Framing and Contesting a Revolution: Identity Construction, Gender, and Rebel Group Cohesion in Colombia

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Schmidt, Rachel Anne




The literature on rebel group cohesion and desertion from armed groups offers a variety of explanations for patterns of disengagement from armed violence, including government pressure, in-group violence, disillusionment in the group's cause, networks, and trauma. But most of the disengagement literature focuses on men who have deserted their groups, with much less information on those who stay until ordered to disarm—and almost no analysis on women who disarm. The lack of comparative analysis between deserters and loyalists limits what we understand or can predict about rebel group cohesion. In addition, this literature has failed to adequately explore the role of gender norms, even though hyper-masculinity, narratives of brotherhood, and feminization of the enemy are well-established mechanisms for increasing troop cohesion in militaristic groups. Based on over 100 in-depth interviews with former guerrillas and paramilitaries in Colombia, this dissertation argues that framing contests and related identity constructions are critical in insurgencies and civil war, and that the outcome of these contests influences individual decisions to disengage from violence and the experiences of ex-combatants after demobilization. Second, I argue that how these competing frames operationalize gender norms influences not only troop cohesion but also the way combatants calculate their investments in the group and possible alternatives. As a result, even recruits that are not fully committed may stay for lack of alternatives. Conversely, recruits may desert their group only to face the stigmatizing consequences of government narratives in civilian life. This study examines what variables produce these outcomes, emphasizing the role of framing contests and arguing that ignoring gender in rebel group cohesion has left a significant gap in our understanding of both desertion and post-conflict reintegration.


International Law and Relations
Political Science




Carleton University

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International Affairs

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Theses and Dissertations

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