Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John V. O'Loughlin

Second Advisor

Mara J. Goldman

Third Advisor

Seth E. Spielman

Fourth Advisor

Colin Flint

Fifth Advisor

Michael D. Ward


When and where do contentious politics become violent politics? How does election violence emerge from, and operate through, formal and informal social institutions? What are the impacts of this electoral violence for the people and places it affects? Focusing on the conflict that followed Kenya's December 27th 2007 national election, I use a geographical conceptual framework and mixed quantitative-qualitative methods to understand a phenomenon that plagues many African societies. I find evidence that local level social circumstances - contextual effects - influence the observed rate of conflict. These settings are measured in terms of ethnic community relations, socioeconomic status, and the institutional legacy of post-independence settlement schemes, among other influences. Overall, I find that local demographic patterns, in terms of prior-incumbency in the national executive and ethnic community polarization (especially in a context of poverty) increase the risk of exposure to electoral violence. There is also evidence that a political economy of insecure land tenure influences the rate of conflict among Kenyan districts, but this relationship holds true mainly in the presence of other contemporary social circumstances. In trying to understand the cyclical nature of political violence, I find that experiences with individual-level election violence reduce several forms of inter-personal and institutional trust, and also affects other social attitudes. There is only mixed evidence that indirect exposure to political violence at a locality scale has additive effects upon individual attitudes. I conclude this research - as I also introduced it - by relating the Kenyan case to other African countries, and in reiterating the important role that localized and place-based social influences have upon electoral political violence.