Johanna Söderström

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Political Science
Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen

Research project

Ex-Combatants and Veterans Coming Home


Understanding the process of former combatants coming home after war is a crucial part of understanding any society’s transition toward peace. This project captures the challenges and opportunities for political mobilization among former combatants as they come home from wars across the Global North and Global South. This sheds a light on how the former combatant identity shapes ongoing political involvement long after the war has ended, and thereby how the transition to peace unfolds at the individual level.


How society should deal with the return of former combatants is a centuries old question. Today, UN programs across the globe are heavily involved in dealing with the return of former combatants, and questions about how to deal with the return of the veteran is also the subject of both public debate and government programs in many countries around the world. At present, the literature is largely divided between the Global South and the Global North, yet we can learn much from bridging this divide, as the process of coming home is a global phenomenon where former combatants face similar challenges irrespective of context. War is both a universal experience and a very contextual one. Not all wars are the same, and the experience of coming home after war is far from uniform. However, this project is focused on the shared meaning and process of coming home after war, across different wars and across different lives.


The project (and book) is concerned with the personal transition former combatants face and journey on after the war. This is studied through using life histories from three different wars and types of former combatants (PLAN/SWAPO independence fighters in Namibia; M-19 guerillas in Colombia; and Vietnam veterans in the USA). The project demonstrates how the process of coming home shapes their political commitment and identity, and how the legacy of war is a powerful reminder in the lives of these former combatants long after they have come home. These former combatants disarmed more than 27 years ago, and the project depicts their political life paths since. Thus, the project also forms part of the recent biographical turn in the social sciences. Taking the temporal truly serious, the project displays how the dynamics between political mobilization, identity and network vary across time in the lives of more than 50 former combatants as they move toward peace and coming home.




Johanna Söderström is Associate Professor at the Department of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen, Researcher at the Department of Government, Uppsala University, and a member of the research program Varieties of Peace at Umeå University. She holds a Ph.D in Political Science from Uppsala University. She is also a member of the Politics after War Network. Her research is focused on the challenges facing new democracies, the dynamics of post-war citizenry participation, and the synergies between peacebuilding, democratization and statebuilding.



Selected publications


'Citizens by Design? Explaining Ex-Combatant Satisfaction with Reintegration Programming', with B. Oppenheim, Journal of Development Studies [online], February 2017, <>, published 21 Feb 2017.


'Introduction to Special Issue: Understanding Armed Groups and Party Politics', with G.M. Sindra, Civil Wars, vol. 18, no. 2, 2016, pp. 109-117.


'The Resilient, the Remobilized and the Removed: Party Mobilization among Former M19 Combatants', Civil Wars, vol. 18, no.2, 2016, pp. 214-233.


Peacebuilding and Ex-Combatants: Political Reintegration in Liberia, Routledge, London/New York, 2015. 


'Second Time Around: Ex-Combatants at the Polls', Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 51, no. 3, 2013, pp. 409-433.





senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Psychology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS-KNAW)
discipline Neurosciences