1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

  • 0
  • 0

Back | Programme Area: Identities, Conflict and Cohesion (2000 - 2009)

Ethno-Racial Divisions and Governance: The Problem of Institutional Reform and Adaptation (Draft)



Many states in the international system are made up of multiple ethno-racial communities distinguished by overlapping cultural and racial characteristics among the main segments in the population. Some obvious cases include Sudan, South Africa, Fiji, Malaysia, Guyana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Burundi, Trinidad and Canada (indigenous peoples), where cultural solidarity communities are popularly assigned distinctive racio-phenotypical traits that have been historically and socially constructed. Apart from a number of obvious cases of states with plural ethno-racial communities, there are several others where, despite racial homogeneity in the population, racial differences are invented and assigned by the dominant class to subordinate minority groups as a means of justifying discrimination. Among these are Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Racial myths can take shape within the same putative racio-biological group as a means of justifying class oppression.

Generally, ethno-cultural communities in practically all polyethnic states tend to compose their claims to a distinctive identity by attributing to themselves in their narratives not only cultural and historical differences but racial myths of superiority over rival groups. With rare exceptions, racial claims tend to be implicated in the construction of cultural identities. While this is the case, the paper focuses on the more obvious instances among states where racial myths are articulated into a mix of cultural difference and turned into a mode defining inter-group relations and leading to racially based discrimination and oppression.

Racio-cultural pluralism in a number of states has bred oppressive regimes, marked by racially discriminatory policies and practices that have triggered internal struggles, often spilling their borders, and creating costly and cruel humanitarian crises. Sudan stands as a good example of this pattern. The crux of the problem pertains to the establishment of a generally acceptable, just and democratic government that will accommodate the divergent claims of the respective communities for equality, equity and autonomy. Implicated are vexing issues related to the status and recognition of all communities equally, the removal of discrimination and domination, and the institution of policies regarding the equitable distribution of resources.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Jan 2001
    From: UNRISD