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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Ethnicity and Intra-State Conflict: Types, causes and peace strategies
Hakan Wiberg & Christian P. Scherrer eds,

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999)
338pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 42.50 ISBN 1-8401-4713-X



The vast majority, ten of fourteen, of the essays in this collection address theoretical and conceptual issues surrounding the study of ethnic conflict: measures of ethnic conflict, literature reviews, musings on the micro-foundations of ethnic conflict, and propositions for conflict resolution. The four case studies that comprise the concluding section come as a welcome relief; finally, some empirical detail. The very best of these essays focus on the micro-foundations and individual level motivations behind conflict behavior. For example, Tarja Vayrynen's and Ralf Ronnquist's essays present some engaging, though surface, conceptions for the interaction between ethnic identity and individual action. Each author falls within the "social constructionist" school of ethnicity. Vayrynen offers the idea of individuals possessing an "identity budget;" Ronnquist distinguishes between ethnic identity and identification. For each author, identity is passive, whereas identification requires an active component where one consciously acts in accordance with the most salient component of their identity. Though neither author clearly specifies the mechanism that activates one component of identity over any other, they ascribe a great deal of agency to social context, political rhetoric, and elite motivation. This common thread helps to unify the essays in this volume, but there is one, almost amusing, disjuncture in this theme. Chritian Scherrer, in one of the introductory essays that attempts to justify the study of ethnic conflict, analyzes conflict data from 1985 to 1996. He finds that two-thirds of all conflicts in this time period had a "dominant or influential ethnic character (53)." Yet, Tamara Dragadze, in the volume's most insightful piece, questions the pervasiveness of ethnic conflict. She argues that the term, itself, serves as a camouflage for violations of human rights. The ethnification of conflicts distracts attention from the true causes of violence between groups, and it is, thus, important to look behind what the interested parties are saying in order to attain some measure of conflict resolution. The essays in this volume are too short to provide any strong conclusions, but they constitute an interesting series of research agendas and well documented literature reviews that make this an interesting compilation of conceptual and semantic thought exercises.


Professor John Ginkel
Washington University in St. Louis.




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