IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Ethnic Conflict: a few more thoughts

I wrote a relatively long post on ethnic conflict in December .  However, there are other issues connected with ethnic conflict that I have not really discussed.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the idea of an ethnic group .  If you check out the Wikster page on this topic, you will see all the usual ideas about people identifying with each other because of certain characteristics.  However, when I step back and think about it for a minute, I realize that an ethnic group is any group of people that has come to conceive of itself as an ethnic group.  That is, ethnicity is socially and historically constructed, it is not “inscribed”.  It has emerged out of the historical experience of the people involved.

As we have also discussed, the idea of ethnic group is closely related to the 19th century idea of “nation”.  It was felt in those days that humanity could be divided into distinct peoples or nations, and that there should be one state per nation.  The democratic principle of “self determination” reflects this view:  basically, the “people” are supposed to have the right to decide how they want to be governed.  However, it is not at all straightforward to decide who “the people” are, and it has always been a challenge to find a means for them to decide.

What we have seen in the 20th and now the 21st century is that one nation/one state is not (and actually never was) possible as a principle of organization of global governance.  What we have also seen, is that the struggle for self-determination by ethnic groups has become a source of enormous violence and suffering, as civil wars of various kinds have gone on an on, and brought in their wake drug trafficking, diamond trafficking, child soldiers, etc…

It seems to me that we urgently need to move beyond a 19th century conception of nation and ethnicity, and come to see all “peoples” as one people.  I suspect most ethnic consciousness comes from a group being put on the defensive, or as Burton would argue, having some of their human needs denied by the powers that be.  As I mentioned in my last post, those needs have to be met sooner or later for peace to prevail.


February 21, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] into a society that is trained to recognize often uncontrollable differences. I recently found a blog that shared some of my same concerns. In IG’s Peace Blog, the author hit on multiple points […]

    Pingback by Ethnic Conflict & U.S. Debt « Crupprecht's Flog | January 27, 2010 | Reply

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