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Back | Project: Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector

Ethnicity, Inequality and the Public Sector: A Comparative Study

  • Project from: 2002 to 2005

This document, by Yusuf Bangura, provides an overview of the research findings of a comparative study of 16 countries on Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector.

About the comparative study
This is the first major global comparative study of ethnic inequalities and the public sector. The received country case studies are highly analytical, data-driven and policy focused.

Scholars in development studies increasingly recognize that inequalities between groups constitute a more potent source for violent conflict than inequalities among individuals.Yet little is known about the nature and dynamics of ethnic cleavages and inequalities, especially as they affect the public sector, which plays a central role in resource allocation and identity formation. The public sector may be rendered ineffective or illegitimate if it fails to develop mechanisms to regulate difference and ensure inclusiveness.

The country case studies examine how ethnic cleavages and inequalities affect the constitution and management of the public sectors of multiethnic societies under formal democratic rule. The researchers have analyzed the structure of ethnic cleavages, including variations within each group; how other types of divisions have affected ethnic cleavages; and the extent to which ethnic cleavages have changed over time. They have collected detailed empirical data on four public institutions: civil service, cabinet, parliament and party system; examined the rules that determine selection to these institutions, analysed whether the distribution of offices is ethnically balanced or uneven, and studied voter preferences in constituting these institutions. They have also looked at the effectiveness of institutions and policy reforms for managing diversity and inequality.

The research is organized around a typology that classifies countries according to their levels of ethnic polarization. This typology distinguishes five types of ethnic structures: first, those in which one ethnicity is overwhelmingly dominant (referred to as unipolar); second, those in which there are only two groups, or two roughly equal groups predominate in a multiethnic setting (bipolar); and third, those in which there are only three groups, or three large groups in a multiethnic setting (tripolar). The fourth and fifth types deal with cases in which the ethnic structure is fragmented: cases of fragmented multipolarity, or high levels of fragmentation; and cases of concentrated multipolarity, in which fragmentation offers a few large groups the potential to organise selective coalitions to influence representation in the public sector.

The 16 countries are Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Ghana, Fiji, India, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania and Trinidad and Tobago.

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