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Article

Kristin P. Johnson and Ashlea Rundlett

Conflicts that occur along ethnic or nationalist lines are often the most protracted, violent, and difficult to resolve in the long term. Civil wars are often divided into two distinct types: ethnic/religious wars (identity), and revolutionary wars (nonidentity). The distinction between these conflict types is based on whether cleavages within a society occur along ethnic lines or along lines that cut across ethnic divisions and are focused on issues including class, ideology, or seeking significant policy orientation of change. The most significant theoretical and empirical contributions to the understanding of ethnic conflicts in recent years come from the disaggregation of civil wars focusing on micro- and group-level dynamics. This disaggregation supports theoretical advancement and a departure from using macro-level data with micro-level mechanisms supports transition from a monadic to dyadic study of ethnic conflict, and supports examination of potential causal mechanisms of ethnic violence. Scholarly traditions and theoretical approaches explaining identity mobilization along ethnic or nationalist lines, the contributing factors that explain the transition from mobilization to the exercise of political violence, the duration of identity-based conflicts, and the long-term prospects for settlement of the conflict have enjoyed a proliferation of studies using newly available data featuring subnational units. These include explanations of conflicts based in sociological foundations focused on the formation and maintenance of identity, structural explanations for internal conflict focus on the capacity of the state and the distribution of political authority within a political system, and the opportunity for rebellion.

Article

The past four decades have witnessed an explosion of research into ethnic conflict. The overarching question addressed in the voluminous and still growing literature is this: Under what cultural, social, economic, political, and international conditions is ethnic conflict or peace more likely? Limiting my survey to the onset of ethnic war, I divide the literature into four waves and critically examine its theoretical and empirical progress. I contend that the field has indeed made impressive progress, both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, the field has moved well beyond the unproductive debate of the three paradigms (i.e., primordialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism), and there is an emerging consensus that we need to draw valid elements from all three paradigms and beyond. In addition, neo-institutionalism has (re-)emerged as a major approach in the field. Empirically, powered by increasingly sophisticated methods and technologies such as the Geography Information System (GIS) and the availability of more and better datasets, inquiries into ethnic conflict have not only ventured into exciting new territories but also gained deeper and fine-grained knowledge into the causes of ethnic war. I then highlight several recent studies that bring out impressive theoretical and empirical syntheses that may well portend better things to come. Finally, I identify several venues for further scientific progress, including tighter coupling between theorization and empirical hypotheses, getting the basics of methods right, gathering more fine-grained data that measure the level of ethnic politics, bringing together ethnic politics and other key topics in the wide social sciences, and forecasting the risk of ethnic war based on computational social sciences.

Article

Pre-modern Central Asia saw a lot of violence and wars that had religious underpinnings or originated from genealogical claims. The colonial and Soviet reforms brought about reconsideration of cultural diversity in the logic of ethnic division. In the 20th century, reference to ethnicity became the main language of spontaneous violence escalation and explanation. With the weakening of Soviet rule, the region saw a series of heated conflicts. The most massive of them were the 1989 pogroms against Meskhi Turks in Uzbekistan and the 1990 clashes in Kyrgyzstan that took the shape of ethnic confrontation between the Kyrgyz majority and the Uzbek minority. Lesser disturbances also emerged in the borderlands and in mixed-ethnicity villages. After the collapse of the USSR, the 1990s saw an increase in social and religious violence in Central Asia. However, despite the violence being different in character, Central Asia had already gained a reputation of a very conflict-ridden region precisely in the ethnic sense. Many experts and politicians listed manifold potential ethnic conflicts about to break out in the region. In 2010, one of these predictions came true in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where a clash erupted between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. These expert assessments were also borne out by occasional conflicts over land and water arising between communities that live in the border areas. Nevertheless, the label of ethnic conflict does not always explain the reasons for violence. The conflicts in Central Asia arise and develop as a variety of local actions, which have different sequences, logic, and motivation. These actions are performed by very different agents—people, groups, and institutes that have their own interests and dispositions. Social and political slogans sound during the events, while the line of confrontation lies between local communities and particular groups of people, not between “nations” or “ethnic groups.” The label of ethnic conflict simplifies all these entanglements; there is usually a political interest or a certain intellectual tradition behind it, which essentializes and historicizes the reasons for aggression.

Article

Ethnicity, nationalism, and migration are popular topics in many academic disciplines, but research on public opinion in these areas has suffered from a lack of good data, disciplinary fragmentation, and a dearth of studies that engage one another. This is evident in the case of public opinion survey research undertaken in the world’s hotspots of ethnic conflict. As a result, ethnic conflict scholars have had to rely on proxy measures or indirect studies to test “opinion” towards ethnicity and nationalism in the developing world. In the developed world, however, there is more to work with in terms of opinion measurements. A prominent example is the European Union’s “Eurobarometer” surveys, which gauge attachment to and identification with “Europe” and the individual nation. Research on national identity and ethnic conflict has often been the starting point for theories of public opinion regarding immigration. A common finding is that there is a weak connection (if any) between opinion and policy on the immigration issue. Several areas need to be addressed as far as research is concerned. For example, the picture of xenophobic hostility in rich countries must be understood in a context of general changes in word migration patterns, with some emerging economies also experiencing high levels of immigration, and concurrent anti-immigrant public opinion. Two shortcomings of the literature also deserve closer attention: a focus on developing-to-developed country migration; and a lack of analyses that combine push and pull factors, to measure their relative causal weight in terms of bilateral immigration flows.

Article

Stathis N. Kalyvas and Paul D. Kenny

A civil war, also known as intrastate war, is a war between organized groups within the same state or country. It is a high-intensity conflict that often involves regular armed forces. One of the reasons for the lack of consensus in the study of civil war is disagreement over what exactly civil war means. Theoretically, civil war overlaps with other categories of armed conflict, particularly revolution, political violence, ethnic conflict, and terrorism. Civil wars since the end of World War II have lasted for over four years on average, a considerable rise from the one-and-a-half-year average of the 1900–1944 period. While the rate of emergence of new civil wars has been relatively steady since the mid-19th century, the increasing length of those wars has resulted in increasing numbers of wars ongoing at any one time. Since 1945, civil wars have resulted in the deaths of over 25 million people, as well as the forced displacement of millions more, along with economic collapse. According to scholars of civil war research, the causes of civil war include economic motivations or greed, and political or social grievances. Greed-based explanations focus on individuals’ desire to maximize their profits, while grievance-based explanations center on conflict as a response to socioeconomic or political injustice. A third concept, opportunity-based explanations, talks about factors that make it easier to engage in violent mobilization.

Article

Erin K. Jenne and Milos Popovic

In their seminal study “Resort to Arms,” Small and Singer (1982) defined a civil war as “any armed conflict that involves (a) military action internal to the metropole, (b) the active participation of the national government, and (c) effective resistance by both sides.” Internationalized civil wars constitute a newer classification, denoting a conflict involving organized violence on two or more sides within a sovereign state, in which foreign elements play a role in instigating, prolonging, or exacerbating the struggle. Small and Singer defined civil war as one in which a “system member” intervenes into a substate conflict involving organized violence. Although Singer and Small conceived “system members” narrowly as external sovereign states engaged in military intervention into the civil war in question, the definition has since been expanded by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) to include other foreign actors—such as nonstate or private actors, diasporas, IOs, corporations, or cross-border kin groups—any of which can intervene to intensify a domestic civil conflict. From superpower interventions during the Cold War to more recent conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, internationalized civil wars have garnered increasing scholarly attention, primarily because they tend to be far bloodier and more protracted than noninternationalized civil wars. How to end such wars is a problem long bedeviling the international community. Civil wars are already more difficult to end than interstate wars partly because there are more players to satisfy in civil war settings, with multiple conflict parties coexisting on a single territory, and multiple factions within each conflict party—each constituting a “veto player” that might plausibly spoil a peace agreement should the agreement not satisfy their needs. This problem is exacerbated by an order of magnitude when a civil war becomes internationalized. When outside actors get involved in a civil war, the number of veto players rises correspondingly to include not only domestic players and internal factions, but also the involved external players, which may include foreign governments, diaspora groups, foreign fighters, and/or transnational social networks. Managing or ending internationalized civil wars is thus a highly complicated balancing act requiring attention not just to internal, but also to external veto players represented by all involved parties both inside and outside the conflict state. The traditional methods of conflict management involve electoral engineering, power-sharing arrangements, or other peace deals that seek to satisfy the aspirations of involved internal parties, while ensuring that the peace deal is “self-enforcing.” This means that it will hold up even in the absence of outside pressure. In internationalized civil wars, however, conflict managers must also satisfy involved outside actors or otherwise neutralize external conflict processes. There are multiple methods for doing this, ranging from effective border control in cases of conflict spillover to decomposing internationalized conflicts into civil and international conflicts, which are solved separately, to outright peace enforcement involving international security guarantees.

Article

The symbolic politics theory of ethnic war starts from the insight that most political behavior is not rational but intuitive, driven by “symbolic predispositions” such as ideological beliefs, normative values, and prejudice. The way leaders lead is by using rhetoric not to appeal rationally to followers’ interests but to appeal emotionally to their symbolic predispositions. According to symbolic politics theory, the path to ethnic conflict begins with group narratives that are hostile to another group. These narratives help to generate hostile and prejudiced symbolic predispositions. If group members perceive a social threat, such as to their group identity or status, they become more likely to join mass movements agitating for a politics of redistribution—discriminating in favor of their own group at the expense of rival groups. If people feel physically threatened, they become more likely to support a politics of protection leading to violent ethnic conflict. These popular attitudes and moods are turned into social movements or military mobilization if aggressive leaders emerge, framing political issues in terms of these threats, and if those leaders are both credible and supported by effective organizations. A series of case studies has demonstrated that this process—from narratives to prejudice and threat perceptions, harnessed by leadership and organization—is what occurred in ten ethnic civil wars, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines. The theory also explains less violent cases such as Gandhi’s nationalist movement in India. This theory is hypothesized to apply to international war, as the politics of national identity is similar to the politics of ethnic identity. The theory also suggests a way of reconciling realist, liberal, and constructivist accounts of international relations through political psychology and a scientific realist ontology.

Article

Jonathan Paquin and Stephen M. Saideman

Foreign intervention in ethnic conflicts has received significant attention in the last 20 years. Scholars have initially considered the sources for these interventions through instrumental and affective factors, though a better classification involves grouping these motives between domestic and international factors. The former category assumes that a third state’s internal politics best explain motives of intervention, and that domestic groups within the state have the greatest impact on foreign policy decision making. Theories based on domestic explanations assume that domestic politics greatly matter in the formulation of states’ decisions to intervene or not in ethnic conflicts elsewhere. As for the external explanations, scholars share a common assertion that the international environment is the central determinant explaining third state intervention. These explanations focus on the impact of institutions and international norms on the international relations of ethnic conflicts. In addition to these approaches, this area of research still contains many issues left unaddressed, such as how interference from outside might affect an ethnic conflict, and what forms of analysis might be used to study foreign interventions. Scholars have applied both quantitative and qualitative techniques, and the diaspora literature stands out for relying almost exclusively on case studies and on very notable cases. Otherwise, the rest of the work in this field follows the current standards by using a mixture of case studies and quantitative analyses depending on the questions in play.

Article

Jeanne M. Giovannoni

Harry H. L. Kitano (1926–2006) taught at the UCLA Departments of Social Welfare and Sociology. His scholarship involved the application of social science theories to the understanding of racial and ethnic conflict and interactions, with particular regard to Japanese Americans.

Article

The magnitude and brutality of the internal armed conflict of Guatemala led to its becoming infamous worldwide. Although the militarized state became a monster that brutalized many different groups, indigenous communities suffered at a rate far greater than the Ladino or non-indigenous population. It is pertinent to note that the term “Ladino” in Guatemala has a long and complex history that stems from the colonial period. Its meaning has morphed through time, from being used by colonial authorities to define indigenous peoples fluent in the conqueror’s language—Spanish—to its current meaning that defines all peoples, from white to mestizo, who are not part of the elite class and do not identify as indigenous. It is important to note that while not a formal social scientific term, “Ladino” was included in the latest Guatemalan census (2018) and, as posited by social scientists, is a contested term the meaning of which might continue to change. Nevertheless, the dichotomy of Ladino and indigenous has underscored issues of power and wealth in Guatemalan society since the early colonial period and continues to do so. During the bloodiest years of the conflict, the military stepped up its repression and violence, leading to a series of massacres and displacements of tens of thousands of highland villagers and the razing of hundreds of communities. The focus on indigenous ethnicities as a factor of war allowed the massacres to be categorized as a genocide. What often gets lost in the recount is the historical foundations that made such atrocities possible. The cost of the war in Guatemala is ongoing and immeasurable. However, partial approximations can be made in both human and economic costs. What remains clear is that the war came at a great cost to future Guatemalan generations, as its repercussions continue to impact Guatemalan society.

Article

Since the second half of the 1940s, the Middle East has experienced intense migrations. In 2005 alone, the region received a total of approximately 6 million refugees. Migration flows to and from the Middle East have been linked to nationalist movements and ethnic conflicts. However, these relations have received little attention from scholars. Scholarly work on migration in the Middle East that has accumulated between the early 1950s and the late 1980s falls into two broad categories in terms of subject matter: Jewish migration to Israel and the Palestinian refugees, and migrations to labor-short countries of the Gulf and Europe. New trends in the literature on migration in the Middle East can also be identified, including those relating to the gender aspects of migration, population displacement and resettlement, return migration, and the relationship between migration and security. Although the field has made significant progress—the scope of the literature with respect to subject matter has broadened from the 1980s onward, and the methods used by scholars have become more sophisticated over the years—there are some shortcomings that need to be addressed. A number of important issues, such as citizenship or economic dynamics, remain unexplored. Since labor migrations to and from the Middle East are central to economic development, a focus on the evolution of migration may shed light on numerous relevant themes.

Article

Craig Douglas Albert and Mary Frances Rosett Lebamoff

A review of syllabi from members of the ethnicity, nationalism, and migration studies (ENMS) section of the International Studies Association shows that “teaching ethnic conflict” covers has several parts: the classical literature, main themes used in the classroom, including theories of ethnicity/nationalism, causes of ethnic conflict, responses, and regions of the world. One of the most prevalent themes in classical texts is identity formation. EMNS professors appear to focus on three approaches: primordialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism. It is assertable that each approach has dominated the discipline at specific times. While one approach may be the focal point of ENMS, each coexists with the others. The next most widely used topic in ENMS classrooms is theories of ethnic conflict. Ethnic conflict studies focus on in-group/out-group relationships and how the two conflict. Migration is also studied within the framework of ethnicity and nationalism, which may be attributed to their many interconnections. For example, the harsh treatment of ethnic minorities within a state may result in mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing, war, and even voluntary exile by the oppressed group. Government oppression may include mass violence, but also economic discrimination. This may result in ethnic peoples outside of their traditional homeland seeking asylum in another state that is friendlier to them.

Article

Ethnicity and nationalism, interethnic conflicts, and human migration have been major forces shaping the modern world and the structure and stability of contemporary states. A notable reason for the current academic interest in ethnicity and nationalism is the fact that such phenomena have become so visible in many societies that it has become impossible to ignore them. In the early twentieth century, many social theorists claimed that ethnicity and nationalism would decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a result of modernization, industrialization, and individualism, but this never came about. Instead, ethnicity and nationalism have grown in political importance in the world, particularly since the Second World War. It is important to note that ethnicity and nationalism are social and political constructions, as well as modern phenomena that are inseparably connected with the activities of the modern centralizing state. One characteristic of a modern state is the presence of population diversity brought about by migration. Human migration can be defined as the movement by people from one place to another with the intentions of settling permanently in the new location. One of the reasons why immigrants choose to migrate to another country is because globalization has increased the demand for workers from other countries in order to sustain national economies. Known as “economic migrants,” these individuals are generally from impoverished developing countries—usually people of color—migrating to obtain sufficient income for survival.

Article

During the anticolonial struggle and immediately after independence, African political leaders were preoccupied with the creation of a “nation-state.” As a result, many of postcolonial African leaders not only promoted national unity but also instituted centralized governance. Unity and centralization were considered important antidotes to the challenges of consolidating postcolonial states, which by and large were created by the partitioning of the continent by colonial powers. As a result, many of the postcolonial leaders were hostile to federalism in general and power-sharing in particular. This explains why many of the federal arrangements, which were created by departing colonial powers, were dismantled within the first few years after independence. In contrast to the earlier periods, the 1990s could be regarded as a turning point for federalism and devolution of power in the continent. Among African states, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa could be considered fully fledged federations, which have constitutionally devolved power to different tiers of governments. There is also an ongoing attempt to establish a federal system in war-torn Somalia. Some argue that, although federalism does not have a stellar record in postcolonial Africa, it is possible to contend that in the foreseeable future the importance of federalism will grow in the continent given the challenges that many African countries face in the management of their ethnolinguistic diversity. This is evidenced by the increasing application of the federalist principles of decentralization by several African countries.

Article

Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.

Article

Several African countries are currently engaged in the constitution-making process. In Africa, constitution-making usually takes three phases. The first phase took place at independence in the 1960s and was typically led by the colonial power. Constitution-making during this phase was part of the decolonization process. In the case of former British colonies, the independence constitution was British legislation which constituted the independent state. The second phase was from independence to 1989. During this phase, constitution amendments were made to the independence constitutions designed to concentrate power in the presidency. This was the era of authoritarian governments in Africa which culminated into one-party state systems of governance. The third phase, which runs from 1989 to the present, is associated with the worldwide wave of democratization. During this period, constitution-making has centered on rebuilding the political community as well as structures that had been distorted by political manipulation and violence during the era of authoritarian rule. This third phase is also marked by promoting the participation of citizens in the affairs of their own countries and the accountability of governments. A well-designed constitution can promote these objectives. In addition, inclusiveness and peaceful settlement of conflicts can be seen as a vehicle for national dialogue, good governance, and the consolidation of peace.

Article

The contextual theory of interethnic communication is an interdisciplinary theory that provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary account of the associative and dissociative communication behaviors of individual communicators when interacting with ethnically dissimilar others. Integrating a wide range of salient issues, concepts, theories, and related research findings across disciplinary lines of inquiry across social sciences, the theory offers a multidimensional and multifaceted model explaining a full spectrum of interethnic decoding and encoding communication behaviors from highly dissociative to highly associative. Grounded in an open-systems perspective, the interethnic behavior and the context surrounding the behavior are conceived as co-constituting the basic interethnic communication system, operating simultaneously in a dynamic interplay. In varying degrees of salience and significance, all contextual forces are regarded in Kim’s theory to operate in any given interethnic communication event, potentially influencing, and being influenced by the nature of individual communication behaviors of association and dissociation. The theory identifies eight key contextual factors of the communicator (identity inclusivity/exclusivity and identity security/insecurity), the situation (ethnic proximity/distance, shared/separate goal structure, and personal network integration), and the environment (institutional equity/inequity, relative ingroup strength, and environmental stress). Eight theorems are proposed for empirical tests, linking each contextual factor with associative/dissociative behavior. Together, the eight theorems explain the dynamic and reciprocal behavior-context interface in interethnic communication. The theory also provides a conceptual blueprint for conducting case studies on specific interethnic communication events, and suggests pragmatic insights into ways to strengthen the social fabric of an ethnically diverse society from the ground up.

Article

For more than four decades, advocates of consociationalism and their opponents have been engaged in a debate over about how to design institutions to achieve sustainable peace in divided societies. In general, existing theories acknowledge the importance and usefulness of institutional design in conflict resolution, but offer rather different prescriptions as to the most appropriate models to achieve stable conflict settlements. Three such theories are of particular significance: power sharing in the form of its liberal consociational variant, centripetalism, and power dividing. Consociationalism, centripetalism, and power dividing offer a range of distinct prescriptions on how to ensure that differences of identity do not translate into violence. They often go beyond “politics at the center” and also provide arguments on territorial dimensions of ethnic conflict settlement. Practitioners of conflict resolution recognize the need to combine a range of different mechanisms, giving rise to an emerging practice of conflict settlement known as “complex power sharing.” None of the three theories of conflict resolution fully captures this current practice of complex power sharing, even as liberal consociationalism appears to be the most open to incorporation of elements of centripetalism and power dividing. A theory of complex power sharing would need to explain why there is empirical support for a greater mix of institutions than existing theories recommend.

Article

Since the founding of the United States of America, coinciding with the height of the Atlantic slave trade, U.S. officials have based their relations with West Africa primarily on economic interests. Initially, these interests were established on the backs of slaves, as the Southern plantation economy quickly vaulted the United States to prominence in the Atlantic world. After the U.S. abolition of the slave trade in 1808, however, American relations with West Africa focused on the establishment of the American colony of Liberia as a place of “return” for formerly enslaved persons. Following the turn to “legitimate commerce” in the Atlantic and the U.S. Civil War, the United States largely withdrew from large-scale interaction with West Africa. Liberia remained the notable exception, where prominent Pan-African leaders like Edward Blyden, W. E. B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey helped foster cultural and intellectual ties between West Africa and the Diaspora in the early 1900s. These ties to Liberia were deepened in the 1920s when Firestone Rubber Corporation of Akron, Ohio established a long-term lease to harvest rubber. World War II marked a significant increase in American presence and influence in West Africa. Still focused on Liberia, the war years saw the construction of infrastructure that would prove essential to Allied war efforts and to American security interests during the Cold War. After 1945, the United States competed with the Soviet Union in West Africa for influence and access to important economic and national security resources as African nations ejected colonial regimes across most of the continent. West African independence quickly demonstrated a turn from nationalism to ethnic nationalism, as civil wars engulfed several countries in the postcolonial, and particularly the post-Cold War, era. After a decade of withdrawal, American interest in West Africa revived with the need for alternative sources of petroleum and concerns about transnational terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Article

Empirical research on civil war onset has been largely dominated by two approaches: a correlational or “correlates of civil war” approach which seeks to identify country-level characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of civil war outbreak, and a bargaining approach which starts from the assumption that warfare is costly and which views civil conflict as a by-product of bargaining failures. Correlational and bargaining studies of internal conflict onset have reached an analytical plateau because they fail to specify the precise mechanisms that yield civil warfare instead of a different type of violent or nonviolent outcome. An alternative, contentious framework is advanced for studying civil war onset. This framework situates the conflict event within a larger cycle of contention and specifies the mechanisms through which civil conflict is most likely to occur. According to this contentious perspective, civil wars are commonly produced by the combination of one structural condition—a state crisis of authority and/or legitimacy—and the interdependent effect of two mechanisms—radicalization and militarization. Through theory development and vignettes from a handful of civil war cases, the article makes the case that the contentious approach holds promise for elucidating how exactly civil conflicts break out. Despite holding initial explanatory power, the contentious theory of civil war onset advanced herein awaits more systematic empirical testing.