The world today seems engulfed in violence, from ISIS-inspired terror in the Middle East, to near-daily mass shootings in America. In reality, most countries today are far safer than in the past. But some places are stuck in cycles of extreme, compounded violence, where terrorists, gangs, organized crime, regular crime, and state brutality create a pall of fear over daily life.

What makes some countries so violent? How have some countries managed to move from extremes of bloodshed to freedom from fear?  What can the findings tell us about countries caught in the throes of violence today?

Over the past three years, 2015-16 CASBS fellow Rachel Kleinfeld conducted field research on every settled continent to answer those questions. In her CASBS symposium lecture, she discussed the themes and findings of her forthcoming book.  

"As I traveled from the former Soviet Union to Colombia, West Africa to Sicily, patterns started to emerge in how countries got better," said Kleinfeld. "Bringing down violence turned out to be a spiral: Countries got better in some ways, but those very successes caused new problems. The path was not what I expected - and certainly not what I wanted to find. But it kept repeating. Clearly, there was a way out of violence, but it was hard and morally murky."

Kleinfeld’s findings provide a path for policymakers and people wishing to make change in their own countries that has worked in the past, and, she believes, could work again.

This presentation was originally broadcast by the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.