Research event

Civil War & the Politics of Difference

Samuel Ritholtz, lecturer at Somerville College and DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford's Refugee Studies Centre, presents his research on "Civil War & the Politics of Difference". This event is part of the International Security Research Colloquium hosted by the Centre for International Security.

During the Colombian civil war, civilians associated with marginal identities became collectively targeted by paramilitary groups throughout the country. Through these ‘social cleansing’ campaigns, paramilitaries would publicly threaten LGBT people, the houseless, the neurologically diverse, the drug dependent, wayward youth, and sex workers with the goal of removing them from a given territory. Those who refused to leave were killed. In this paper, I ask why certain subaltern groups with no clear or obvious allegiance become targeted by armed actors during civil war—often in extraordinarily brutal ways that run counter to strategic benefit— and I seek to explain variation in their collective targeting. Through an analysis of violence data, court documents, historical archives, and newspaper coverage, I argue that paramilitaries target social minorities during attempts to transform the social environment of a contested territory for both ideological and strategic reasons. Violence against social minorities facilitates this transformation through what I refer to as ‘the social process of abjection’, or the production of a stigma that comes from being the target of violence— especially excessive, or extra-lethal, violence. In analyzing the patterns of violence against social difference throughout the country, I find that the perceived legitimacy of the armed actors’ actions has an effect on what forms of violence they use, impacting variation.


Samuel Ritholtz

  • Samuel Ritholtz is a Retaining-Fee Lecturer at Somerville College and a DPhil Candidate at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Their dissertation focuses on the selective victimization of marginalized populations during civil war with a particular focus on violence against LGBTIQ+ people during the Colombian internal armed conflict. Sam’s work considers the roles of marginality, cruelty, and spectacle in wartime social control strategies.