Comparative Politics

Civil Wars as Critical Junctures: Theoretical Grounding and Empirical Applications


  • Kai Thaler University of California, Santa Barbara


Civil wars are not only destructive: they can also give birth to new, long-lasting social, political, and economic structures and processes. I argue that we should in fact view civil wars as critical junctures. Civil wars relax structural constraints, opening opportunities for changes generated by wartime processes, while war's end can lock in these changes, creating path dependency. Government victory may foreclose change (critical junctures do not necessarily lead to transformation), but governments can also make lasting reforms in response to conflicts. Rebel victory has major potential for statebuilding and societal transformation, while negotiated settlements can institutionalize a new balance of domestic political power. I illustrate the benefits of a critical junctures approach to civil wars in the literature on wartime and postwar women’s empowerment, and I discuss how a critical junctures framework may prove useful for civil war studies employing methods beyond comparative historical analysis.


Thumbnail image of Thaler-Civil Wars as Critical Junctures APSA 2022.pdf


Log in or register with APSA to comment
Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting and Discussion Policy [opens in a new tab] – please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .