Ethnicity and Conflict: A Theoretical Perspective

By Majeed, Gulshan | Journal of Political Studies, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Ethnicity and Conflict: A Theoretical Perspective


Majeed, Gulshan, Journal of Political Studies


Abstract

Ethnicity has been the most significant phenomenon of the modern world. Stratification and diversification with variegated dimensions and context is an inbound mechanism of a social fabric of a society and state. Different scholars, intellectuals and men of letters studied the phenomenon of ethnicity in different ways. Some intellectuals call it as a minority, insiders, outsiders, others and nationalities. Ethnicity can be defined as a group of individuals identified on the basis of race, colour, language and territory. These groups have been existing almost in every part of the world. In reality the states are plural societies with many national, sub-national, religious, professional, racial, linguistic and geographic identities. In some states these identities live side by side, while in others they conflict with each other and undermine political edifice of the society. Ethnic identities live peacefully without conflicting with each other until and unless they are triggered to do so. The apparent and pre-dominant cause of conflict among different ethnic identities is politico- economic imbalance and these identities, if in conflict have potential to destabilize or disintegrate the political system of any country. There is hard need to initiate various measures, though which will not eliminate the possibilities of ethnic conflicts, but definitely minimize them.

Key Words: Stratification, diversification, ethnic politics, explicit conflicts, prejudices, Participation

There is hardly any state in the world which is not ethnically plural. These pluralities live side by side without intermingling with each other. In developed states of the world ethnic identities play a constructive role towards the stability of political system but developing polities remain unable to place different ethnic groups politically, socially and economically at their appropriate place. Therefore, ethnic identities get an opportunity to resist against the policies of ruling authority. Weak political system remains unable to address actual grievances of deprived people. Resistance under these circumstances starts to escalate and pose a major threat to the integrity of state. It is very necessary for building up a stable political system to grant various ethnic identities the right to decide their own future (Gillov, 1983: 34). Equal opportunities should be before going into detail here it is deemed necessary to define the phenomenon of ethnicity. Ethnicity seems to be new term; however, the word "ethnic" is much older. The word ethnic is most probably derived from the Latin word "ethnicus" or from the Greek word "ethnikos" which means, national, foreign and genile (Eriksen, 1993: 3).

Ethnic in English began as an adjective, meaning pagan or heathen. In Social Sciences, the sense or connotation was racial or ethnological. In 1941, sociologists W.Lioyd Warner and Paul S.Lunt, in 'The Social Life of a Modern Community' employed the term for the first time as a noun, hence wrote:

"These groups...we have called "ethnic" (Eriksen, 1993: 3).

Anthropologists describe ethnic as:

"A group possessing some degree of coherence and solidarity composed of people who are, or at least latently, aware of having common origin and interests" (Cashmore, 1993: 97).

According to Cambridge Encyclopedia:

"It is a group of individuals identified on the basis of race, colour, language and territory" (Crystal, 1991: 421)

Furnivall explains the concept of ethnicity in a very simple and elaborate way:

"A group of individuals living side by side but not intermingling with each other" (Furnivall, 1984: 23-45).

According to Furnivall ethnic groups want to preserve their specific identity. Ethnicity itself is not harmful for the existence of any society. The intensity of different variables creates contradictory point of view and hostile environment within the territory of any state.

Centhia Enloe has given a very comprehensive definition:

"That people grouped together on the basis of territory, professions, languages, geography without conflicting with each other until and unless they are triggered to do so" (Enloe, 1975: 275). …

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