Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity

  • James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin

Abstract

We examine the theoretical implications of the observation that ethnic identities are socially constructed for explaining ethnic violence, distinguishing between two classes of mechanisms. If individuals are viewed as the agents who construct identities, then constructivist explanations for ethnic violence tend to merge with analyses that stress strategic action by both elites and mass publics. In contrast, if discursive formations are the agents that construct ethnic identities, then constructivist explanations tend to merge with accounts that stress internal logics of specific cultures. Using the books under review as a “sample,” we find considerable evidence linking strategic aspects of ethnic identity construction to violence and more limited evidence implicating discursive systems. The most common narrative in these texts has largescale ethnic violence provoked by elites, often motivated by intra-ethnic conflicts. Followers follow, despite the costs, out of increased fear of thugs and armies “let go” by elites (both the other side's and their “own”) and often in pursuit of local grievances that may have little ethnic component. Several other mechanisms are also discussed, including the role of discursive systems in conditioning publics for violence and the role of violent efforts to enforce “everyday primordialism” by policing supposedly primordial ethnic boundaries.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Aretxaga, Begoäna. 1995. Dirty Protest: Symbolic Overdetermination and Gender in Northern Ireland Ethnic Violence. Ethnos 23 (2): 123–48.
Armstrong, John A. 1982. Nations Before Nationalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Banac, Ivo. 1984. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Barth, Fredrick, ed. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference. Boston: Little, Brown.
Bax, Mart. 1997. Mass Graves, Stagnating Identification, and Violence: A Case Study in the Local Sources of “the War” in Bosnia Hercegovina. Anthropological Quarterly 70 (1): 1119.
Benedict, Ruth. 1959. Patterns of Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Brass, Paul R. 1997. Theft of an Idol: Text and Context in the Representation of Collective Violence. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Brubaker, Rogers, and Cooper, Frederick. 2000. Beyond “Identity.” Theory and Society 29 (1): 147.
Buford, Bill. 1993. Among the Thugs. New York: Vintage.
Chauncey, George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940. New York: Basic Books.
Coser, Lewis A. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict: Political Opportunism and Ethnic Conflict. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
De Figueiredo, , Rui, J. P. Jr., and Weingast, Barry R.. 1999. The Rationality of Fear. In Civil Wars, Insecurity, and Intervention, edited by Walter, Barbara F. and Snyder, Jack, 261302. New York: Columbia University Press.
Deng, Francis M. 1995. War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in the Sudan. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.
Deutsch, Karl W. 1953. Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Downs, George, and Rocke, David. 1994. Conflict, Agency, and Gambling for Resurrection: The Principal-Agent Problem Goes to War. American Journal of Political Science 38 (2):362–80.
Elster, Jon. 1989. The Cement of Society: A Study of Social Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fearon, James D. 1999. What Is Identity (as We Now Use the Word)? Unpublished manuscript, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 1996. Explaining Interethnic Cooperation. American Political Science Review 90 (4):715–35.
Ferejohn, John. 1991. Rationality and Interpretation: Parliamentary Elections in Early Stuart England. In The Economic Approach to Politics: A Critical Reassessment of the Theory of Rational Action, edited by Monroe, Kristen Renwick, 279305. New York: Harper Collins.
Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Translated by Smith, A. M. Sheridan. New York: Pantheon.
Furnivall, J. S. 1948. Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ganguly, Sumit. 1997. The Crisis in Kashmir. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Gourevitch, Philip. 1995. Letter from Rwanda: After the Genocide. The New Yorker, 18 December, 7895.
Hacking, Ian. 1999. The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Hardin, Russell. 1995. One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Hedström, Peter, and Swedberg, Richard. 1998. Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hess, Gregory O., and Orphanides, Athanasios. 1995. War Politics: An Economic Rational Voter Framework. American Economic Review 85 (4):828–47.
Jeganathan, Pradeep. 1997. After a Riot: Anthropological Locations of Violence in an Urban Sri Lankan Community. Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago.
Kalyvas, Stathis. 1999. Wanton and Senseless? The Logic of Massacres in Algeria. Rationality and Society 11 (3):243–85.
Kapferer, Bruce. 1988. Legends of People/Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Katz, Jack. 1988. Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books.
Kaufmann, Chaim. 1996. Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars. International Security 20 (4):136–75.
Kennedy-Pipe, Caroline. 1997. The Origins of the Present Troubles in Northern Ireland. London: Longman.
Laitin, David D. 1983. The Ogaadeen Question and Changes in Somali Identity. In State Versus Ethnic Claims: An African Policy Dilemmas, 2d ed., edited by Rothchild, Donald and Olorunsola, Victor A., 331–49. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Laitin, David D. 1986. Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change Among the Yoruba. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Laitin, David D. 1995. National Revivals and Violence. European Journal of Sociology 36 (1):343.
Laitin, David D. 1998. Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Levy, Jack S. 1989. The Diversionary Theory of War: A Critique. In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Midlarsky, Manus I., 259–88. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Lijphart, Arend. 1977. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Lustick, Ian S. 1993. Unsettled States, Disputed Lands: Britain and Ireland, France and Algeria, Israel and the West Bank–Gaza. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Mackie, Gerry. 1996. Ending Footbinding and Infibulation: A Convention Account. American Sociological Review 61 (6):9991017.
McGarry, John, and O'Leary, Brendan. 1995. Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images. Oxford: Blackwell.
Mueller, John. 1997. The Rise, Decline, and Shallowness of Militant Nationalism in Europe. Manuscript prepared for presentation at the Rochester-Jagiellonian Conference, Krakow, Poland.
O'Leary, Brendan, and McGarry, John. 1993. The Politics of Antagonism: Understanding Northern Ireland. London: Athlone.
Pandey, Gyanendra. 1990. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Petersen, Roger. 1989. Rationality, Ethnicity, and Military Enlistment. Social Science Information 28 (3):563–98.
Posen, Barry R. 1993. The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict. Survival 35 (1):2747.
Prunier, Gérard. 1995. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.
Prunier, Gérard. 1998. The Rwandan Patriotic Front. In African Guerrillas, edited by Clapham, Christopher, 119–33. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Rabushka, Alvin, and Shepsle, Kenneth A.. 1972. Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.
Ruggie, John Gerard. 1983. Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis. World Politics 35 (2):261–85
Sahlins, Peter. 1989. Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sewell, William H. Jr, 1999. The Concept(s) of Culture. In Beyond the Cultural Turn, edited by Bonnell, Victoria E. and Hunt, Lynn, 3561. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Simmel, Georg. 1955. Conflict (translated by Wolff, Kurt H.) and The Web of Group Affiliations (translated by Reinhard Bendix). Glenco, Ill.: Free Press.
Smith, Alastair. 1996. Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems. International Studies Quarterly 40 (l):133–53.
Smith, M. G. 1965. The Plural Society in the British West Indies. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Spruyt, Hendrik. 1994. The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Stoll, David. 1999. Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Sutton, Malcolm. 1994. An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969–1993. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications.
Tajfel, Henri, ed. 1978. Differentiation Between Social Groups: Studies in the Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. London: Academic Press.
Tambiah, Stanley. 1986. Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tambiah, Stanley. 1992. Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Tambiah, Stanley. 1996. Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Tishkov, Valery. 1997. Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Conflict in and After the Soviet Union: The Mind Aflame. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.
Tversky, Amos, and Kahneman, Daniel. 1982. Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. In Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, edited by Kahneman, Daniel, Slovic, Paul, and Tversky, Amos, 320. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Woodward, Susan L. 1995. Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution.

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed