Why targets matter: Toward a more inclusive model of collective violence

Andrew W. Martin, John D. McCarthy, Clark McPhail

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Efforts to develop a unified model of collective violence have been limited by the diverse array of events analyzed, from terrorist attacks to riots. This article seeks to develop a more inclusive theoretical and analytic framework by exploring the targets of violence, something that has received little disaggregated attention. We argue that consideration of who or what is targeted during the course of an event, together with collectivity size and the conditional role it may play, offers new theoretical insight into collective violence dynamics. Our analysis draws from newspaper records on a diverse range of collectivities, from parties to rallies to riots. We find that in many contexts, collectivity size increases the likelihood of violence against some targets, notably state actors, while reducing attacks on others. These findings provide the basis for a broader discussion of why unpacking targets is so critical to understanding the dynamics of collective violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)821-841
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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