Ethnicity and Conflict: Theory and Facts

By: Joan Esteban, Laura Mayoral and Debraj Ray

Published in:

Science 336, pages 585-865.


Over the second half of the 20th century, conflicts within national boundaries became increasingly dominant. One-third of all countries experienced civil conflict. Many (if not most) such conflicts involved violence along ethnic lines. On the basis of recent theoretical and empirical research, we provide evidence that preexisting ethnic divisions do influence social conflict. Our analysis also points to particular channels of influence. Specifically, we show that two different measures of ethnic division—polarization and fractionalization—jointly influence conflict, the former more so when the winners enjoy a “public” prize (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 to strongly support existing theories of intergroup conflict. Our argument also provides indirect evidence that ethnic conflicts are likely to be instrumental, rather than driven by primordial hatreds

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Published July 2, 2014 12:40 PM - Last modified Jan. 6, 2017 7:39 AM