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Fierce Entanglements

Communication and Ethnopolitical Conflict


Donald G. Ellis

The third in a trilogy on communication and ethnopolitical conflict, this book focuses on multicultural groups significantly divided by politics and religion. These groups have become «fiercely entangled»; that is, they are inescapably politically, socially, and culturally interdependent. Using the Israeli Palestinian conflict as the primary example, Ellis offers a timely analysis of how communication can begin to untangle these groups. Group differences lead to cultural differences – some of the most difficult aspects of a conflict. This book examines the nature of group differences as well as solutions-based conflict resolution that is embedded in theories of communication and democracy.
Ellis argues that resources are unequally distributed and differences are the norm. Politics is used to manage these differences and although communication is the fundamental tool of conflict management, there are other components in resolving conflicts that complement communication approaches. Dialogue and deliberation are posed as workable responses to untangling these differences and managing intractability.
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4. Theorizing Communication and Ethnopolitical Conflict


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Two important political trends over the last decades have been the spread of democratic governments and the increase in ethnopolitical conflict and violence. Wallensteen and Sollenberg (2000) report that between 1989 and 1999 there were 110 major violent conflicts and a full 103 of them occurred within existing states in which ethnicity and religion were implicated. The transition from authoritarian governments to democracy is typically one explanation for this phenomenon. Protests and violence broke out as a result of demands for increased participation in democratic processes. But although the relationship between ethnic violence and the transition to democracy is pertinent, it is not the primary concern of this chapter. Rather, here I will explicate the unique theoretical conditions of ethnopolitical conflict and communication which lay the groundwork for strategies of conflict resolution. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, societies divided by ethnopolitical concerns are troubled in different ways. They can be broken into numerous contentious groups (Tanzania) or be similar to one another (Cyprus). There can be a variety of configurations (Bosnia) or there can be a dominant majority (Sri Lanka). In some cases minority groups are indigenous or a settler diasporia (Russians in satellite countries). The Kurds are spread out over a variety of states while other groups are confined within specific geographical boundaries. These differences matter with respect to resolving conflicts and understanding the issues. Typically, scholars believe that ethnic fragmentation is destabilizing and challenging to democratic processes (Reilly, 2001). But I will argue here that...

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