Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?

    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    3 thoughts on “Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast”

    1. Thank you, kezakimana, for your fantastic comment! You seem to know a lot about the “ethnic” history of Cote d’Ivoire. I encourage you to read Collett’s article (the citation to which is in my original post) in which she explains how “ethnicity” in that country has been socially constructed and reconstructed over time. Collett argues that political/economic events/circumstances and ethnicity have been mutually constituted over time. From the early post-colonial era, where local identities and customs were paramount, to the increasing regionalisation of identity as the result of migration and immigration, and the increasing commercialisation of cocoa production. Finally, recent political developments and laws passed regarding what it means to be “ivoirien” have increasingly led to the bipolarisation of identity in the country, fomented by power-seeking politicians playing the ethnic card instrumentally.

      1. Thanks,I’ll read Moya’s article to see how she perceived the ivorian concept of ethnicity.Hope that she didn’t portray the ivorian ethnicity as a result or a colonial invention like many want to think when it comes to african ethnic identities.

    2. …. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?

      -Religious issue was not the problem at the beginning of the Ivorian civil conflict. It became one when they began to define by stereotype the idea of being a ‘’true Ivorian’’.Altgouht religious identity has been included in the definition of ethnicity, in this Ivorian case it comes after regionalism. In fact, it is the North –South problem that has been used arbitrary to denigrate a part of the Ivorian population. For example, the former Prime Minister Guillaumme Soro, who is from the North like Ouatarra, is not Muslim but catholic. This instrumentalization of the religion is used to satisfy the political ambitions of some. How could religion be a factor of identification in an African country while we know that all these two religions were brought by colonization and conquest, thus not originally from Africa? Will Ivorian really fight for something inherited from colonization? If this entire Ivorian situation is a problem of religion, they should just remember or consult their history which can remind them the rich diversity of their country’s population long before their motherland been called ‘’Ivory Coast’’.In addition,from its definition ethnicity refers to ‘’a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture (often including a shared religion) and an ideology that stresses common ancestry or endogamy. ‘’With more than 60 local languages, it is inaccurate to confine or to define this notion based on religion and region.

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