The Institutional Origins of Ethnic Violence

Author(s): Evan Lieberman, Prerna Singh 

Status/Format: Published

Date: 2012

Publication Type: Journal Article

Publisher: Comparative Politics

Volume and Issue: 45(1)

Page Numbers: 1 - 24


Scholars have made substantial progress toward understanding the connections between ethnic relations and civil war, but important theoretical and empirical gaps remain. Existing explanations often ignore the constructivist origins of ethnic group formation, or are too proximate to the outcome under investigation, so that the link between ethnic political competition and ethnic violence is difficult to pick apart. An alternative approach is an explanation of ethnic violence rooted in the microfoundations of social identity theory (SIT). When states consistently employ ethnic categories across institutions, they lay the foundation for conflicts over status and power, facilitating recruitment and mobilization on the basis of emotion-laden intergroup comparisons and competition. The strength of these claims is demonstrated through a comparative-historical analysis of ethnic violence in eleven Southern African countries.