Book Review: Comparative Politics: Understanding Ethnopolitical Conflict: Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia Wars Reconsidered

AuthorAnastasia Voronkova
Published date01 February 2015
Date01 February 2015
Subject MatterBook Review
politicians) are not the ones specif‌ied a priori in most
principal-agent analyses. As Page writes, bureaucrats
are in an occupation of service and are promoted for
good management (p. 165). Why should we expect
shirking? The implication is that an enormous edif‌ice
of political science has been built on the idea that
principal-agent interactions explain much of the
design of political institutions and public policies.
What if that premise is empirically unfounded, or at
least seems to lack convincing mechanisms? Or is it
that principals have just been very effective in these
six systems?
It should not be possible to claim expertise in public
administration, public policy or governance without
reading and ref‌lecting on this book. It would also be
nice if more social scientists were to write anywhere
near as well.
Scott L. Greer
(University of Michigan)
Understanding Ethnopolitical Conf‌lict:
Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia Wars
Reconsidered by Emil Souleimanov. London:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 246pp., £57.50, ISBN 978
This book provides a comparative theoretically
informed account of conf‌lict onset, radicalisation and
civil war dynamics in the South Caucasus, concentrat-
ing on the cases of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and
Nagorno-Karabakh. The volume sets out to integrate
the burgeoning qualitatively-oriented theoretical litera-
ture on ethnic conf‌licts and civil wars with detailed
empirical material on these particularly pressing, unre-
solved conf‌licts. The author persuasively argues that a
synthetic, theoretically multifaceted approach captures
the complexity of the situation on the ground better
than those interpretations centred entirely on the role
of ethnicity, security environment, structural or cul-
tural factors. Emil Suleimanov also convincingly criti-
cises the increasingly popular large-N, quantitative
accounts of ethnic conf‌lict and civil war for being
‘incapable of explaining civil wars in their full com-
plexity’ (p. 26).
The originality of the theoretical framework put
forward in the book, while being broadly consistent
with dominant instrumentalist interpretations of ethnic
conf‌lict, resides in the clear periodisation of conf‌lict
development and the distinction between what
Suleimanov terms ‘onset-based’ and ‘process-based’
factors (pp. 34–5). By conceptualising conf‌licts as
dynamic processes rather than unique events, this
interpretation is able to capture how social interaction
between different groups of actors and dimensions of
conf‌licts contribute to their radicalisation. The com-
parative approach is systematically maintained through-
out, both theoretically and empirically. The author
consistently compares and contrasts the key contribu-
tions of the main theories in the f‌ield of ethnic conf‌lict
and civil war to our understanding of the South
The empirical part contains an account of the
instrumentalisation of history by political elites and
traces the dynamic progression of the conf‌licts through
different stages, within the theoretical framework
developed earlier. The book is well-written and cer-
tainly succeeds in providing a succinct, yet reasonably
comprehensive and theoretically innovative account of
conf‌lict evolution. Given the fact that, as the author
rightly notes, the South Caucasus remains very poorly
integrated in the broader comparative conf‌lict research
f‌ield, such theory-driven interpretations are strongly
needed. Overall, this volume will, undoubtedly, be of
great value to anyone interested in the comparative
politics of deeply divided societies, peace and conf‌lict
studies, conf‌lict regulation, political violence, civil wars
and the South Caucasus. It is a very worthwhile addi-
tion to ethnic conf‌lict theorising, as well as to the
literature on a highly strategically important, yet vastly
under-researched region.
Anastasia Voronkova
(Independent Scholar)
Democracy Promotion and the ‘Colour Revo-
lutions’ by Susan Stewart (ed.). Abingdon:
Routledge, 2012. £85.00, 208pp., ISBN
Democracy Promotion and the ‘Colour Revolutions’ is a
special issue of Democratization, converted into an
interesting book, completed by a diverse team of
scholars who conducted their studies in Azerbaijan,
Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. The
overarching theme of this edited volume is ‘colour
© 2015 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2015 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review: 2015, 13(1)

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