Armed groups: theory and classification

Andrei Miroiu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues in favor of a theory and classification of armed groups that sets them at the center of political and social sciences. By starting with the problem of order, it posits that without armed groups one cannot understand how stable societies form, function and reproduce themselves. It challenges the preeminence of concepts such as class and gender, which are seen as depicting later-formed social structures. It proposes a classification of armed groups based on their permanent or impermanent character, and the reasons for using violence, which are considered to be mostly extractive and ideological. Extraction could be internal and external, permanent or nonpermanent. Ideological armed groups are taken here to include religiously-motivated groups as well. The article also discusses armed groups operating within the state. The central argument is that the armed group is a fundamental unit of politics, order and functioning of a society. This essentially establishes that other forms of power are either derived from, rest on or at least suppose the support of armed groups. They transcend "normal" politics understood as peaceful periods in life of constituted communities. They can be outsiders, existing before and between the states. Armed groups precede classes and governments and do not need them to exist in order to continue their functioning. In this, they are to be understood as an elementary social structure. If so, consequences for social theory are substantial, as armed groups should in this case achieve the prominence that concepts such as state, class, social division of work or even kinship had until now.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-92
Number of pages9
JournalWorld Economy and International Relations
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • armed groups
  • political science
  • social order
  • social sciences
  • states
  • violence


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