2012 Esteban Mayoral Ray Ethnicity Conflict Science

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2012 Esteban Mayoral Ray Ethnicity Conflict Science

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  • DOI: 10.1126/science.1222240, 858 (2012);336 Science

    et al.Joan EstebanEthnicity and Conflict: Theory and Facts

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  • REVIEW

    Joan Esteban,1 Laura Mayoral,1 Debraj Ray1,2*

    Over the second half of the 20th century, conflicts within national boundaries became increasinglydominant. One-third of all countries experienced civil conflict. Many (if not most) such conflicts involvedviolence along ethnic lines. On the basis of recent theoretical and empirical research, we provide evidencethat preexisting ethnic divisions do influence social conflict. Our analysis also points to particular channelsof influence. Specifically, we show that two different measures of ethnic divisionpolarization andfractionalizationjointly influence conflict, the former more so when the winners enjoy a publicprize (such as political power or religious hegemony), the latter more so when the prize is private(such as looted resources, government subsidies, or infrastructures). The available data appear tostrongly support existing theories of intergroup conflict. Our argument also provides indirect evidencethat ethnic conflicts are likely to be instrumental, rather than driven by primordial hatreds.

    There are two remarkable facts about socialconflict that deserve notice. First, within-country conflicts account for an enormous

    share of deaths and hardship in the world today.Figure 1 depicts global trends in inter- and in-trastate conflict. Since the Second World War,there have been 22 interstate conflicts with morethan 25 battle-related deaths per year, and 9 ofthem have killed at least 1000 over the entirehistory of conflict (1). The total number of at-tendant battle deaths in these conflicts is es-timated to be around 3 to 8 million (2). The sameperiod witnessed 240 civil conflicts with morethan 25 battle-related deaths per year, and almosthalf of them killed more than 1000 (1). Estimatesof the total number of battle deaths are in therange of 5 to 10 million (2). Added to the directcount of battle deaths are the 25 million non-combatant civilian (3) and indirect deaths due todisease and malnutrition, which have been esti-mated to be at least four times as high as violentdeaths (4), as well as the forced displacements ofmore than 40 million individuals by 2010 (5). In2010 there were 30 ongoing civil conflicts (6).

    Second, internal conflicts often appear to beethnic in nature. More than half of the civil con-flicts recorded since the end of the SecondWorldWar have been classified as ethnic or religious(3, 7). One criterion for a conflict to be classifiedas ethnic is that it involves a rebellion against thestate on behalf of some ethnic group (8). Suchconflicts involved 14% of the 709 ethnic groupscategorized worldwide (9). Brubaker and. Laitin,examining the history of internal conflicts in thesecond half of the 20th century, are led to re-mark on the eclipse of the left-right ideologicalaxis and the marked ethnicization of violent

    challenger-incumbent contests (10). Horowitz,author of a monumental treatise on the subjectof ethnic conflict, observes that [t]he Marxianconcept of class as an inherited and determinativeaffiliation finds no support in [the] data. Marxsconception applies with far less distortion to eth-nic groups. In much of Asia and Africa, it isonly modest hyperbole to assert that the Marxianprophecy has had an ethnic fulfillment (11).

    The frightening ubiquity ofwithin-country con-flicts, as well as their widespread ethnic nature,provokes several questions. Do ethnic divisionspredict conflict within countries? How do we con-ceptualize those divisions? If it is indeed true thatethnic cleavages and conflicts are related, howdo we interpret such a result? Do primordial,ancestral ethnic hatreds trump more rationalforms of antagonism, such as the instrumentaluse of ethnicity to achieve political power oreconomic gain? To discuss and possibly answersome of these questions is the goal of this review.

    Class and Ethnicity as Drivers of ConflictThe study of human conflict is (and has been) acentral topic in political science and sociology.Economicswith relatively few and largely re-cent exceptionshas paid little attention to theissue. [For three recent overviews, see (1214).]Perhaps textbook economics, with its traditionalrespect for property rights, often presumes thatthe economic agents it analyzes share that respectand do not violently challenge allocations per-ceived to be unfair. Yet one of the notable excep-tions in economicsMarxdirectly or indirectlydominates the analytical landscape on conflict inthe rest of the social sciences. Class struggle, ormore generally, economic inequality, has beenviewed as the main driver of social conflict inindustrial or semi-industrial society (15). In Senswords, the relationship between inequality andrebellion is indeed a close one (16).

    Yet, intuitive as it might seem, this relationshipdoesnt receive emphatic empirical endorsement.In a detailed survey paper on the many attemptsto link income inequality and social conflictempirically, Lichbach mentions 43 papers on thesubject, some best forgotten (17). The evidenceis thoroughly mixed, concludes Lichbach, as hecites a variety of studies to support each possiblerelationship between the two, and others thatshow no relationship at all. Midlarsky remarkson the fairly typical finding of a weak, barelysignificant relationship between inequality andpolitical violence rarely is there a robust rela-tionship between the two variables (18).

    The emphasis on economic inequality as acausal correlate of conflict seems natural, andthere is little doubt that carefully implementedtheory will teach us how to better read the data(see below). Yet it is worth speculating on whythere is no clear-cut correlation. Certainly, eco-nomic demarcation across classes is a two-edgedsword: While it breeds resentment, the very

    1Institut d'Anlisi Econmica, CSIC andBarcelonaGSE, ES08193,Spain. 2New York University, New York, NY 10012, USA.

    *To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:[email protected]

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    Fig. 1. Armed conflicts by type. Sources: Databased on UCDP/PRIO armed conflict database. Conflictsinclude cases with at least 25 battle deaths in a single year.

    18 MAY 2012 VOL 336 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org858

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  • poverty of the have-nots separates them fromthe means for a successful insurrection. In addi-tion, redistribution across classes is invariably anindirect and complex process.

    The use of noneconomic markers such asethnicity or religion addresses both these issues.Individuals on either side of the ethnic divide willbe economically similar, so that the gains fromsuch conflict are immediate: The losing group canbe excluded from the sector in which it directlycompetes with the winners [e.g., (11, 19, 20)]. Inaddition, each group will have both poor andrich members, with the former supplying conflictlabor and the latter supplying con-flict finances (21). This suggests aninteresting interaction between in-equality and ethnicity, by which eth-nic groups with a higher degree ofwithin-group inequality will be moreeffective in conflict (22). Moreover, ithas been suggested that horizontalinequality (i.e., inequality across eth-nic groups) is an important correlateof conflict (2326).

    There are two broad views on theethnicity-conflict nexus [e.g., (10, 27)].The primordialist view (28, 29)takes the position that ethnic differ-ences are ancestral, deep, and irrec-oncilable and therefore invariablysalient. In contrast, the instrumentalapproach pioneered by (19) and dis-cussed in (10) sees ethnicity as astrategic basis for coalitions that seeka larger share of economic or politicalpower. Under this view, ethnicity is adevice for restricting the spoils to a smaller set ofindividua