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Hechter and Okamoto: Political consequences of minority group formation

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Hechter and Okamoto. 2001. Political consequences of minority group formation. Annual Review of Political Science 4:189-215.

Three necessary conditions must obtain before minority groups significantly affect statewide politics:

"when (a) they have distinctive social identities, (b) they have the potential to engage in collective action, and (c) their political demands are not likely to be met by the existing institutional arrangements. We discuss each of these conditions for the mobilization of minority groups by examining the debates and theories in the literature and corresponding empirical evidence." (page 190)

1: Forming a distinctive identity:

The authors outline both micro- and macro- foundations of social identity. The two most important micro foundations are (1) interest interdependence and (2) categorization by a third party. Industrialization (e.g.) often creates the first condition (e.g. laborers are mutually dependent) and state building often creates the second (when the state categorizes minorities). For a clear explanation of the causal link between state building and categorization, see page 194; for an explanation of two proposed links between industrialization and interest dependence, see 195 on (the two mechanisms are (1) ethnic division of labor and (2) competition for jobs). Macro foundations: ethnicity is socially constructed, not primordial. "Perhaps the most judicious conclusion is that national identity is a (relatively) modern construction that is sometimes built on prior cultural foundations." (page 194)

The authors also look at institutional factors that can strengthen social identity, and at when assimilation is likely to suceed or fail. See notes in margins.

2: Being able to engage in collective action:

"Nationalist collective action is unlikely to occur in the absence of (a) preexisting social groups formed to provide members with insurance, welfare, and other kinds of private goods, (b) a widespread demand for autonomy or outright independence, and (c) the opportunity to act collectively on behalf of one's ethnic group." (page 202)

Overcoming free-riding: besides Olson's classic suggestions about collective incentives and coercive participation, these things help overcome freeriding: "These include the group's monitoring capacity (Hechter 1987), the magnitude and character of its social rewards (Chong 1991), members' fear of incurring social penalties (Hardin 1995), conformity to internalized norms of political action (Muller et al 1991), and self-conscious cooperation to promote collective rationality" (page 202). These conditions are most easily met if a group already (or has in the past) had organizations designed to produce private goods (e.g. African churches were the centerpiece of the US civil rights movement).

3: Existing institutional arrangements cannot meet minorities' demands

Federalism: The most debated institution. The authors propose an interesting solution to the three common explanations [(1) that federalism helps, (2) that it hurts, (3) that it doesn't matter], namely:

"One possible interpretation of the conflicting evidence comes to mind. This interpretation rests on Riker's (1964) view of federation as an exchange relation, or bargain, between relevant agents in the center and in the periphery. The utility of any such bargain depends on the resources each party brings to the relationship. If the center in a federation loses resources--or is perceived as having lost them because of failures in war and an inability to maintain social order--peripheral leaders are likely to be emboldened to strike out on their own (Hechter 2000). Because federation grants them more resources than their counterparts in centralized regimes, nationalism is likely to arise. Moreover, according to this logic, nationalism should arise first in those parts of a federation that have the greatest resources (Hale 2000). In centralized regimes, however, nationalist or secessionist movements may be more likely to break out in less developed, rather than more developed, regions (Horowitz 1985, Hechter 1992)." (page 204)

Besides institutions, there must also be an opportunity for minorities to mobilize: "The concept of political opportunity encompasses far more than regime structure. McAdam (1996) specifies four dimensions of political opportunity: the relative openness or closure of the political system (presumably, federation would figure here), the stability of elite alignments, the presence or absence of elite allies, and the state's capacity for repression." (page 204) A crisis (economic or political, or democratization) also helps. Unfortunately, "political opportunity" in practice is just used as a fudge factor. For it to be useful, we need more precise theoretical explanations of what an opportunity is.

4: International context

Some argue for "contagion" and "diffusion" effects. Contagion means that conflict next door can prompt domestic ethnic groups to rebel; diffusion means that conflict in another country by a kindred ethnid group can cause you to rebel. (page 206)

Research on similar subjects


Hechter, Michael (author)Okamoto, Daniel (author)Comparative PoliticsEthnic ConflictNationalismRebellionCivil War

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