“Practicing Polarization: Everyday Ideology in Militant Groups.” (Previously presented at Yale University, Universidad de los Andes, George Washington University, and at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association)



Ideological differences between armed groups undergird polarization in conflict and post-conflict environments. Ideology also shapes militant recruitment, organization, strategy, reconciliation, and electoral participation. However, existing research assumes doctrinal consistency, top-down socialization of adherents, and clear links between formal ideology and political action. I argue that “practical ideology”—everyday acts of boundary making and social distancing—rather than formal doctrine undergirds political polarization. Ethnographic evidence from fieldwork among Palestinians in Lebanon demonstrates how militants render ideas about ideological closeness and distance accessible via emotional, intellectual, and moral appeals—in this case, through conversations surrounding food and football. This approach reaffirms the role of discourse and narrative in creating “social heuristics” that imply differing levels of ideological proximity between militant organizations’ members without expressly invoking formal doctrine. The cleavages that constitute polarization thus embed and reproduce in communities due to routinized patterns of social practice, rather than hard and fast doctrinal distinctions.