Criminal conflict as collective punishment

Keisuke Nakao, Sun-Ki Chai


Political conflicts have been extensively studied by political scientists, but criminal conflicts have received much less attention, especially by theorists in the field. Focusing on the latter type of conflict, we address why an individual crime across an ethnic or tribal border can lead to large-scale violence. Building on rational choice theory, we present three hypothetical mechanisms which may account for criminal conflicts: (1) Avengers penalize suspects in the culprit's social group because they cannot identify the culprit; (2) avengers inflict vicarious punishment because such punishment can be more severe for the culprit than a penalty on the culprit himself; (3) by demanding collective responsibilities, avengers urge the target group to police itself and to suppress deviant behavior against outsiders. Drawing on historical incidents and recent case studies, our third mechanism appears the most compelling.

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