Conceptualizing Rebel Legitimacy

35 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2019 Last revised: 26 Aug 2019

See all articles by Margaret McWeeney

Margaret McWeeney

University of Maryland

Kathleen Cunningham

University of Maryland, Dept. of Government and Politics; PRIO

Date Written: August 22, 2019


Contemporary conflict studies frequently cite increased “legitimacy” as a key mechanism linking rebel actor to a variety of outcomes, including civilian targeting, recruitment practices, and war end. This article advances a conceptualization of legitimacy as a dynamic process of triangulation among rebels, their potential local constituents, and the international community. Rebels derive or lose legitimacy from the local population, but also from external audiences, which have played in increasing role in supporting peace processes. We explore conceptually a myriad of ways that rebels work to create and maintain legitimacy in the context of ongoing conflict, identifying the target audiences of these tactics. These are illustrated with a set of cases of rebel actor in Indonesia.

Keywords: legitimacy, rebellion

Suggested Citation

McWeeney, Margaret and Cunningham, Kathleen, Conceptualizing Rebel Legitimacy (August 22, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Margaret McWeeney (Contact Author)

University of Maryland ( email )

College Park
College Park, MD 20742
United States

Kathleen Cunningham

University of Maryland, Dept. of Government and Politics ( email )

3140 Tydings Hall
College Park, MD 20742
United States


PRIO ( email )

N-0260 Oslo

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