Constructivist Theories of Ethnic Politics

By Kanchan Chandra | Go to book overview

Constructivist Theories
of Ethnic Politics

Although theories of the formation of ethnic groups are driven by the constructivist assumption that ethnic identities can change over time, theories of the effect of ethnicity on economic and political outcomes are driven by the primordialist assumption that these identities are fixed. This book is a first cuthat building— and rebuilding—our theories of politics and economics on a fortified constructivist foundation. It proposes a new conceptual framework for thinking about ethnic identity. It uses this framework to synthesize constructivist arguments into a set of testable propositions about how and why ethnic identities change. It translates this framework—and the propositions derived from it—into a new, combinatorial language. And it employs these conceptual, constructivist, and combinatorial tools to theorize about the relationship between ethnicity, politics, and economics using a variety of methods.

The conceptual tools provided here open new avenues for theory building by representing the complexity of a world of fluid, multiple, and endogenous ethnic identities in an analytically tractable way. The theoretical arguments challenge the bad name that ethnic diversity appears to have acquired in social scientific literature. According to this literature, ethnic diversity and its analogs typically produce regimes that are less stable, less democratic, less well-governed, less peaceful, poorer, and marked by slower rates of economic growth than regimes in which the population is ethnically homogeneous. Ethnic diversity has a bad name in policy prescriptions too, which typically frame it as a “problem” to be solved, mitigated, or eliminated.

Taking the possibility of change in ethnic identity into account, this book shows the theoretical logics linking ethnic diversity to such negative outcomes. When ethnic diversity is associated with malign outcomes, it shows that the cause lies not in the intrinsic nature of ethnic identities, but in environmental factors that interact with them. Ethnic diversity, furthermore, can sometimes serve as a benign force, strengthening rather than threatening democracy, preventing rather than producing violence, and inhibiting rather than accelerating state collapse or secession. This book identifies some of the conditions that associate ethnic diversity with malign or benign outcomes. Even more importantly, it changes the questions we might ask about the relationship between ethnicity, politics, and economics.

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