Ethnic Politics

Why do people frequently identify with and/or organize along ethnic and racial lines? And with what consequences for democratic stability, political order, dignity, and development? These have been the central questions of my research throughout my career, and continue to animate my work. I have recently become a fellow of the Canadian, Institute for Advanced Research group on Boundaries, Membership and Belonging.

New approaches to Studying Ethnic Politics

Andrew Miller (PhD student, MIT) and I are in the early stages of a project investigating inter-ethnic conflict in Nigeria through textual analyses of online discourse. Stay tuned

Ethnic-based Preferences:

A big question that has animated most of scholarly research agenda concerns the effects of particular configurations of racial and ethnic identities on policy-making. For example, my first scholarly book focused on the effects of the different ways in which the “race question” was addressed in Brazil and South Africa on the development of the tax systems in those countries. And my second book showed that when ethnic identities were strongly institutionalized — such as in countries like India and South Africa, political leaders were much less likely to respond aggressively to a sensitive health issue like HIV/AIDS.


More recently, along with some collaborators, I have been exploring some related ideas with more micro-level data.

For example, Gwyneth McClendon (Harvard) and I analyzed Afrobarometer data across 16 countries and found significant differences in the policy preferences of individuals across ethnic groups, challenging a fair bit of research on the subject. Even when it seems to be against their own individual self-interest, co-ethnics seem to share views and priorities. This work appeared in Comparative Political Studies.

Also, Yarrow Dunham (Yale), Steve Snell (Duke) and I conducted some experiments on the relationship between social identity, risk perception, and policy priorities around disease risks in the United States, and that work appears in PLoS One.

Institutionalized Ethnicity

Prerna Singh (Brown), and I carried out collaborative research on how to conceptualize and measure the thorny notion of “ethnic politics,” and also to understand some of the causes and consequences of mobilizing ethnic categories. Here is a link to our project website:

Institutionalized Ethnicity 2015-10-25 17-33-36

Our first article from that project lays out some broad conceptual and measurement strategies, and appears in Studies in Comparative International Development.

Our second article shows how a broad set of state institutions affected the salience of ethnic differences, in turn leading to outbreaks of violent ethnic conflict across 11 Southern African countries. That piece appears in Comparative Politics.

A third article, published in World Politics, analyzes an original dataset of census enumeration questionnaires from around the globe to test the proposition that enumeration of ethnic cleavages increases the likelihood of conflict. We demonstrate a strong and robust pattern consistent with this hypothesis.