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Political Science
Project Proposal

Taxation and Governance by Armed Groups

Zachariah Mampilly (Political Science)

Project Description

Why do rebels engage in taxation? In this paper, I argue that the economic instrumentalism that tends to characterize most studies is inadequate for understanding the logic of rebel taxation. I review several recent studies of rebel taxation and show that authors often draw on an Olsonian logic of taxation while largely ignoring its political implications. In contrast, I suggest that both rebels and civilians are participants in a specific wartime political and economic order that can reinforce, and potentially legitimize, rebel rule. I argue that taxation is simultaneously a mechanism designed to bolster rebel coffers, but also a regulatory technology designed to delimit, control and sustain a subject population as well as a symbolic one that reinforces the sovereign aspirations of the would be rebel government. Drawing on numerous sources including interviews with key participants involved with establishing the SPLA taxation system in Sudan, I show how rebels frequently utilize taxation for multiple reasons beyond the purely economic.

Anticipated Project Activities

Research regarding rebel taxation generally, taxation and political authority, and the specific cases of South Sudan, Sri Lanka and possibly Kurdistan. Such research requires the assistant to explore academic articles and books, media resources, policy documents, and other non-traditional sources. Creativity is a must considering the paucity of materials available. 

In addition, I hope to access some primary documents that will need to be examined by the RA. 
Finally, I will be traveling to field sites (for which I received funding from the HF Guggenheim foundation) and will expect the student to help in reaching out to local partners and identifying possible informants.

Preferred Student Qualifications and Skills

  • Must be able to scour various databases to identify relevant academic articles and primary documents.
  • Reading comprehension to identify core theoretical arguments and relevant empirical materials.
  • Good writing and editing skills.

Anticipated Follow-up Teaching/Professional Activity for Student

This is an ideal opportunity for students interested in learning more about producing academic and policy relevant writings about international affairs. Ideally, the student should be able to develop their own project out of the research and I will encourage them to try and produce a piece of writing from their experience. Depending on the student's ability, I am even open to co-publishing an article with them.

Project Location

Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY and New York City

Project Duration

Eight weeks

Project Start Date

June 1, 2017

Project End Date

August 1, 2017