Ethnic conflict

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An ethnic conflict or ethnic war is a conflict between ethnic groups often as a result of ethnic nationalism. They are of interest because of the apparent prevalence since the Cold War and because they frequently result in war crimes such as genocide. Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought: primordialist, instrumentalist or constructivist. Intellectual debate has also focused around the issue of whether ethnic conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War, and on devising ways of managing conflicts, through instruments such as consociationalism and federalisation.


Theories of ethnic conflict

The causes of ethnic conflict are debated by political scientists and sociologists who generally fall into one of three schools of thought: primordialist, instrumentalist, and constructivist. More recent scholarship draws on all three schools in order to increase our understanding of ethnic conflict.

Primordialist accounts

Proponents of primordialist accounts of ethnic conflict argue that “[e]thnic groups and nationalities exist because there are traditions of belief and action towards primordial objects such as biological features and especially territorial location”.[1] The primordialist account relies on a concept of kinship between members of an ethnic group. Donald L. Horowitz argues that this kinship “makes it possible for ethnic groups to think in terms of family resemblances”.[2]

There are a number of political scientists who refer to the concept of ethnic wars as a myth because they argue that the root causes of ethnic conflict do not involve ethnicity but rather institutional, political, and economic factors. These political scientists argue that the concept of ethnic war is misleading because it leads to an essentialist conclusion that certain groups are doomed to fight each other when in fact the wars between them are the result of political decisions. Opposing groups may substitute ethnicity for the underlying factors to simplify identification of friend and foe.

Instrumentalist accounts

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