BORIS Theses

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The Societal Legacy of War: The Lasting Impact of War on Individual Attitudes in Post-War Society

Kijewski, Sara (2019). The Societal Legacy of War: The Lasting Impact of War on Individual Attitudes in Post-War Society. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

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Despite the substantial transformative impact wars have on people’s lives, the social and institutional consequences of war remain the least understood. This dissertation adds to a sparse, but growing body of literature on the micro-level consequences of war and advances our understanding of its societal legacy by analyzing how war influences individual attitudes in post-war societies. It contributes to the study of peace and conflict by drawing attention to the micro level and exploring how both interstate and internal wars may shape individual attitudes relevant for building long-lasting peace. Further, it expands the general literature on political science on the determinants of social and political attitudes and behavior by exploring the hitherto largely ignored impact of war on such attitudes. The impact of war on individual attitudes is analyzed empirically in three chapters. Chapter 2 (co-authored with Markus Freitag) scrutinizes the impact of individual and contextual war exposure on social trust in post-war Kosovo. Drawing from the psychological literature on war-related distress and posttraumatic growth, this study is motivated by the question whether the consequences of war for social attitudes always are negative, or whether war also can contribute to growth in social trust. Combining both individual and municipal data on war exposure in a multilevel framework, it further explores which of these types of war exposure have the strongest impact on individual attitudes. The findings of this chapter indicate that individual war experience has had a consistent, negative impact on social trust more than 10 years after the end of the war. The effect of municipal war exposure is not robust and is sensitive to the exclusion of specific municipalities. The second study in Chapter 3 takes a step back and examines the long-term impact of war exposure by studying the role that experiences during World War II have on people’s level of satisfaction with life in a comparative study of 34 countries. Motivated by the findings from related academic disciplines on the intergenerational transmission of the consequences of trauma exposure, this chapter not only scrutinizes the effect of war on directly affected individuals but also analyzes how family members’ experiences with war affect the well-being of members of the subsequent generations. The empirical findings are twofold. First, injury to oneself or injury or death of parents or grandparents has a lasting negative influence on individuals’ level of life satisfaction more than sixty years after the end of the war. This effect is remarkably robust and suggests that war experiences or their consequences become transmitted to subsequent generations. Second, the effect of war experiences is stronger for older respondents. Individuals reporting experiences from World War II are thereby less likely to experience the general upward trend in life satisfaction with age. Trying to understand the possible mechanisms through which the transmission of war experiences takes place, the study finds that war exposure is significantly related to lower self-reported health and a lower paternal level of education among relevant age cohorts. Finally, Chapter 4 (co-authored with Carolin Rapp) analyzes in detail how war affects political tolerance of the Sinhalese and Tamil populations toward each in post-war Sri Lanka. Using unique, all-island survey data collected after the 26-year-long civil war the chapter devotes special attention to the mechanism that may drive the relationship between war and individual attitudes. With structural equation modeling techniques, the chapter closely studies the role played by intergroup forgiveness and ethnic prejudice in the relationship between war experience and granting civil liberties. The analyses reveal that the likelihood to grant civil liberties in both ethnic groups depends on the civil liberty in question. Whereas a majority from both ethnic groups are willing to grant the right to vote, hold a speech, and to hold a government position, the right to demonstrate is highly contested and is only granted to the other group by very low shares of both ethnic groups. Further, the empirical findings show that the direct impact of war experience is less powerful than expected and, again, depends on the right in question. Instead, not being willing to forgive the other group, driven by war experience and ethnic prejudice, is a more consistent predictor of intolerance. These studies together imply that wars may have lasting, negative societal consequences. The effect may stretch across generations and have important implications for post-war peacebuilding and recovery policies. The finding that the impact of war on individual attitudes is not necessarily a direct result of war exposure but is driven by psychological responses to such events, in this case, the willingness to forgive, suggests that there are ways in which societies can promote positive social attitudes by focusing on the mechanisms at work. Further research on the mechanisms at work is needed to develop the most efficient policies for peaceful intergroup relations and thereby lasting peace.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 19 September 2019
Subjects: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 320 Political science
Institute / Center: 03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Political Science
Depositing User: Hammer Igor
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2020 15:18
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2020 15:18

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