Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States
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Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States

Edited by Graham K. Brown and Arnim Langer

The Elgar Handbook of Civil War and Fragile States brings together contributions from a multidisciplinary group of internationally renowned scholars on such important issues as the causes of violent conflicts and state fragility, the challenges of conflict resolution and mediation, and the obstacles to post-conflict reconstruction and durable peace-building.
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Chapter 7: Horizontal inequalities and conflict

Frances Stewart


This chapter advances the view that horizontal inequalities, or inequalities among identity groups, are an important cause of violent conflict in multiethnic or multi-religious societies. It follows that horizontal inequalities need to be monitored in multi-ethnic societies; and where they are found to be large, corrective policies are needed. Violent conflict within countries is, unfortunately fairly common, especially among the poorest countries. It causes immense human suffering and has heavy socioeconomic costs, many indirect as a result of the economic disruptions caused by war (Collier et al. 2003; Stewart, Fitzgerald and Associates 2001). In multi-ethnic or multi-religious societies conflicts are increasingly seen as being between ethnic or religious groups. For some, this has led to the conclusion that there is an unavoidable clash between cultures (Huntington 1996) and that separating groups is the only long-run solution. Yet this view is clearly incorrect given the fact that the vast majority of different ethnic/religious groups live peacefully side by side (Fearon and Laitin 1996). Moreover, since identities are socially constructed and not intrinsic or primordial, understanding how and why these identities are constructed and become salient at some points in time but not others is essential for understanding why there is conflict between such groups.

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