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PhD Students

Ashley Jackson


Research Interests:

  • War
  • Insurgency
  • Insurgent Governance
  • Governance
  • Fragile States
  • Conflict
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia
  • Islamism

Thesis Title:

Governance in the Shadows: Islamist Insurgent Governance



In the era of the war on terror, Islamist or jihadist insurgencies are portrayed as little more than predators, religious extremists and threats to global stability. Unlike the national liberation movements of the twentieth century, engagement with these groups is taboo and legally restricted by many national governments and western states. Yet in conflicts from Libya to Yemen, Islamist or jihadist armed groups have established sophisticated systems of civilian governance in the territories they occupy. The Afghan Taliban has commissions and shadow ministries that oversee everything from justice to education. Al-Shabaab in Somalia, at the height of its territorial control, was a highly bureaucratized organization that sought to roll out an ambitious platform of governance, covering tax collection to education. In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State regulates border crossing, benefits from the proceeds of the oil fields it has captured and even runs public transport services. And all of these groups have also negotiated with the UN, Red Cross and aid agencies to enable them to deliver humanitarian aid to civilian populations. This research proposes to examine the degree to which Islamist insurgent groups seek to provide protection and basic services to civilian populations living under their control, and to identify the factors that influence their policies and behavior. This research aims to address the lack of in-depth analysis of the governance aims of Islamist or jihadist armed groups, and the prevailing failure to adequately understand their interests vis-à-vis civilian populations. It would seek to enhance understandings of how civilians, as well as aid actors and others, seek to influence and negotiate with these groups. Finally, this research would contribute to the broader field of work on insurgent governance and rebel compliance with international norms.


Primary: Dr Kiernan Mitton

Secondary: Professor Mats Berdal


In addition to her doctoral work, Ashley Jackson is a researcher, consultant and writer with extensive experience in conflict and complex emergencies, She has worked with the UN, Red Cross and various NGOs. Her primary focus is on conflict mediation and negotiating with armed groups and insurgencies.  Her work has been published in various academic and media outlets and she has been widely quoted by the press, including Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, the New York Times and others. 


Ashley is currently affiliated to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent think tank in London, as a Research Associate. She spent several years working in Afghanistan with Oxfam and the UN Political Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, and as an advisor to the UK Parliament on Afghanistan. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and a MSc in Gender and Development from the London School of Economics. 

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