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Horowitz: Ethnic groups in conflict

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.

Horowitz. 1985. Ethnic groups in conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.



Summary: Horowitz concedes that in no case is politics easily reduced to the simple common denominator of ethnic ties, even in deeply divided societies. The degree to which ethnicity is pervasive is variable. In deeply divided societies, ethnic affiliations impact not only family and social life, but also more formal organizational life. This applies to both the realms of political and economic life (ex. organization of capital and labor, party systems). He argues that for comparative analysis distinguishing between ranked and unranked systems, centralization of groups, severity of division, and group differences is important. He also argues that ethnic groups, which are tied heavily to kinship, are bounded in such a way to maximize the effective use of the political structure and provide many services that are replacements for what the modern western state provides.

Comparative analysis and ethnicity: "In intellectual terms, ethnic relations has been a field rife with dogma and lacking in agreement on first principles," (14). Horowitz argues that the study of ethnic problems is hindered by the lack of a common organizational structure necessary for comparative analysis. He argues that the following dimensions are important:

1.The severity of division--he determines that Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean have the most severe divisions. These areas have similar experiences with colonialism, do not have salient supraethnic identities nor do they have conflicting group differences that compete with ethnicity, and the intensity of ethnic conflict is higher in these regions. (I.e. no crosscutting cleavages--ethnic cleavages are the dominant distinctions).

2.The hierarchical nature of the groups--Here he introduces the concept of ranked vs. unranked groups. Whether or not ranking occurs is determined by the coincidence (or lack thereof) of social-class ties to ethnicity. Ranked groups (Rwanda) are hierarchical--there are subordinate and superordinate groups and mobility is restricted by identity. Unranked groups cross classes--they are parallel in formation, and transactions can occur across groups.

3.The centralization of groups--In centrally focused systems, cleavages are of greater magnitude and the center is often the focus of competition.

4.The groups are defined by ascriptive differences. Color, although a prominent indicator, is not the sole indicator. Origin/ethnicity can be determined by other things such as language, grammar, religion, or dress.

Ethnic groups and kinship--Ethnicity is familistic. Those in ethnic groups recognize each other as kin for many reasons (for example, because nepotism is more acceptable than ethnic discrimination). "Ethnicity and kinship thus overlap in a quite direct, operational way: the former builds on the latter, the one is often confused with the other, and behavior in one sphere is extended into the other." (61). Extending the kinship network in many ways allows the group to be more effective, reduce transaction costs, and form ethnic political organizations.

Permanence of group boundaries: Boundaries are malleable. When ethnic fragmentation leaves a group disadvantaged it can amalgamate or incorporate. On the other hand, separatist movements divide or proliferate dependent on political context. (See table 1 on p. 65).

The state and ethnic groups: Ethnic loyalties are often the result of the transactional networks associated with the state. Ethnic bonds create ties between bureaucrats and citizens and in many ways provided the trust, reciprocity, sense of fairness, and assistance that was necessary in the colonial and post-colonial state.

Ethnicity and class: By way of Marx's comments on social class affiliation, Horowitz argues that ethnicity is more compelling of a distinction than class. He argues that class is not wholly inherited and inescapable; rather, ethnicity with its connections to family is more rigid (i.e. given at birth, maintains a certain "position" in society).


In these chapters, Horowitz outlines the origins and manifestations of "raw" ethnic sentiment. In the next Part, he discusses how institutions can affect the expression of this sentiment. Together, Horowitz calls these the "two imperatives" of explaining ethnic conflict (228).

CHAPTER 3: (1) The lit review of three main approaches that have been applied to ethnic conflict: Modernization theory, economic interests, and cultural pluralism. In this chapter, he shows where these approaches fall short and concludes by pointing out what they don't explain [things that his social psychological theory will explain, by the way]. (2) The most important theme as he rebuts economic theories is the "ethnic division of labor": most economic theories assume that ethnic conflict arises either from ethnic groups competing for jobs, or business leaders competing for the same market, or whatever. But he points out that, in most societies, one group favors some lines of work, and another group favors others--making most of these economic theories about economic competition causing conflict moot. (3) See the outline I made of this chapter in a Word file.

CHAPTER 4: Horowitz begins to outline his group psychological explanation of ethnic conflict in earnest. (1) Much of the tension between ethnic groups comes from group comparison: people evaluate their abilities/worth relative to other people, and since group identity is often central to individual identity [particularly in Asia and Africa, especially post-colonial societies], their self-esteem is strongly influenced by a comparison of their group to others. (2) Colonial policies strengthened group identities, on the one hand, and created "advanced" and "backward" groups on the other. (3) Despite the importance of the "ethnic division of labor" that Horowitz outlined in chapter 3 [essentially, this means that economic conflict rarely coincides with ethnic conflict because different ethnic groups often embrace different economic paths], he now argues that in-group elites in backward groups may exhort their group to "catch up" to and "emulate" advanced groups. [It seems like this brutally vitiates is "ethnic division of labor" argument for why economic theories don't work]. Many "backward" groups have an anxious fear of going extinct like the "Red Indians of America" if they fall behind. (4) Horowitz concludes by admiting [but not defending] his focus on group, rather than individual, psychology [in other words, he has no microfoundations to speak of]. (5) See the much more detailed notes I made in a Word file.

CHAPTER 5: (1) Western conceptions of politics are often procedural: power is a means to an end (e.g. redistribution). In ethnically divided societies, power is also an end unto itself, for two reasons: it confirms group worth, and it ensures group survival. (2) Different ethnic groups have different claims of legitimacy. Some accept their "alien" status without claiming legitimacy. Claims to legitimacy have many sources (e.g. indigenousness, colonial legacy, special missions, etc.) and can vary in their moderation/extremism. (3) Combining group esteem needs [see ch. 4] with competing claims for legitimacy yields the dynamic of ethnic politics: a politics of entitlement [i.e. an argument about who will be represented and how]. Recall from ch. 4 that _relative_ welfare of groups is often more important than the _absolute_ welfare of society--that matters here. (4) These factors explain the importance of symoblic politics, with language being the ultimate symbol. Language can be used to exclude other groups; "the status of the language denotes the status of the group that speaks it"; language affects everybody, not just some sectors; and language affects mobility [using the advanced group's language preserves its position, but using the backward group's language helps make it mobile]. (5) Civil service jobs are another important realm of symoblic politics, but often it is played up by group elites who stand to benefit most directly from ethnic hiring policies--however, that does not mean that it is purely an economic issue. (6) A good theory must "explain both elite and mass behavior" and also account for "the passionate, symbolic, and apprehensive aspects of ethnic conflict" (226). He says his "group entitlement" theory (this chapter) does this--it is a "joint function of comparative worth and legitimacy" that "explains why the followers follow, accounts for the intensity of group reactions, even to modest stimuli, and clarifies the otherwise mysterious quest for public signs of group status" (226). (7) See the notes I made in a Word file for a more detailed outline of the chapter.

So, to summarize the theory: "ethnic conflict arises from the common evaluative significance accorded by the groups to the acknowledged group differences and then played out in rituals of affirmation and contradiction" (227)

CHAPTER 6: The logic of irrendentas and secession

[From handout]: Horowitz considers when ethnic groups will attempt to secede from a state. He divides ethnic groups and regions into those that are backwards and those that are advanced. Advanced groups have benefited from education and non-agricultural employment and backward groups are less well educated, less wealthy and are stereotyped as "indolent, ignorant and not disposed to achievement." Advanced and backward regions are defined based on the relative economic position of an ethnic group's region within its country (measured by per capita income). General claims about secession are in chart below. Regarding irrendentism (retrieval of ethnic kinsmen and territory) Horowitz argues that homogeneity of the retrieving state is the critical factor affecting irrendentism. Irrendentism is exceedingly uncommon since WWII and threats of it provoke defensive counter measures from other countries. [see the table in the handout (which is taken directly from the book)].

The logic, very briefly: (1) Backward groups in backward regions will have little reason to stay in the state--they will feel discriminated against and will fear extinction. (2) Advanced groups in backward regions won't want to secede usually because they will often benefit from exporting their labor and capital into the larger country (since their own region is backward). (3) Advanced groups in advanced regions (e.g. Basques) will feel like they are like a cow being fed by Basques but milked by Madrid, but they are unlikely to secede because the economic costs would usually be high. (4) Backward groups in advanced regions are unlikely to secede because they are unlikely to be a significant population group in the advanced region (b/c it follows that there must be some large advanced group which makes the region advanced).


CHAPTER 7: Party Politics

[From handout]: Horowitz argues that electoral systems which facilitate the formation of ethnic parties serve to help deepen and extend pre-existing ethnic conflict. Sources of ethnic parties include: community aspect of ethnicity, external imperatives of the group and the incentives of politicians to cultivate ethnic support. He further argues that for political parties to play their role in society they must attempt to serve a combination of interests. If parties are organized along ethnic lines then voters will vote for the party that represents their group, regardless of the individuals running for office. Ethnic voting is necessary for ethnic parties to survive. He argues that once ethnic voting begins it tends toward unanimity for all parties.

[since I didn't read this chapter, and the handout was pretty lame, I'm not sure what the institutions that matter are.]


From handout:

Horowitz discusses three forms of multiethnic government coalitions, of increasing levels of commitment, and elaborates, in this chapter, on the two lesser committed forms. A multiethnic coalition, in which two or more ethnically-based parties agree to pool legislative seats, can take three forms: coalitions of convenience, coalitions of commitment, and alliances.

Coalitions of convenience form after the election has taken place solely for pooling enough seats to form a government. Members of such coalitions of convenience have little in common with respect to policy preferences; they are a far cry from Axelrod's (1970) "minimum connected winning coalitions." Party distance, in fact, can be an asset; in this case, they are not competing for the same voters, and so can more easily join in opposition to their primary electoral competitors. This suggests the preeminence of electoral rules in determining the nature of competition and, subsequently, the nature of coalitions that could form. Party distance, however, makes these coalitions exceedingly brittle. The four cases of "coalitions of convenience" examined by Horowitz lasted just more than a year, with none surviving through another election. The parties joined solely to pool seats; where one could assume a more dominant position, it would quickly move to jettison its awkward partner.

Coalitions of commitment are also formed primarily to form a government, but are more compatible than those of convenience in policy space, and thus contribute to ethnic compromise. In this way, alliances are bargained prior to the election; partners are determined ex ante on the basis of policy bargains, in addition to expectations of electoral gain. Where the electoral system facilitates, they might also coordinate their campaigning. This was the strategy in Horowitz's detailed Sri Lankan case; the Sinhalese United National Party and Tamil Federal Party, the latter aligning with the more moderate of the major Sinhalese parties, pooled votes in multiethnic districts to extract maximum yield from Sri Lanka's first-past-the-post electoral system. These coalitions, while contributing more to ethnic moderation than those of convenience, can also be rather unstable. The Sri Lankan coalition failed to last through the next election; ethnic moderation on the part of the UNP had exposed it to competition from more radical Sinhalese parties, diminishing the net electoral gain of the alliance with the Tamils. Horowitz notes that the Sri Lankan case suggests a cycling effect � majority ethnic parties engage in a competition of bellicosity until, electorally stalemated, one offers moderation to a minority ethnic party to form a coalition, until the above nationalist competition reasserts itself.

Research on similar subjects


Horowitz, Donald (author)Comparative PoliticsEthnic ConflictSocial CleavagesNationalismEthnic Cooperation

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