War, Collaboration, and Endogenous Ethnic Polarization: The Path to Ethnic Cleansing

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In Adria Lawrence and Erica Chenoweth, eds. Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict. MIT Press (2010)

To what extent does the depth of ethnic cleavages play a role in the process that leads to ethnic cleansing? The question is important, as the conventional explanation for ethnic cleansing takes deep ethnic cleavages as the main exogenous variable that explains this phenomenon. The idea is that in societies where ethnic cleavages are deep, relations between different ethnic groups are more strained, and issues that have to do with ethnicity dominate over other politically relevant questions. This leads to the emergence of “organic” nationalism, which views ethnic minorities as inherently different and deserving of exclusion, rather than “civic” nationalism, which aims to incorporate ethnic minorities. In contexts where organic nationalism predominates, ethnic cleansing follows whenever events such as state collapse, war, or geopolitical instability eliminate the constraints against this policy.