This study draws on world-systems theory to generate new explanations for the uneven patterns of civil violence found in the world today. A large and well-developed literature shows that low-income countries with stagnant economies and undemocratic political systems are the most susceptible to outbreaks of civil violence. This literature, however, fails to consider how countries are positioned relative to the structures of global capitalism. By contrast, world-systems theory has long emphasized that a country’s position within the international division of labor shapes many of its domestic outcomes, including those related to development and democratization. Combining these two literatures suggests that “world-system position” has direct and indirect effects on civil violence, with the indirect effects being mediated by development, democratization, and related factors. Drawing on a sample of 152 countries observed from 1970 to 2018 and using high-quality data on major incidences of civil violence around the world, the study finds compelling evidence that non-core countries are considerably more prone to civil violence than core countries and that this gap is widening, not narrowing, over time. These results are robust to alternative measures of world-system position and various model specifications.

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