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Anti-Social Capital in Former Members of Non-State Armed Groups: A Case Study of Colombia

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Illegal organizations, like mafia syndicates, gangs, and insurgencies, are often highly cohesive and hostile toward the outside world. Such groups cultivate a particular form of “anti-social” capital, which relies on ingroup bonding and limits outgroup bridging for the purpose of commissioning illicit acts. We argue that experiences within the group leave members with varying intensities of anti-social capital, and that higher intensities lead to significantly weaker relationships with political institutions and civil society, even many years after they exit the group. We test this theory using survey data from 1,485 former members of insurgent and paramilitary groups in Colombia, along with insights from 68 qualitative interviews. We find strong evidence that anti-social capital has individually varying and sticky effects on former members. These effects are pervasive and intense, and exhibit surprising and counterintuitive properties: former members of pro-state militia with higher levels of anti-social capital are systematically less likely to trust political institutions, while members of peasant-based insurgent groups with high levels of anti-social capital are less likely to participate in their communities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Latin American Studies, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden 2: New York University, New York, NY, USA

Publication date: December 2, 2014

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