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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

The Mind Factor in Ethnic Conflict: A Cross-Cultural Agenda
Glen Fisher

(Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1998)
114pp. Index. Bibl. Pb.: ISBN 1-877864-60-9. $15.95.

For their pervasiveness, intractability, and the serious dangers they pose to peace and stability within states and the global system, virulent and deadly ethnic conflicts can be regarded as defining elements of the world time of the post-Cold War era. If this is the case, should we not now accept ethnic conflicts as normal rather than pathological? Should we continue to regard analysis and management or resolution of ethnic conflicts as something outside the purview of mainstream international relations theory and practice? Why are these conflicts intractable, and what new tools and approaches are available to policy makers, mediators and international agencies who are guided by ethnocentric Western postulates and often have to deal with conflicts in societies they know little about? These are the sorts of questions that provoked Fisher's book. In particular, he is interested in how attempts to deal with ethnic conflicts by international relations experts and policy makers, who confront 11 real-life 11 situations of conflict that do not always conform to abstract formulations and conventional wisdom, can be enhanced. 1 believe he has tackled the questions fairly competently, by extending the psychological perspective of ethnicity.

The point of departure for Fisher is that ethnic conflicts are not abnormal and that although they occur within particular (historical, economic, social and cultural) contexts, the mobilisation they entail are similar. Perhaps what is common to all ethnic conflicts, but has not been given the attention it deserves, is the critical relevance of ethnic-specific psychology. It is this gap that Fisher tries to fill by emphasising the fundamentality of mindsets, that is, mental attitudes which are at once products of history, culture, ethical considerations of rightness and wrongness, to the understanding of ethnic conflicts and attempts to deal with them. Having elaborated on the conceptual ramifications of mindsets, the author then discuss five problem areas arising from the application of the strategy, and concludes with a checklist of pertinent practical considerations that should guide interventions in conflicts. I am sure that mediators and international relations experts who want a good mix of theory and "practical guides" will find this book very useful. One can however take issues with the author for suggesting that ethnic conflicts are a normal consequence of cultural differences, and that mindsets that govern ethnic behaviours rather fixed. But this takes nothing away from the author's point that knowing where those in conflict are "coming from" provides the practical key to unravelling the mysteries of ethnic conflicts.

Eghosa E Osaghae
University of lbadan, Nigeria

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