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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Democracy and Democratization
Georg Sørensen

(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998)
174pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: £12.50; ISBN 0-8133-9984.

The stated purpose of this work is "to evaluate the current prospects for democracy and democratization" worldwide. The book is comprehensive in scope, synthesizing an impressive range of important and complex debates in a clear, concise style. Only in its scant attention to questions of ethnic conflict and democracy does it disappoint.

Sorensen starts with the basics - what is democracy - and succeeds, in the space of 135 pages, in providing cogent discussions of most of the important and current issues relevant to his central question. Key issues covered include: conceptualizing and measuring democracy; the dynamics of democratic transition; the relationships between democratization and economic growth and development; relationships between democracy and interstate conflict; and prospects for democratic consolidation.

Too often, works on comparative democratization treat the most recent democratizers, particularly in Africa, as exceptional or residual cases that can neither inform nor be informed by mainstream theories of democratization. This book is a welcome exception. Throughout, Sorensen conveys the complexities of democratization in diverse empirical contexts, without losing sight of the theoretical significance of this diversity. Major theoretical debates, fed primarily by the experience of advanced industrialized nations of the West, are thoughtfully considered in the context of the developing world and the post-Communist states. Considerable space is devoted, for example, to whether the 'democratic peace' arguments are likely to hold with respect to emerging democracies both in the South and in Eastern Europe.

In a work of both ambitious scope and modest length, it is inevitable that some subjects will receive short shrift. Unfortunately, that is the case here with respect to democracy and ethnic conflict. Sorensen devotes only about two pages to the potential effects of ethnic conflict on democracy and vice versa, in the chapter on the international consequences of democratization. The brief references to such issues as ethnic diversity as a potential hindrance to political community or as a tool to be manipulated by politicians leave the reader more curious than informed. Absent is any discussion of the relative importance of institutional design, sequencing within the transition process, or other factors likely to affect the relationship between democratization and the politicization of ethnicity or ethnically based violence. Indeed the whole question of violence in new democracies, ethnically based or not, goes undiscussed. Yet these are important issues, particularly in the most recent democratizers, where democratization has often come on the heels of civil war or has followed authoritarian regimes that engaged in systematic campaigns of violence against particular social groups.

Overall, however, Sorensen has provided a useful, readable and wide-ranging introduction to the core debates on democratization.

Carrie Manning, Georgia State University

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