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Conflict Theory and Conflict


Obstacles to a theory of ethnic conflict are formidable

Notoriously treacherous intellectual terrain - most

definitions embody an element of struggle, strife, or

Conflict is usually defined in terms of mutually exclusive
Lewis Coser: 'Conflict is a struggle in which the aim is to
gain objectives and simultaneously to neutralize, injure,
or eliminate rivals'
Despite slow start, some theoretical statements have been
advanced to explain ethnic conflict

Tradition and Modernization

Often studied in the context of, or concerned with,

First view is to consider it a mere relic of an
outmoded traditionalism to be overtaken by
Second view is to regard it as a traditional but
unusually stubborn impediment to modernization
Third view is to interpret ethnic conflict as an
integral part - even a product - of the process of

Ethnicity and Tradition

Perceived ethnic allegiances as vestigial affiliations

that wouldn't stand the onslaught of modern forced

The modern strata was considered to be
'detribalized' but...

Ethnicity and Modernization

Ethnic conflict is a by-product of modernization; criticized for

being time-bound
Deutsch first advanced the idea of social mobilization being related
to ethnic conflict. Considered an overall process of change which
happens to substantial parts of a population in countries
undergoing shift from traditional to modern ways. And
involvement in mass politics.
'Ethnic conflict is the product of something analogous to a race
between rates of mobilization and change'
From earlier being considered a vestige of past, now considered
part of modernization
Stress 2 important themes: role of elite ambitions and role of
differential modernization of ethnic groups

Economic Interest
Ethnic conflict generally an embarrassment to proponents

of class politics
Ethnic groups and classes rarely overlap
First view consider ethnic conflict artificial - masks class
interests and diverts working class from pursuing
interests and confronting real enemies
Second version of materialist theory stresses rational
working class competition.
Third formulation is of middleman minorities and host
Economic interests and group sacrifices

Cultural Pluralism
Often labeled cultural conflicts, because cultural differences more importantly

divide ethnic groups

Is there any reason to believe that the more pronounced the cultural differences,
the greater the chance of ethnic conflict?
Theory of plural society by J. S. Furnivall and refined by M. G. Smith contains some
conceptions of the role of cultural differences in the politics of ethnic relations
Furnivall's theory based on his experience in Southeast Asia
Smith's theory 'cultural pluralism consists of the coexistence within a single society
of groups possessing 'mutually incompatible' institutional systems'.
Any institutional system tends toward internal integration and consistency, which
results in formation of a closed unit, or in case of diversity, in subordination of one.
Plural societies therefore are defied by dissensus and are pregnant with conflict
Later Smith distinguished 'differential incorporation', 'consociational
incorportation' and 'uniform incorporation'
Value dissensus may lead to conflict if one group's precious norm is infringed upon.