Rationality, Emotions, and Ethnicity: Explaining Elite Political Alignments in a Deeply-Divided Society (under review)
The role of ethnicity in political behaviour remains unsettled theoretically. Instrumentalist theories emphasize cognitive processes arguing political actors strategically employ ethnicity to attain certain goals, while expressivist theories highlight affectual forces arguing actors are motivated by the intrinsic emotional power of identity. I show neither approach adequately explains real-world intra-ethnic and cross-ethnic behaviour. I develop a new theory, integrating rationality and emotion, and argue they work together in political decision-making. Emotional attachment to one’s ethnic ingroup biases the cognitive judgement to trust a non-coethnic actor. I apply this integrative theory to the political alignment choices of nearly 300 Rwandan opposition elites over a 25-year period and show it is consistent with the pattern of mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic alignments observed. I additionally analyze the reasons for the historical re-alignments of one political party and interpret interviews with various opposition leaders to reveal their preoccupation with both strategic interests and symbolic identities.
Power, institutions, and state-building: A controlled comparison of Rwanda and Burundi (under review) We examine whether and how the means through which a civil war ends affects the success of a country’s state-building strategy after conflict. We show that two distinct modes of conflict termination—military victories and negotiated settlements—lead to differential long-run state-building outcomes and offer an explanation of the mechanism behind the divergence. In a military victory, the coercive balance-of-power at the end of the war favourable to the victor enables it to dictate the post-conflict institutional design and skew power formally in its favour. In a negotiated settlement, formal power is distributed by design among multiple parties to avoid the dominance of any single actor. These differences in turn have implications for the distribution of informal power in the post-war context whose influence is exercised through private networks of party members and loyalists. Informal power becomes concentrated in the victorious party because its opponent is typically excluded from the post-conflict political process and expelled from the territory. In contrast, in negotiated settlements informal power is commonly diffuse because the inclusion of erstwhile military rivals in the political process enables the operation of multiple informal networks that then compete for influence. We suggest that when both formal and informal power become concentrated in a single actor—a militarily victorious party—power may even become hegemonic. The dominance of the victorious party is assured because the basis of its rule becomes both coercion and consent. This in turn mutes resistance to its post-conflict agenda and consequently strengthens its capacity to implement its state-building strategy. We trace this causal process over a period of two decades through a controlled comparison of Rwanda and Burundi whose civil wars terminated through military victory and negotiated settlement respectively. The findings have implications for theories of liberal peacebuilding, institutional independence, and the distribution of power in post-conflict contexts.
Both popular perspectives and theoretical characterizations of Rwanda’s remarkable trajectory following the genocide remain polarized more than a generation after the violence. The country has been hailed as a developmental state and at the same time castigated as an authoritarian ethnocracy. I introduce the concept of securocratic state-building in response to this polarization. The construct is intended to capture, first, the regime’s developmental but non-doctrinaire ambitions, synthesizing liberal and illiberal precepts; and second its prioritization of security over liberty. I draw on a set of interviews with key Rwandan opinion-makers drawn from across the country’s principal societal divides to elicit the competing rationales given for each of four grand strategic choices made by the regime: why it eschewed competitive politics; why it sought to re-engineer society and efface ethnicity; and why it moved to modernize the state and the economy; The juxtaposition of these opposing opinions exposes a fundamental tension at the heart of the securocratic state-building model: the regime’s aspiration for unity is at odds with its preoccupation with security. This strategic contradiction I argue places a question mark over the long-term sustainability of the Rwanda model. Radicalization as Cause and Consequence of Violence in Genocides and Mass Killings (2020), Violence, Vol. 1(1), 123-143.
Major theories of participation in genocides and mass killings offer seemingly opposing explanatory logics for how and why individuals come to commit violence. The longstanding consensus on “perpetrator ordinariness” contrasts with explanations that continue to highlight the prior, intensely held negative attitudes and beliefs about the victim group. I propose a theoretical reconciliation. Radicalization would be better theorized not only as an antecedent to the act of violence but also as a consequence of it. Killing transforms individuals. A well-established point in social psychology, not only do attitudes drive behaviors, but behaviors also shape attitudes. Some perpetrators dehumanize their victims, internalize exclusionary ideologies, and otherwise develop negative sentiments toward their victims following their participation in the violence. Attitudinal shift becomes a form of dissonance-reduction. Perpetrators come to espouse radical beliefs in order to justify their actions. This revised theorization has implications for our understanding of (1) perpetrator heterogeneity: individuals must vary in their vulnerability to radicalization, and (2) non-instrumental violence: why we often observe the infliction of gratuitous pain and suffering on victims. I re-interpret testimony of perpetrators from Rwanda, the Holocaust, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cambodia to support the article’s central theoretical proposition.
The question of how many Rwandans were killed during the genocide remains a politically sensitive and deeply contested issue. In this article I draw on new data to offer an estimate of between 491,000 and 522,000 Rwandan Tutsi killed in the period April 6th 1994 and July 19th 1994 inside Rwanda. This represents an astonishing 61%-65% of the entire Tutsi population that resided in Rwanda at the time. In order to reach this estimate, I also calculated the Tutsi population present in Rwanda at the time of the genocide which I found to be almost exactly 800,000 individuals or 10.8% of the overall Rwandan population. My estimate refers only to Tutsi deaths. I do not have new data to estimate the number of Hutu killed, though note the best existing estimates are in the low tens of thousands. I am also careful to delimit my estimate both temporally (the 100 odd days of the genocide) and geographically (within Rwanda) in recognition of the fact that Rwandans - both Tutsi and Hutu - have been killed in several other time periods and outside of Rwanda, most notably in violence against Rwandan Hutu present in the the Democratic Republic Congo in the period following the genocide.
A tension exists between the normative aspiration for greater equality between ethnic and religious groups in society and the empirical reality that ascendant groups benefit from the unequal social order. I explore how this tension manifests in the social sphere by examining how ethnic inequality shapes the formation of interethnic ties in an ethnically-ranked society. I examine intermarriages in Mindanao, a deeply-divided and ethnically-ranked society in the Global South. I find ethnic inequality is associated with both integrative and distancing forces. When ethnic inequality is low, individuals from high-ranked groups tend to inmarry, but low-ranked groups to outmarry. I suggest this divergence reflects the importance of status hierarchies. Intermarriages represent status mobility for subordinate groups but status threat for dominant groups. Ingroup preference intensifies for high-ranked groups because they are anxious to preserve the distinctiveness of group boundaries and their status superiority. I establish these findings using census micro-data on over two million marriages.
A key debate in studies of native-migrant relations relates to the barriers to integration created by ethno-cultural differences and socio-economic disadvantage. How do changes in socio-economic inequality between ethnic groups affect interethnic ties in a divided society? I investigate this question by analysing the effect of ethnic inequality on the evolution of cross-ethnic marriages in a society fractured by conflict between natives and settlers. I find the effect is contingent on the ethnic group. Certain groups intermarry more in response to reductions in socio-economic disadvantage; others, however, remain indifferent. I suggest the difference relates to cultural distance. Specifically, I point to differences between groups in the power of the norms and sanctions regulating members' social interactions outside of the group. These "closure" norms interpose an ethno-cultural distance. I establish these findings with field interviews and census data on over six million marriages in Mindanao, an ethnically diverse region in the southern Philippines and location of an insurgency waged by rebels, drawn from the native Muslim Moro population, resentful of the influx of Christian settlers. I find Moro intermarriage unresponsive to socio-economic equalisation and suggest the strength of their ethno-cultural norms, derived from their ethno-religious identification, accounts for their distinctive response.
An overall decline in inequality within a country, when assessed using national-level measures, can evidently obscure important variation in inequality at the subnational level. However, social planners face a choice, whose importance we argue is often underestimated, in deciding the appropriate spatial and social boundaries along which inequality should be measured at the local level. We illustrate the consequential nature of this choice by examining a historically unequal country that has experienced a recent overall decline in inequality at the national level. Drawing on census micro-data, we show the Philippines made impressive progress in reducing disparities in education and access to basic public services between 2000 and 2010. This change, however, appears less positive when inequality is measured at the subnational level using spatial and social boundaries selected for their socio-political significance in the Philippines context. Specifically, using measures of total, within-group and between-group inequality, we find important differences within and between three salient ethno-religious groupings – Muslims, indigenous persons, and everyone else – as well as within and between three major island groupings, Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon. We consider the implication of one of these differences – variation in between-group inequality - by examining its correlation with social and political instability at the subnational level. Our findings underscore the importance of examining inequality at appropriate localized levels of analysis and, specifically, selecting carefully the spatial and social boundaries along which it should be measured.
An ever-expanding body of empirical research suggests that ethno-religious divisions adversely impact a host of normatively desirable objectives linked to the quality of life in society, implicitly representing a strong challenge to multiculturalist theory and policies. The appropriate conceptualization and measurement of ethno-religious divisions has consequently become the subject of complex methodological debate. This article unpacks some of this complexity and provides a synthetic critique of how eight key measures each capture the notion of divisions and relate to each other conceptually, theoretically, and empirically within a divided society. It explores simple proportions, fractionalization, polarization, cultural distance, segregation, cross-cuttingness, horizontal inequality, and intermarriage indicators. Furthermore, instead of presenting national-level temporal snapshots of divisions as in much work, it purposely examines how measures also perform at more localized levels of analysis and over time, drawing on individual-level census data from one deeply-divided society, Mindanao, in the Philippines. Analysis underscores four major issues to which researchers should pay more attention: the sensitivity of measures to (1) the underlying causal mechanisms linking divisions with outcomes; (2) the social forces and methodologies shaping the identification and categorization of groups; (3) the passage of time and evolution of divisions; and (4) the level of spatial analysis. The article provides practical guidance and discusses the key implications of these points both for quantitative scholars working with these measures and for qualitatively-inclined empiricists and normative theorists wishing to interpret, evaluate, or otherwise engage the quantitative research on the merits and demerits of diversity.
Can we predict when and where violence will likely break out within cases of genocide? I present a theoretical model to help identify areas susceptible and resistant to violence during genocide. The model conceptualizes violence onset as a function of elite competition for control of the state from above and the ethnic segregation of society from below. First, in areas where extremist elite control is weak, violence is delayed or averted because a contest for control between pro-violence extremists and anti-violence moderates arises and the competition takes time to resolve. Where control is strong, violence is immediate or early because extremists face little competition and can rapidly deploy the state’s coercive resources against targeted groups. Second, in areas where the integration of ethnic groups is high, violence is delayed because it takes time to break existing interethnic bonds and destroy bridging social capital. Cohesive communities resist elite attempts to divide them through interethnic trust and cooperation. I test the model by examining subnational variation in genocide onset across Rwanda’s 145 communes using new data and duration analysis. I additionally explore causal mechanisms by within-case analyses comparing early and late onset in two communes. The findings have implications for international policy makers as they respond to genocides and strategically prioritize limited intervention resources.
In episodes of intergroup violence, which group members participate and which do not? Although such violence is frequently framed as occurring between distinct ethnic, racial or sectarian groups, it is easily overlooked that it is usually only a subset of the group’s members who in fact participate in the violence. In predicting participation, extant research has privileged an atomistic approach and identified individual attributes indicative of a predisposition to violence. I suggest instead that a situational approach should complement the atomistic paradigm and present evidence that an individual’s micro-spatial environment is an important predictor of differential participation in intergroup violence. Using GIS data on 3,426 residents from one community, I map the household locations of participants, non-participants, and victims of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. I find that participants are likely to live either in the same neighbourhood or in the same household as other participants. Specifically, as the number of violent to nonviolent individuals in an individual’s neighbourhood or household increases, the likelihood of this individual’s participation also increases. In explaining these neighbourhood and household effects, I suggest social influence is the mechanism at work. As micro-spatial distance decreases, micro-social interaction increases. Neighbours and household members exert influence for and against participation. Participation then may be as much the product of social interaction as of individual agency. What neighbours and family members think, say and do may influence participation in collective action such as intergroup violence. The conceptualization of neighbourhoods and households as micro-spheres of influences suggests the importance of social structure as a determinant of participation.
Although popularly perceived as a positive force important for objectives such as economic development and democracy, social capital may also be linked to less desirable outcomes. This article highlights a dark side to social capital by pointing to its role in a particularly pernicious phenomenon: genocidal violence. Drawing on a survey of residents from one community that experienced violence during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, I show that individual participation in the violence was partly determined by the features of residents’ social networks. Perpetrators possessed larger networks in general and more connections to other perpetrators in particular. The quality as well as quantity of connections also mattered. Strong ties generally, and kinship and neighborly ties specifically, were strong predictors of participation. In contrast, possession of countervailing ties to nonparticipants did not reduce a resident’s likelihood of participation. Drawing on in-depth interviews to explore the possible mechanisms behind these findings, I suggest participants’ networks fulfilled functions of information diffusion, social influence, and behavioral regulation. More broadly, the findings suggest the importance of social structure and social interaction for participation in collective violence. Relational data should complement individual attribute data in predicting participation. The findings also suggest, contrary to the neo-Malthusian interpretation, that the role played by Rwanda’s extraordinarily high population density in the violence may have been more sociological than ecological in origin. The diffusion, influence, and regulatory effects of social connections are likely to be amplified in communities where individuals live in close spatial proximity to each other.
This article addresses the role of threat in explanations of ethnic and other inter-group conflict. It examines two issues. First, it explains how security threats work by providing micro-level evidence of the psychological causal mechanisms behind fear. Second, it addresses the theoretical debate on the relative importance of emotions – such as fear, resentment, and hostility - compared first with structural and materialist factors and compared second with rationalist approaches to ethnic warfare. On the first issue, the article identifies four psycho-social mechanisms at work when an ethnic in-group faces a security threat: boundary activation, out-group derogation, out-group homogenization; and in-group cohesion: the greater the threat or fear, the stronger each of these psychological effects. On the second issue the article suggests the theoretical debate on the importance of emotions presents a false choice. Both emotions and structural/material opportunities matter in ethnic conflict, and emotion and rationality are not opposing alternatives. I propose two simple but fundamental precepts to refine existing theories. First, I distinguish between support for violence – an attitudinal measure I term group polarization – and participation in violence – a behavioural measure I term group violence. Emotions matter for group polarization, but it is structural/material opportunities which allow them to be expressed as group violence. Second, I apply an axiom in social psychology: emotion and reason interact in numerous ways in individual judgement and decision-making. The article draws on the case of Rwanda’s civil war of 1990-94. The war culminated in a genocide that involved one of the most rapid and deadly mobilizations of a civilian population in world history. The article uses a multi-method research design using survey data of ordinary Rwandans, content analysis of national radio broadcasts, and in-depth interviews in four Rwandan communities. Together they strongly point to the operation of the four psycho-social mechanisms described here and to the importance of emotions, notably fear, in the mobilization of ethnic groups.