October 13, 2021

Ethnicity and Conflict


  • Ethnic diversity and conflict?
  • Theories of ethnic conflict
  • Are diverse societies prone to conflict?

  • Papers


Stop and think

What are major civil conflicts that have happened around the world

  • Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia
  • Many conflicts have ethnic dimension

Raises the question:

Does ethnic diversity in a country increase the likelihood of conflict?

Is there something about ethnicity that makes conflict more likely?

Ethnicity and Conflict


Many variations, with some differences:

modernization of economy and government creates new goods and services.

  • but these new opportunities are limited, often unevenly distributed
  • ethnicity makes it easy to organize to compete for goods
  • competition produces winners/losers \(\to\) conflict

(Bates 1983, Horowitz 1985, pp 99-105)

  • Horowitz asks: How much “modernization”?

Economic Competition

Ethnicity may produce conflict because either:

  • ethnic groups compete over limited employment opportunities
  • ethnic groups occupy different segments of the market (laborers vs. traders)
  • conflict of economic interests drives ethnic groups into conflict
  • But, if this is the case, why would ethnicity produce more conflict?

Horowtiz (pp 105-109)

Ethnic Status Competition:

Conflict can be the result of ethnic groups seeking to raise their relative status:

  • the material and cultural status of ethnic groups the result of colonial governments
  • “backward” (lower status) groups seek to improve status vis-a-vis “advanced” groups
    • seek special protections, separation
    • new status dimensions (legitimacy of groups)
    • fears of “extinction”
  • groups seek political power as a form of status/means to status \(\to\) conflict

Horowitz (pp. 141-184)

Ethnicity and Conflict

Different explanations for why ethnicity may be linked to conflict:

  • not all equally plausible
  • all imply that, on average, ethnically diverse societies should be more likely to experience conflict

Ethnicity and Conflict

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

First major attempt to answer:

  • Is ethnic diversity actually related to civil conflict?
  • What other attributes of countries are actually related to civil conflict?

Examine 161 countries between 1945 and 1999

Measuring Ethnic Diversity

Think about how we’ve defined ethnicity in previous weeks…

Discuss with your neighbors:

If we want to compare countries around the world… how might we measure ethnic diversity?

think about…

  • what kinds of data can we use?
  • how should we combine that data to reflect “diversity”
  • is this comparable across countries?

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

Comparing countries with differing levels of ethnic diversity, they find that…

  • there is no relationship between ethnic diversity and civil war
  • Surprised?

Fearon and Laitin (2003)

Correlates of Civil War:

  1. Ethnic diversity: no relationship
    • measured as ELF, as size of largest group, presence of majority with large minority
  2. Linguistic/religious discriination: no relationship
  3. GDP per capita: negative relationship
  4. Population size: positive relationship
  5. Mountainous terrain: positive relationship

Ethnicity and Conflict?

Two ways of responding to Fearon and Laitin’s findings:

  1. Measurement: Does the measurement of ethnic diversity make sense?

  2. Theory: Ethnic diversity as such does not lead to conflict. Particular types of ethnic configurations produce conflict

Measuring Diversity

“Ethno-linguistic fractionalization”: “ELF”

\[ELF = 1 - \sum_{i=1}^{n} s_i^2\]

Where \(s_i\) is fraction of population for group \(i \in \lbrace 1 \ldots n \rbrace\)

Interpret as: probability that any two random individuals belong to different ethnic groups

Measuring Diversity

Measure size \(s\) of ethnic groups \(1 \ldots n\) using

  1. Atlas Narodov Mira: Soviet anthropological text from 1964
    • lists ethnic groups in each country and their size
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. CIA World Factbook

Can you think of any potential objections to this approach?

Measuring Diversity

  • Country A: Group 1 50%, Group 2 50%
    • \(ELF = 0.5\)
  • Country B: Group 1 66.6%, Group 2 16.6%, Group 3 16.6%
    • \(ELF = 0.5\)
  • Ignores where ethnic groups are in space, the content of the ethnic boundary
  • Permits only one dimension of ethnicity

Measuring Diversity

  • Which ethnic categories are measured?
  • Are ethnic categories and relative population stable over time?
  • Soviet anthropologists weren’t always right:
    • sometimes used ethnic categories that were not operative
    • In Rwanda, Hutus and Tutsis coded as one ethnic group.

Theorizing Conflict

Finding that ethnic diversity does not correlate with conflict does not imply no link between ethnicity and conflict

Instead of diversity as such, what might matter is:

  • relative status of activated ethnic categories
  • how ethnic categories are institutionalized by the state (e.g. census)
  • how ethnic diversity interacts with constitutional rules
  • how the salience of ethnic categories change



Overall, well done! Mean of 77.7% (B+)

  • Students should make sure they are actually answering the prompts.
  • Clearer and more decisive language in the thesis.
  • Greater consideration and rebuttal of counterarguments.
  • Avoid directly quoting the readings too much (Paraphrase and cite)
  • Avoid using overcomplicated language in general. Stick with concise and clear writing/sentence structure.