Ethnic Conflict

Ethnic Conflict: Commerce, Culture, and the Contact Hypothesis

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ethnic Conflict
    Book Description:

    The social sciences offer many insights into the causes of the intense ethnic conflicts that characterize the close of the twentieth century, but they also create obstacles to understanding these baffling problems, contends H. D. Forbes in this important book. Forbes takes a critical look at the "contact hypothesis"-the assumption commonly held by social scientists that increased contact between different ethnic groups gives each group more accurate information about the other and thus reduces friction. By distinguishing aggregate from individual relations, Forbes suggests a way out of the perplexities induced by current social science literature on prejudice and discrimination.Drawing on studies of the contact hypothesis in sociology and social psychology and on the literature on nationalism and ethnic conflict, this book provides the most thorough review of contact theory available. Scientific research suggests that increased contact between culturally distinct groups in some cases gives rise to more intense conflict. Yet individuals who get to know each other better generally like each other better. Can these apparently conflicting generalizations both be true? asks Forbes. They are, he argues, and he takes contemporary social science to task for failing to show how and why this is possible. The author clarifies the weaknesses of contact theory, develops an alternative "linguistic model" of ethnic conflict, and concludes with penetrating reflections on the politics and methodology of the social sciences today.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14641-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Whyethnic conflict?What are its causes? Does it even exist? Conflicts between ethnic groups are a familiar, undeniable fact, but do they have anything to do with ethnicity? The atrocities and injustices of recent years press these questions upon us. Almost any attempt to understand them better must seem worthwhile, but perhaps there is no such thing as ethnic conflict. The term itself may be misleading.

    Social scientists often treat cultural differences as merely a pretext for conflict. They find its causes elsewhere, with the help of theories that focus attention on other factors. General theories of social cognition,...

  5. 1 Defining Terms
    (pp. 13-41)

    Much confusion results from trying to reason about complicated matters of fact without paying sufficient attention to the words we use to describe our thoughts and impressions. “Define your terms!” is an old injunction as valid now as when Thomas Hobbes wrote, “A man that seeketh precise truth had need to remember what every name he uses stands for, and to place it accordingly, or else he will find himself entangled in words, as a bird in lime twigs, the more he struggles the more belimed” (Hobbes, 1960, p. 21). Yet to grasp the meaning of general terms, especially the...

  6. 2 A Social Experiment
    (pp. 42-61)

    The desegregation of American education during the past forty years has provided many opportunities to test the contact hypothesis. Before 1954, when the United States Supreme Court handed down its historic decisionBrown v. Board of Education(347 U.S. 483), separate white and “colored” schools existed by law in seventeen southern and border states and in the District of Columbia. Even in the northern and eastern states with substantial black populations, black and white children rarely attended the same schools, despite the absence of any formal requirement or provision for racially segregated schooling.¹ In these states, de facto educational segregation...

  7. 3 Two Simple Correlations
    (pp. 62-113)

    This chapter reviews the bulk of the quantitative literature on the contact hypothesis. Relevant studies have steadily accumulated, and the literature is now extensive, even without the studies of school desegregation discussed in Chapter 2 or the closely related studies of primary and secondary school students. The aim of this chapter is simply to clarify the most important lines of evidence that must be taken into account in any theory about contact and ethnic attitudes.¹ It uses two main criteria for classifying studies: research design (observational studies are distinguished from experimental and quasi-experimented studies) and the nature of the independent...

  8. 4 Situations Versus Levels of Analysis
    (pp. 114-141)

    More contact may generally reduce prejudice, but it can sometimes be associated with more prejudice and discrimination. Pondering the situation in the American South and similar situations around the world, where frequent contact has coexisted with high levels of ethnic antagonism and inequality, social scientists have searched for a rule or rules that will distinguish the kinds or circumstances of contact that have good effects from those that have bad or no effects. When does more contact improve intergroup relations, and when does it just worsen relations or leave them unchanged? The contact theory that tries to answer this question...

  9. 5 A Model of Ethnic Conflict
    (pp. 142-173)

    Modern social science aims to combine far-reaching predictive theories with careful investigations of their factual accuracy. It eschews unverifiable normative or metaphysical generalizations and scorns primitive, “barefoot” empiricism. The desired combination of theory and research is perhaps best illustrated by contemporary “positive” economics, with its abstract mathematical models and its sophisticated statistical methods for their testing and estimation. Elsewhere, in the other branches of social science, theory and research have been harder to join and hold in balance. Theories tend to grow grander and vaguer. Metaphors and ambiguous expressions abound; relevant data are scarce; empirical research sometimes seems to lack...

  10. 6 Truth in Modeling
    (pp. 174-196)

    Social science has a history almost indistinguishable from that of philosophy, but its specialized disciplines have gradually separated themselves from philosophy, becoming in the process quite practical and, in the twentieth century, resolutely empirical. Where once there were philosophical debates, there now are statistics. Contemporary social scientists are trained to test hypotheses by closely scrutinizing many little facts. Clear thinking about moral or ethical questions is naturally still admired, but its cultivation is thought to belong to others. The social sciences and moral philosophy are now generally thought to have different goals and to use different methods. These developments have...

  11. 7 Conclusions
    (pp. 197-212)

    Ethnic conflict appears in many guises. All the social sciences have had something to say about it. Specialists have brought the distinctive theories, methods, and terminologies of many disciplines to bear on the problem of understanding its causes and overcoming or at least mitigating its ill effects. Their studies have produced a wealth of distinctions, observations, and interpretations but little agreement about principles of classification and explanation. No single theory, model, approach, or conceptual framework seems able to capture all the variety and complexity of the manifestations of ethnic conflict. To paraphrase Donald Horowitz, there may be too little understanding...

  12. Appendix: Nationalism
    (pp. 213-232)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-254)
  14. References
    (pp. 255-282)
  15. Index
    (pp. 283-291)