Previously, we talked about what micro level factors of restraint…today, let’s talk about meso level factors!


Meso-level sources of restraint include actions taken and positions held by groups and organizations. Groups may hold formal and informal mechanisms that foster cooperation by facilitating inter-communal, mutually-beneficial cooperation such as marriages, commercial exchanges, and ritualized gift giving. Groups and organization may also give incentives for moderation based on a recognition of mutual dependence in recognition of inter-group dialogue and understanding in crisis periods.

Organizational-level mechanisms have the capacity to shape public and elite attitudes. As Steven Wilkinson writes, electoral calculi create an incentive for violence or nonviolence. When regional or national parties rely on the votes of minorities to form willing coalitions they will act to protect those minorities; when parties need the support of a dominant ethnic or religious group to win, they may stimulate violence in order to raise the salience of identity and trigger bloc voting.

Organizations may also supply information to influential actors via transnational networks. Patrice McMahon writes that transnational organizations took root in the 1990”s that provided a common “message” of ethnic peace, a “motivation” to seek it (transnational actors could credibly offer incentives to states that avoided violence, or sanctions to states that did not), and the “means” to obtain it (financial, technical, and moral assistance for dialogue, education and training).

Meso-level sources of restraint, Straus concludes, are most effective in containing the escalation during the early stages in the process of violence, and are most consequential in decentralized states where local actors enjoy a degree of autonomy. The first deals with what Straus refers to as periodization: the recognition that organizational mechanisms will be most effective at earlier stages of escalation, and are likely to be weak at the moment when mobilization and coordination to commit mass violence occur.

Therefore, groups and organizations are most effective at restraining violence in its early stages. The second conclusion recognizes the reality of a certain model of violence: that if genocide takes the form of a top-down, state-enforced violence, the group and organization level mechanisms are likely to be weak bulwarks against the escalation of violence. If genocide occurs in the context of a weaker, non-centralized state, however, a state must win local cooperation rather than cause it. In these cases, meso-level mechanisms should shape the willingness of local actors to foment violence. At the same time, a group’s or organization’s ability to restrain violence can be limited by the amount of power they hold, and by the reality that they cannot be automatically assumed to exercise a peaceful, moderating influence.

What does this mean for us at STAND Canada?

Well, STAND Canada is itself a meso level factors of restrain, so it tells us not only that we can successfully restrain escalations of violence, but also in what context we might be most effective! Much of this section is useful because it can point out what characteristics of organizations make them successful – this allows us to reshape the way we see ourselves as organizations in order to be the most effective.


Scott Straus, “Retreating from the Brink: Theorizing Mass Violence and the Dynamics of Restraint,” Perspectives on Politics 10, no. 2 (June 2012): 343.

Neekoo Collett is a Master of Global Affairs students at the Munk School, University of Toronto. Her research focuses on “factors of restraint” and the situation of Baha’is in Iran, as well as the politics of genocide language and the proposed Crimes Against Humanity Convention. This post is adapted from previously published work. 

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“What Stops Genocide From Occurring?” by Neekoo Collett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.