Patchwork Para-militarism? Social and Economic Organization in the Ulster Volunteer Force Before 1918

Tim Bowman (University of Kent)
Graham Brownlow (Queen's University Management School)

Abstract: Historically violence has often required as much organization as commerce or peaceful political activity. Unsurprisingly collective action problems have long been identified by scholars concerned with violent political rebellions. More recently the connection between violence and social order has been to the forefront of institutional research. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which was established in January 1913 as a militant expression of Ulster Unionist opposition to the Third Home Rule Bill, provides such a case study of violence in a social order that had both open and limited access characteristics. Drawing on the collective action and contemporary organizational and institutional economics literatures, empirical evidence, previously neglected and newly opened archival sources, this paper offers a new perspective on the economic and social organization of the UVF as well as the economic organization of political violence more generally. While the role of business in overcoming collective action problems is highlighted, it is equally demonstrated empirically that the UVF was not as well funded as some historians have argued. There are elements of the UVF that indicate that selective incentives were at work as well as features that suggest that public good aspects were also important. .

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