September 19, 2018

Ethnicity, Race, and Conflict


1. Assignment

2. Ethnicity/race prone to conflict?

3. Social Identity Theory


Social Boundaries

Ethnicity or race involved in more practices

  • these categories are more meaningful; more "real"; harder to change

Helps us understand how race and ethnicity has changed over time:

  • Compare race in the US today versus 70 years ago

Race vs. Ethnicity

  • Debated: many social scientists see them as variations of the same thing


Are ethnic and racial differences more prone to …

Sources of conflict?


  • conflict over ancient hatreds


  • conflict over incompatible values

Sources of conflict?


  • overlap between ethnicity/race and class produces conflict


  • competition over "goodies" of modernization

Why do "followers" follow?

Elites often benefit… but

Sources of conflict: Status

ranked societies: societies in which ethnic or racial categories overlap with class and imply a hierarchy of status, with some groups holding higher economic, political, and social status over others

unranked societies: societies in which ethnic or racial categories cross-cut class, implying a parallel or approximately equal status of the groups

Sources of conflict: Status

But even in unranked societies, groups make comparisons of which is "backward" or "advanced"

Groups with higher status fear loss of their position

Groups with lower status fear permanently being locked out

  • not "catching up"
  • or even worse "extinction"

Why does status matter?

Human psychology

Minimal Group Experiments:

  • Groups randomly assigned
  • Never meet in person
  • Anonymous games allocating money

What do people do?

  • discriminate against out-group
  • maximize inter-group difference, not in-group profit

Social Identity Theory


  1. people want positive self-esteem
  2. social groups/categories have positive/negative connotations that reflect on person's social identity
  3. group status based on favorable/unfavorable comparison with other groups

Social Identity Theory


  1. people want to increase or maintain positive social identity
  2. social identity based on positive comparison between in-group and relevant out-group
  3. Individuals will leave group or change their group to make identity more positive

Social Identity Theory

Strategies of improving status:

  1. Mobility (unavailable? in race/ethnicity)

  2. new dimension of comparison

  3. use of different evaluative rules

  4. change comparison-group

  5. direct competition

Which of these strategies lead to conflict?



Is this need for status fundamental in all humans? Why/why not?

Are we doomed to racism/ethnocentrism? Why/why not?

Some questions about SIT:

As a theory, depends on cultural context:

  • Which are "relevant" groups for comparison?
  • What dimensions are groups compared on?
  • What value-rules do we use to assign status?
  • What kinds of comparisons are legitimate?


ranked societies: are the value systems used to justify hierarchy of groups still legitimate?