An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending
Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought:
The causes of ethnic conflict are debated by
Proponents of primordialist accounts 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". Primordialist accounts rely on strong ties of
A number of political scientists argue that the root causes of ethnic conflict do not involve ethnicity per se but rather institutional, political, and economic factors. These scholars argue that the concept of ethnic war is misleading because it leads to an
Moreover, primordial accounts do not account for the spatial and temporal variations in ethnic violence. If these "ancient hatreds" are always simmering under the surface and are at the forefront of people's consciousness, then ethnic groups should constantly be ensnared in violence. However, ethnic violence occurs in sporadic outbursts. For example, Varshney points out that although Yugoslavia broke up due to ethnic violence in the 1990s, it had enjoyed a long peace of decades before the USSR collapsed. Therefore, some scholars claim that it is unlikely that primordial ethnic differences alone caused the outbreak of violence in the 1990s.
Primordialists have reformulated the "ancient hatreds" hypothesis and have focused more on the role of human nature. Petersen argues that the existence of hatred and animosity does not have to be rooted in history for it to play a role in shaping human behavior and action: "If "ancient hatred" means a hatred consuming the daily thoughts of great masses of people, then the "ancient hatreds" argument deserves to be readily dismissed. However, if hatred is conceived as a historically formed "schema" that guides action in some situations, then the conception should be taken more seriously."
Mass mobilization of ethnic groups can only be successful if there are latent ethnic differences to be exploited, otherwise politicians would not even attempt to make political appeals based on ethnicity and would focus instead on economic or ideological appeals. For these reasons, it is difficult to completely discount the role of inherent ethnic differences. Additionally, ethnic entrepreneurs, or elites, could be tempted to mobilize ethnic groups in order to gain their political support in democratizing states. Instrumentalists theorists especially emphasize this interpretation in ethnic states in which one ethnic group is promoted at the expense of other ethnicities.
Furthermore, ethnic mass mobilization is likely to be plagued by collective action problems, especially if ethnic protests are likely to lead to violence. Instrumentalist scholars have tried to respond to these shortcomings. For example, Russell Hardin argues that ethnic mobilization faces problems of coordination and not collective action. He points out that a charismatic leader acts as a focal point around which members of an ethnic group coalesce. The existence of such an actor helps to clarify beliefs about the behavior of others within an ethnic group.
A third, constructivist, set of accounts stress the importance of the socially constructed nature of ethnic groups, drawing on
Some argue that constructivist narratives of historical master cleavages are unable to account for local and regional variations in ethnic violence. For example, Varshney highlights that in the 1960s "racial violence in the USA was heavily concentrated in northern cities; southern cities though intensely politically engaged, did not have riots". A constructivist master narrative is often a country level variable whereas we often have to study incidences of ethnic violence at the regional and local level.
Scholars of ethnic conflict and