Constructivist Theories of Ethnic Politics

By Kanchan Chandra | Go to book overview

6
A Baseline Model of Change in an
Activated Ethnic Demography

KANCHAN CHANDRA AND CILANNE BOULET

Most studies of the relationship between ethnicity, politics, and economics assume that a country’s “activated ethnic demography”—the set and size of the ethnic categories activated in its population in the aggregate—is fixed. If the possibility of change is acknowledged at all, it is usually as an outcome of migration or intermarriage, and the presumption is that too few individuals have the option of change in the short term to make a difference in the aggregate (Alesina et al. 2003, Gutmann 2003). But an activated ethnic demography can indeed change in the short term—and large numbers of people can participate in such change. Such change does not always occur. But there is variation across countries in whether or not their activated ethnic demographies change over time, suggesting that fixity, when it occurs, cannot be treated as natural buthis a fact in need of explanation. There is also variation in the magnitude of such change—that is, in the proportion of individuals who change their activated identities—across countries.

Consider the variation in the incidence and magnitude of change in the activated ethnic demography of thee countries, described using census data: Rwanda, Brazil, and Sri Lanka.1 Rwanda’s first census, taken in 1978, reported a Hutu majority of 91% and a Tutsi minority of 8%.2 The next census, taken thirteen years later, reported exactly the same set of categories, with the same sizes (see Figures 6.1 and 6.2). At least in the context of the census, then, Rwanda’s

1 Census data, as Chapter 4 argued, should be read not as an objective snapshot of the population but as a record of categories activated, by choice or assignation, in the context of the census. The ethnic categories—and therefore ethnic demography—activated in this context may or may not coincide with those activated by individuals in other contexts.

2 We report here only those categories that are 1% of the population or higher, at the highest level of aggregation as reported in the census.

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