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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Social Conflicts and Collective Identities
Patrick G. Coy and Lynne M. Woehrle (eds.)

Lanham and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000
232pp. Index. Pb.: $25.95; ISBN 0-7425-0051-9.

This interesting collection of essays dedicated to Louis Kriesburg examines the theoretical and empirical aspects of the relationship between collective identity construction and reconstruction and conflict resolution approaches. It examines the way in which identity both shapes and is shaped by conflict and how conflict resolution approaches may make a useful contribution to the unravelling of the complexities that result, based upon the premise that conflict can both be a destructive and constructive social phenomena. Based in part upon the contribution Kriesburg has made to the investigation of the relationship between the social construction of identity and various forms of conflict, this study examines how '?people create conflict as part of their definition of themselves and of the groups to which they belong, and to achieve what they need to survive and develop. Conflict is this part of the construction of our social reality.' (p.2.)

The introduction by Lynne M.Woehrie and Patrick G. Coy examines the development of conflict analysis in this context, pointing to the general exploitation of identity formation by power brokers who tend to believe that their objectives can be furthered if they can persuade their constituents to ignore the needs of other identity groups (p.8.). Part One looks at the construction of the 'other' and its role in creating conflict, with a contribution from Gina Petonito on racial discourse in the case of Japanese internment in WWII, which illustrates how easily enemy images can be created and receive wide endorsement. This is followed by an examination of the role of emotion in the Falklands conflict by Nora Femenia, in particular in the construction of stereotypes of the other. In Chapter 4, Ross A. Klein looks at the disproportionate 'power' of small states in the context of the conflicts over fishing rights between Iceland and the UK, and Ecuador, Peru and the US, particularly in the formation of collective identities. In Chapter 5, Sean Byrne looks at the impact of conflict on children in the case of Northern Ireland, and how power politics exploits ethno-religious and national identity formation processes at this level. Part II of the book looks at the construction of identities in conflict resolution. Celia Cook- Huffman looks at the framing of social identity and gender in a Church-community conflict, illustrating how shifting identities can be a response to, and also cause, conflict. Verna M. Cavey examines the Quaker separation in 1827 and how groups can break down into sub groups because of internal conflicts despite the fact that they may have their own institutional conflict management mechanisms. In Chapter 8 Brian Polkinghorn examines how collective identities are exploited to simplify negotiating positions in environmental protection negotiations, and more generally how identity politics can be used to enfranchise and disenfranchise certain groups. In Chapter 9 Christine Wagner looks at the relationship between politics, patriotism and gender and demonstrates how factors of exclusion can strengthen identity formation in the face of adversity. In the final chapter Richard Kendrick looks at peace movement recruitment and how social movements may appeal to identity needs in order to draw attention to critical social issues.

This is a valuable and pertinent addition to the literature on identity and conflict, and examines a diverse range of actors, levels and issues, in a phenomena that is now global. Perhaps my one criticism would be that there is little engagement throughout the book with how the various micro-level or regional conflicts which emerge because of the shaping and reshaping of identies have a global impact, through abrasion with the states-system at a conceptual level and through the constant [re] construction of binary identity which it promotes.

Dr. Oliver Richmond
Department of International Relations

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