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Book Talk: ‘Undermining the State from Within: The Institutional Legacies of Civil War in Central America’

Tue, 2/20 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 216 Aaron Burr Hall

Rachel A. Schwartz, University of Oklahoma

Undermining the State from Within pulls back the curtain on the counter insurgent state to better understand how conflict dynamics affect state institutions and continue to shape political and economic development in the postwar period. Drawing on unique archival and interview data from war and postwar Guatemala and Nicaragua, this study illuminates how counter-insurgent actors, under the pretext of combating an insurgent threat, introduce alternative rules within state institutions, which undermine core activities like tax collection, public security provision, and property administration. Moreover, it uncovers how the counter insurgent elite outmaneuvers governance reforms during democratic transition and peace-building to preserve the predatory wartime status quo. In so doing, this book rethinks the relationship between war and state formation, challenges existing scholarly and policy approaches to peace-building and post-conflict institutional reform, and contributes a new understanding of what civil war leaves behind in an institutional sense.


Rachel A. Schwartz is an Assistant Professor of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on conflict, statebuilding, and corruption in Central America. Her book Undermining the State from Within: The Institutional Legacies of Civil War in Central America was published with Cambridge University Press in 2023. The dissertation version of the book was awarded the 2020 Gabriel A. Almond Award for the best dissertation in comparative politics from the American Political Science Association (APSA). She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR) at Tulane University and received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

This event is free and open to the public.

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