Roger Petersen

Roger Petersen

Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science

CV (pdf)

Civil war; violence; war; conflict; Iraq; social science; emotions.


Roger Petersen holds BA, MA, and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago. He has taught at MIT since 2001 and is the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science. Petersen focuses on within-state conflict and violence. He has written three books:Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, Resentment in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2011). He is currently working on a manuscript entitled “A Social Science Guide to the Iraq Conflict.”  He teaches classes on military intervention, conflict and violence, and emotions in politics.


Petersen's earlier work (Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe) concentrated on violent networks. A second strand of research studied motivations and emotions behind ethnic violence and culminated in Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe. Petersen's more recent major research, culminating in a book entitled Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict, again deals with emotions but with a different focus. Here, the goal is to understand how political entrepreneurs strategically use group emotions within the contours and constraints of conflict. Most recently, Petersen has begun another major set of research working with practitioners returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The primary goal is to identify which social science theories apply to 21st Century insurgency. This collaboration involved in a conference held in April 2010 at MIT (Workshop on Iraq and Afghanistan: Theory and Practice).
A follow up conference addressing the relationship between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism was held in October 2011. Download agenda (pdf).

Recent Publications

"Roles and Mechanisms of Insurgency and the Conflict in Syria's War," Project on Middle East Political Science, Briefing 22, December 2013.

“Guilt, Shame, Balts, Jews,” Forthcoming in Criminality and Collaboration: Europe and Asia Confront The Memory Of World War II, University of Washington Press. The volume is part of the Divided Memories And Reconciliation Project of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-‐Pacific Research Center, Stanford University.

“Identity, Rationality, and Emotion in the Processes of State Disintegration and Reconstruction,” In Constructivist Theories Of Ethnic Politics, Kanchan Chandra, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics, 2011.

With Jon Lindsay, "Varieties of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2003-2009," case study prepared for the Naval War College Center for Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (November 2011).

With Sarah Zukerman, "Revenge or Reconciliation: Theory and Method of Emotions in the Context of Colombia's Peace Process," in Law in Peace Negotiations, Morten Bergsmo and Pablo Kalmonowitz eds. (Torkel Opsahl: 2010).


17.582 Civil War
17.506 Ethnic Politics II
17.584 Civil-Military Relations
17. 478 Great Power Military Intervention (with Barry Posen)
17.581 Riots, Rebellions, Revolutions


Petersen's research cited in Vox News

Vox News

Petersen's research on ethnic conflicts found that a major risk factor for ethnic violence was anger stemming from “the feeling of being politically dominated by a group that has no right to be in a superior position.” Typically, that occurs when an ethnic group that was formally subordinate achieves new status and power.