The current paper by Victor T Le Vine (1997) arose out of a necessity to define the terms ethnicity and ethnic conflict in a generally acceptable sense. A critique of the key literature in this area is presented along with the areas of contention among scholars, and finally an integrative view of the various ideas has been put forward.
Whether the basis of ethnicity should be geographical boundaries, race, language, beliefs, values, religion or history is a major consideration at the outset. Examples have been presented in this paper how the definition of ethnicity varies across the world, depending upon the political context. despite its modern political definition of self-defined communities seeking their own political space, not necessarily statehood. For example tribalism in parts of Africa, or color in the Eurocentric view of ethnicity are entirely different concepts.
A set of propositions have been provided as an inventory – focusing on consciousness of separateness that leads to an ethnic identity amongst various populations. However the relationship of such concepts to the sources of ethnic conflict is far less certain, particularly in view of economics and Marxian class struggle which is often inherent in such conflicts.
The stages and paths of ethnic conflicts are described next, with the admission these factors often remain obscure and difficult to generalize. In most cases, if the roots and sources are analyzed retrospectively, a conflict goes through early stages when the respective parties take their position – to a final stage when the conflict has got out of control. What often complicates the situation are those instances where single incidents sparked off ethnic violence e.g. Ayodhya in India (1992) and the Rwandan plane crash (1994). Biological models of ontogeny and life paths are referred to, with incipient, plateau and open stages in an attempt to identify the best points to intervene as well as define a conflict in its evolutionary perspective rather than empirical models of causality.
The third important point that has been raised is the fact that ethnicity and ethnic conflicts are often best defined during the phase of intervention by mediators in an attempt to solve it. Every such conflict has its unique features, whether governments are involved or not, whether the conflicting parties themselves want to resolve a dispute or aim for a disruption in their social and geographical ties, and critically who tries to intervene. The nature of the intervention also varies with the stage of the problem, and as each conflict intensifies the chances for its resolution grow correspondingly smaller. Till, at an advanced point of no-return, even the participation of the international community fails to resolve anything to improve the situation, as seen in Serbia, Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia.
Le Vine concludes his paper with the observation that while the ethnic phenomenon continues to be elusive, the current paper is only part of a work-in-progress to provide a more usable map of ethnicity and ethnic conflict, beyond its current restricted empirical definitions.
In essence, Le Vines adoption of the bio-political model of phases to these two areas is aimed at a radical departure from the conventional method of dispute resolution – bringing warring parties to the table when already the dispute has reached a point of no-return. In the future this model has a wide scope of application, particularly form the point of view of the efforts of the international community to mediate peace across areas of ethnic conflict.
CONCEPTUALIZING “ETHNICITY” AND” ETHNIC CONFLICT”: A CONTROVERSY REVISITED , . By: Le Vine, Victor T., Studies in Comparative International Development, 00393606, Summer97, Vol.