This paper presents a theory of civilian resistance against armed groups’ rule. It argues that rebel or paramilitary governance limited to the spheres of public order and tax collection tends to trigger only partial resistance—that is, opposition to some aspects of rule, without demanding its removal.
However, when rebel governance expands beyond public order and taxation, the response of local civilians depends on the quality of the local institutions in place prior to the arrival of the armed group to the area. Communities with high-quality institutions are more likely to engage in full resistance—that is, they oppose the group’s rule altogether, while communities with low-quality institutions are likely to engage in partial resistance only. Original evidence from the Colombian armed conflict illustrates the plausibility of this argument.
The presence of resistance does not imply, of course, that it is always successful in securing autonomy or reducing victimization in the community. The internal organisation of the armed group, competition with other organisations, and the strategic value of the territory are also likely to shape armed groups’ willingness to tolerate demands for autonomy.