gave birth to political violence as a field of social scientific study, and the entry concisely details each of them.
One of the most strident criticisms of research in this field is the argument that political violence is too diverse for general explanations and must instead be broken down into subparts and studied separately. Three new issue areas are emerging in the field of political violence. First is inquiry about the effect of political violence on public policy. A second issue is political violence by governments, usually referred to as coercion or repression. Finally, there is growing acknowledgement that the international political context plays a significant role in internal political violence.