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Money Talks: Discourse, Networks, and Structure in Militant Organizations

Scholarship on militant organizations and rebel movements emphasizes the effects of fragmentation and disunity on military and political outcomes. Yet this scholarship’s focus on formal, durable, and externally observable aspects of organizational structure omits the social practices that constitute, reinforce, and reproduce intra-group schisms. How do intra-organizational divisions calcify into permanent cleavages? What processes reproduce factions over time? Using the case of Fatah in Lebanon, I argue that informal discursive practices—e.g., gossip, jokes, complaints, storytelling—contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of intra-organizational factions. Specifically, I focus on how networks of meaning-laden, money-centric discourse structure relations among militants who identify as being “Old Fatah.” I demonstrate that while these practices frequently originate in the organizational realm, cadres subsequently reproduce them within kinship, marriage, and friendship networks. This “money talk” between age cohorts within the quotidian realm connects younger members of Fatah to older cadres through collective practices and conceptions of organizational membership. These practices both exemplify an intra-organizational schism and constitute, in part, the faction called Old Fatah. Examining how symbolic practice comprises social structure thus provides important insight into the politics of organizations such as militant groups, social movements, and political parties.