This paper provides new insights into the link between the experience of violent conflict and local collective action. I use temporal and geographical information from four rounds of survey data from Nigeria to relate measures of cooperation to past and future incidences of communal conflict. I show that local collective action, measured in terms of community meeting attendance and volunteering, is highest before the outbreak of violence – higher than both post-conflict levels and the generally lower levels of cooperation in regions not affected by violence. I develop a “mobilisation mechanism” to explain these findings, arguing that, rather than being an indicator of “social capital,” collective action ahead of communal violence is inherently ambiguous and driven by a form of situationally adaptive (and potentially aggressive) “solidarity with an edge.” I further show that the positive link between previous exposure to civil war-type violence and cooperation holds for Nigeria, too, but that it holds for rural areas only.
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