Johanna Söderström is a researcher at the Department of Government at Uppsala University. Söderström has written on ex-combatants, political behavior and attitudes, DDR design, and issues related to democratization in post-conflict countries. for more information, see https://soderstromblog.wordpress.com/
Skills and Expertise
Sep 2017 - Jun 2018
The Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences
- Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW)
- Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands
- EURIAS junior research fellow
Jan 2017 - Jun 2018
Department of Comparative Politics
- University of Bergen
- Bergen, Hordaland, Norway
- Professor (Associate)
Jan 2012 - Dec 2013
the Nordic Africa Institute
- Uppsala, Sweden
- post-doctoral researcher
Research Items (25)
- Jan 2019
The article argues for the utility of life diagrams as a methodological and analytical tool across various life history projects. Using research on post-war political mobilization among former combatants (in Colombia, Namibia and the United States), the article demonstrates how a life diagram can modify the interview and become a useful analytical tool. During the interview the diagram helps both the research participant and the interviewer to compare different events, weigh various experiences, and ensure that all periods of the life are covered even if the interview is not done chronologically. During the analysis, the diagram offers a contrast with the transcript of the interview, and the shape of the life diagram can be compared across interviews in search of similar types. This visual turn can help address issues of empowerment, through promoting the research participants’ own interpretation of their lives.
Project - Ex-Combatants and Veterans Coming Home
A first presentation of the full book manuscript was presented at NIAS on Feb 15th 2018.
- Jan 2018
After armed conflict, there is often a surge in programmes designed to consolidate the peace. During the transition to peace, the quality of programme management has been argued to shape public perceptions about government and citizenship. What aspects of programme management are most important? What implementation failures have the greatest negative effects? We study these questions in the context of a reintegration programme for former combatants in Colombia. We find evidence that programme implementation has strong impacts on participant satisfaction, regardless of programme outcomes. This suggests that how benefits are delivered matters as much as what is delivered.
- Dec 2017
The literature on electoral violence has focused on its causes as well as its scope, ignoring the implications for citizens trying to practice their political citizenship. Informed citizens are a central part of a functioning democracy. The emotive response to violence may play an important role here. This article contributes to a deeper understanding of how the voter responds to violence. Recent work on the role of emotions in politics has demonstrated its positive role for cognition, as fear can increase the individual’s propensity to amass information and reevaluate attitudes and behavior. This is tested in a hitherto unexamined context, namely, Sub-Saharan Africa, using the Afrobarometer survey (20 different countries). In general, political fear is a significant predictor of political knowledge, but in the opposite direction compared to the hypothesis. The affective intelligence hypothesis only receives partial support using this data, namely, in countries with high levels of political violence.
Project - Ex-Combatants and Veterans Coming Home
I presented an early draft of a chapter for the book at a conference organized by the Folke Bernadotte Academy.
Project - Ex-Combatants and Veterans Coming Home
Paper presented at “The Making of Peace, Conflict and Security Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion”, the 6th Bi-annual Peace and Conflict Studies in Anthropology meeting (PACSA),
28-30 August 2017, Amsterdam. The paper was part of Panel 4 “The making of war veterans: Analyzing the construction of a (post)war category.”
- Jul 2016
Political parties with an armed history are not unusual, yet how these groups function in politics after the transition has largely been ignored. This special issue examines armed groups in party politics, using single and comparative case studies. The introduction forwards five recommendations for future research: (1) We need to see more comparisons across taken for granted boundaries; (2) the consequences for democracy should figure more prominently in our analysis of armed groups; (3) think more critically about standards and conceptual tools; (4) critically examine the interaction between levels of analysis; and (5) methodological pluralism would enrich the field.
Armed groups often transform into political parties, which involves a profound transformation of the organizational culture. How these parties condition the continued political mobilization of their members is unclear. Using life history interviews with former combatants of the armed group M19 in Colombia, this article demonstrates what aspects of the party mobilize and stymie their political mobilization. Through exploring three typical political life paths – the Resilient, the Remobilized and the Removed – this article demonstrates the long-term challenges of post-war politics, the role of the party, as well as the personal journey from (war and) peace to democracy.
- Jan 2015
The book examines how ex-combatants in post-war and peacebuilding settings engage in politics, as seen in the case of Liberia. The political mobilization of former combatants after war is often perceived as a threat, ultimately undermining the security and stability of the state. This book questions this simplified view and argues that understanding the political voice of former combatants is imperative. Their post-war role is not black and white: they are not just bad or good citizens, but rather engage in multiple political roles: spoilers, victims, disengaged, beneficiaries, as well as motivated and active citizens. By looking at the political attitudes and values of former combatants, and their understanding of how politics functions, the book sheds new light on the political reintegration of ex-combatants. It argues that political reintegration needs to be given serious attention at the micro-level, but also needs to be scrutinized in two ways: first, through the level of political involvement, which reflects the extent and width of the ex-combatants’ voice. Second, in order to make sense of political reintegration, we also need to uncover what values and norms inform their political involvement. The content of their political voice is captured through a comparison with democratic ideals. Based on interviews with over 100 Liberian ex-combatants, the book highlights that their relationship with politics overall should be characterized as an expression of a 'politics of affection'. This book will be of much interest to students of peacebuilding, African politics, democratization, political sociology, conflict resolution and IR/Security Studies in general.
- Jan 2014
This book takes a closer look at the role and meaning of political opposition for the development of democracy across sub-Saharan Africa. Why is room for political opposition in most cases so severely limited? Under what circumstances has the political opposition been able to establish itself in a legitimate role in African politics? To answer these questions this edited volume focuses on the institutional settings, the nature and dynamics within and between political parties, and the relationship between the citizens and political parties. It is found that regional devolution and federalist structures enable political opposition to organize and gain local power, as a supplement to influence at the central level. Generally, however, opposition parties are lacking in organization and institutionalization, as well as in their ability to find support in civil society and promote the issues that voters find most important. Overall, strong executive powers, unchecked by democratic institutions, in combination with deferential values and fear of conflict, undermine legitimate opposition activity. This book was originally published as a special issue of Democratization, but includes an extended introduction and one additional chapter.
Question - Is anyone working on representation of political parties versus rebel movements (during and after rebellion)?
In fact we just had a panel on this in Helsinki, together with another collegue of mine, Gyda Marås Sindre (in Bergen), called Rebels in Power. My own work so far has dealt with Liberia and Colombia, and Gyda has worked with Partai Aceh and Fretilin (Timor Leste). We are just in the midst of planning a conference for next year, focusing on mobilization with regards to former armed groups and political parties. Let's talk more on this!
- Aug 2013
A precondition for sustainable peace and democracy is the acceptance of new ways of solving political problems without resorting to arms. Post-war elections are an important point for testing the legitimacy of the new regime, high-lighting the depth of micro-level support for democracy. In the case of Liberia, the most notable problem of the elections of 2005 related to the issue of legitimacy. The ex-combatants did not trust the results and felt abandoned after the elections. Such experiences stand in the way of further deepening democracy in Liberia and may offer the grounds for mobilising anew. Yet, it is only by repeated experiences with elections that a process of democratisation takes place. This article addresses how the second experience with elections has changed ex-combatants’ relation with democracy and experience of legitimacy, through re-interviewing a number of ex-combatants concerning their electoral experience from 2005 and 2011.
This article demonstrates how democracy and peace-building can interlink at the micro-level, as demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programmes feed into democratisation via their rarely studied political impact among individual ex-combatants. Using the reintegration experiences of ex-combatants in Liberia and the literature on policy feedback, this article demonstrates the varying impacts of current peace-building on the politics of ex-combatants, and develops a framework to analyse this relationship further in other cases. This theoretical framework offers a tool to grapple with and make sense of the politicalconsequences of DDR, thereby clarifying how reintegration programmes structure and condition the ex-combatants’ continued political voice. In particular, it is suggested that reintegration programmes influence the politics of ex-combatants either through resources obtained in the programmes,enabling access to politics in a different way, or through their institutional design andprocedural traits, offering cognitive cues that either emphasise democratic norms or promote conflict in politics at large.
Question - Unequal group sizes acceptable in qualitative research?
My sense is that having equal numbers of groups representing the various break characteristics, or segments, is not necessary. However, having simply one group for one of the segments is problematic. Differentiating between what is 'true' for the segment vs. what is only true for that particular group will be practically impossible, even if the contrast with the other segment, heritage, will give you some idea. I would be very careful using one group to describe a particular phenomenon, as you cannot claim theoretical saturation for instance.
A large component of peacebuilding efforts today are the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs that target ex-combatant populations, in an attempt to smooth the transition to civilian life and alleviate security risks in the transition phase. Research that today deals with the political aspect of reintegration has only done so in a rather limited and under-theorized fashion, and it is usually unclear why certain aspects have been chosen over others to represent political reintegration. I would argue that this limited conceptual understanding of what political (re)integration means has impaired research within this field. For instance, when political reintegration has been investigated there has not been a systematic identification and differentiation based on the level of analysis. This paper scrutinizes definitions of political reintegration both within the policy community and the academic community, clarifying what level of analysis is applied. Finally, this paper suggests that we need to explore political reintegration (at the micro level) in terms of two dimensions: the extent of ex-combatants’ political voice (i.e. political involvement) and the content of the ex-combatants’ political voice (i.e. democratic values and norms). Bringing conceptual clarification to the concept of political reintegration also helps us identify additional research agendas within this field. A more finished version of this argument and review can be found in chapter one, in my book Peacebuilding and Ex-Combatants (2015), Routledge.
This contribution uses focus groups to evaluate the extent to which ex-combatants in Liberia adhere to ideals of pluralism. Specifically, this involves their views on dissent or freedom of speech, as well as the role of the opposition in Liberia. How do they deal with criticism at an individual level as well as the level of the state? While the ex-combatants recognized the ideal of freedom of speech, and indeed linked that to their definition of democracy, they shun open criticism, largely because of a fear of conflict and violence. The political context of Liberia, does not, to them, appear stable enough to handle an open conflict of opinion.
- Jan 2011
Ex-combatants’ relationship with post-war politics is crucial for the continued democratization and peace processes, irrespective of what has shaped it: the war or their post-war experiences. In this thesis, the relationship with politics, after the end of the Liberian civil war (1989-2003) is explored among ex-combatants, following the research question: How do excombatants in Liberia think about politics and how do they engage in politics? Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programs are a large component of contemporary peacebuilding efforts that target ex-combatant populations. However, current research has failed to seriously examine the political consequences of these programs. Therefore, this thesis is also driven by an interest to explore whether the reintegration programs can shape the ex-combatants’ relationship with politics. Using focus group interviews with 101 excombatants in 18 different groups, with six different program experiences, as well as survey data from the Afrobarometer, these questions are examined using nested analyses, at both the group and individual level. Expanding on the concept of political reintegration, using the literature on democratic citizenship, this examination addresses the implicit democratic ideals that surround current DDR practices. In the case of ex-combatants in Liberia, their relationship with politics can be described using four dimensions: political involvement; tolerance of dissent; inclusion; and expressed antagonism. As a whole, the ex-combatants express a relation with politics indicative of a politics of affection, as their understanding of politics is often driven by a logic of emotion. Politics is filtered and understood through an emotive lens. Using a policy feedback framework, this thesis also shows how some reintegration programs can accentuate democratic ideals (e.g. participation and inclusion), while others emphasize more conflictual and antagonistic political practices, through their program design. Program procedures thereby provide cognitive cues, and provide an opportunity for political learning through an interpretive mechanism.
- Jan 2011
This special issue takes a closer look at the role and meaning of political opposition for the development of democracy across sub-Saharan Africa. Why is it that room for political opposition in most cases is severely limited? Under what circumstances has the political opposition been able to establish itself in a legitimate role in African politics? To answer these questions this special issue focuses on the institutional settings, the nature and dynamics within and between the political parties, and the relationship between the citizens and the political parties. It is found that regional devolution and federalist structures are areas where the political opposition can find room to organize and gain local power, as a supplement to influence at the central level. Important factors behind support for the opposition are a realistic appreciation of the level of democracy, dissatisfaction with corruption and pro-democratic values. Generally, however, opposition parties are lacking in organization and in institutionalization, as well as in their ability to find support in civil society and at promoting the issues that voters find most important. Overall, strong executive powers, unchecked by democratic institutions, in combination with deferential values and fear of conflict, undermine legitimate opposition activity. This special issue takes a closer look at the role and meaning of political opposition for the development of democracy across sub-Saharan Africa. Why is it that room for political opposition in most cases is severely limited? Under what circumstances has the political opposition been able to establish itself in a legitimate role in African politics? To answer these questions this special issue focuses on the institutional settings, the nature and dynamics within and between the political parties, and the relationship between the citizens and the political parties. It is found that regional devolution and federalist structures are areas where the political opposition can find room to organize and gain local power, as a supplement to influence at the central level. Important factors behind support for the opposition are a realistic appreciation of the level of democracy, dissatisfaction with corruption and pro-democratic values. Generally, however, opposition parties are lacking in organization and in institutionalization, as well as in their ability to find support in civil society and at promoting the issues that voters find most important. Overall, strong executive powers, unchecked by democratic institutions, in combination with deferential values and fear of conflict, undermine legitimate opposition activity.
This paper investigates the meaning attached to elections among ex-combatants in Liberia, in relation to the historic elections of 2005. These elections were generally considered successful, and should therefore be instrumental in the consolidation of democracy; this paper investigates the extent of such consolidation that can be seen in their wake. In particular, the meaning attached to elections is described in terms of voting behaviour and motivation, as well as the application of the equality principle, and finally in relation to the perceived legitimacy of the elections, based on focus group discussions carried out in the spring of 2008 in Liberia. This paper also tries to gauge the advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups as a data collection method. The creation of trust in a well designed focus group, which given the field of research – post-conflict context – may be especially important. The conclusions presented in this paper point to problems vis-à-vis the legitimacy of the elections which may have long term implications for the consolidation of democracy in Liberia. However, other areas, in particular attitudes towards vote buying, show more positive tendencies.
This article investigates what ex-combatants perceive as possible avenues of political participation. Our knowledge of their behavior is sketchy at best today, and understanding their behavior is essential in order to understand the potential for democratic progress and peacebuilding in post-conflict societies, such as Liberia. This article describes when and how ex-combatants involve themselves in politics, using focus group interviews completed in 2008 with 88 ex-combatants of various factions and backgrounds in three counties of Liberia. It applies a problems and needs approach for measuring political participation. The results of this investigation demonstrate that common avenues of participation, such as demonstrating and voting are shunned or not thought of by the ex-combatants, whereas avenues that are contact intensive are favored, partly through extra-representational channels such as the radio or NGOs. The results are, however, very positive as ex-combatants, despite a sense of cynicism, envision several and varied forms of participation. While current choices do not endanger the peacebuilding process, they do indicate a lack of faith in current representational institutions which if it endures may be detrimental in the long term.
In the state of Liberia, the issue of democratization has received a lot of attention and the image of the first female elected President in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has stimulated positive appraisals. But how deep does this new political makeover run? During the war, and before, the issue of Liberian identity has been a focal point and problematic issue. My purpose in this text is to investigate how the critical group of ex-combatants conceptualizes the limits of demos, who is seen as a citizen and why? Ethnic polarization played a huge role in the civil war in Liberia, where, in particular, Mandingos were targeted. To what extent is this group seen as part of the demos in Liberia today? This question is particularly interesting to examine among ex-combatants, as they should have felt the full impact of the ethnification of the Liberian citizenship. In that sense, as a group they could be seen as a least likely case for embracing an open demos conception. This paper also discusses what meaning is attached to the concept of a Liberian identity. Herein, I present the findings of focus groups completed during the spring of 2008 with ex-combatants in three counties of Liberia. A total of 88 participants, from various factions and backgrounds, are included in the paper. The findings suggest a fairly inclusive conception of demos. A more updated version of this text is included in my book "Peacebuilding and Ex-Combatants: Political Reintegration in Liberia" (2015), Routledge.