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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Global Convulsion
Winston A Van Horne ed.,

(New York: State University of New York Press, 1997)
364pp, index, ISBN 0-7914-3235-1 hb, 0-7914-3236-X.
pb, $19.95

Global Convulsions is about ethnic and related conflicts in contemporary plural societies. At issue also is the stability and survival of the state, as minorities in these societies struggle for autonomy or independence. In five or so stimulating Chapters on race, nationalism, ethnicity, and aspects of culture, part I of the work tries to grapple with the basic concepts and issues which tend to create divisions, or around which ideological differences and barriers are constructed. These theoretical issues, plus the substance of the various Chapters, are summarized in an extended introduction, where the editor also makes some important comments. For example he notes, (P.9) , that race and similar distinctions often conceal deep-seated material interests. Thus racial-segregation apologia in the United States essentially seeks "the continued transgenerational, racial inheritance of the superior position..." Perhaps because the book is pre-occupied with the documentation of ethnic flash-points around the world, no separate chapter is devoted to weaving the basic concepts into a theoretical framework. Such an approach might have afforded a systematic exploration of some basic questions high-lighted here and there in the book. For instance, are ethnicity and nationalism primordial manifestations of the more universalist ideals of class or ideologically- based affiliations? Is ethnicity and its attendant upheavals a peculiar scourge of pre-industrialized societies? What does the disintegration of Yugoslavia and Soviet empire teach us about the best ways of resolving or accommodating ethnonational divisions within political institutions? And finally how far are differences in ethnic origins, culture, language and religion proxies for purely material considerations?

The outstanding value of Global Convulsions consists in the case studies of ethnonational problems in selected countries. The book is thus a sort of history of the politics of nation-building from the Middle East to the Balkans, and from the old Soviet state to China in north-east Asia. Of particular interest are the struggles by the Kurds for autonomy within their mountainous homes across Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; the role of myth, history and religion in the problems of the divided societies of Northern Ireland; and the drama of Quebecan separatism in Canada. Some instances are given in which economic prosperity and mutual interests sometimes temper state-seeking agitations. But, pious hopes apart, there are no prescriptions for ending ethnonational tensions, and readers may find themselves pondering, along with Brian E. Porter, (P.112), over the future prospects of the nation-state.

G.A.Akinola, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

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