This paper reviews several theoretical debates and discourses that shall help to analyse the phenomenon of violent conflict and civil wars. Each line of thinking is utilised in an eclectic manner to distill how and what it can contribute to observe, interpret and explain the emergence of institutional arrangements that govern property rights in zones of violent conflict. Starting with a critical discussion of the dominating greed versus grievances debate, I will review the current debate on state failure and complex political emergencies which seek to explain the current breakdown of state institutions into a kind of anarchic condition. The new institutionalism in the social sciences theorises the evolution of institutions as rules of the game and interprets violent conflict as contractual failure. My interest will be on how this theoretical perspective can explain the evolution of institutions on the local level.