Ethnic Conflict

Politics 40102-01, Seminar (Comparative & Int’l Studies)
Violent Ethnic Conflict
Fall 2016

Tuesday 4-6:30pm
Friends 104

Prof. Chip Gagnon
324 Muller Center
Office hours: Tu-Th 10:45am-11:45am
and by appointment
tel. 274-1103

Last revised 9/22/2016


From Rwanda to Europe, from South Asia to the US, most of the violent conflicts taking place in the world today are framed in terms of ethnic, nationalist, or religious identity.  Some argue that the major cause of violent conflict in the post-cold war era is the clash between cultures or culturally-defined civilizations.  In this scenario, cultural difference itself is the cause of violence.

Is cultural identity and diversity itself enough to explain hatred and killing?  What is the relationship between ethnicity, cultural identity, violence, and state power? Is there a link between globalization and culturally-framed conflict?  Is US identity really based on citizenship and not ethnicity? These are among the questions we’ll be thinking about this semester.

Over the course of the semester we’ll be focusing on the relationship between cultural difference and violent conflict.  We’ll start by exploring the sources of violent conflicts described as ethnic. We’ll look at the political, military, and cultural origins of the nation-state and the role of culturally-defined violence in constituting state, national, and group boundaries, including various explanations for conflicts framed in cultural terms, such as theories of the state and theories of nationalism and ethnicity; the relationship between liberal democracy and cultural identities; and the way conceptions of space inform nationalism.

We then proceed to look at some specific cases of violence framed in terms of cultural difference: Rwanda; Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo); Australia; the United States. For each case we’ll ask the following questions:  What were the origins of cultural difference? What were the origins of the specific meanings given to cultural difference? What were the immediate and proximate causes of violent conflict? How can periods of peace and coexistence be accounted for? What does each account say about the agency of individuals, that is, their ability to act based on their own understanding of their situation and identity? Finally we’ll discuss issues related to justice (or the lack thereof) in the aftermath of such conflicts.


The following books are required. These books are available at Buffalo Street Books downtown. Though I know you have other options for buying your books, I’m strongly urging that you buy them at Buffalo Street Books, the last of Ithaca’s independent bookstores, now a member-owned cooperative. If you buy from BSB there is no sales tax and no shipping/delivery feeThey will be delivered to you in person on the first day of class.

You can order these books through BSB’s website (see below) and they will be delivered to directly to the first class meeting on Tuesday August 30. Please note that there will be no taxes or shipping fees charged for any books ordered for class. You can order books through the website using PayPal or any major credit card, at!ithaca-college-course-lists/c1zpr, (please note the little hash-tag plus exclamation point).  This site will not be available until August 17th. 

If you are unable to pay for all the books at once, you can place books on hold to be purchased throughout the semester.

If you preorder, the books will be delivered to class on our first class meeting, August 30.

Of course, if you would like to shop in an actual very cool independent bookstore, you can make your purchases in person. The bookstore is located on Buffalo Street, between N. Cayuga & N. Tioga in the Dewitt Mall. More information can be found at

  • Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780
  • Harris Mylonas, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, Minorities
  • Peter Maas, Love thy Neighbor: A Story of War
  • Lee Ann Fujii, Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda
  • Ashraf H. A. Rushdy, The End of American Lynching
  • Jelena Subotic, Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the Past in the Balkans – paperback edition (NOTE: the paper version of this book is coming out October 2016; if you order it now I’ll bring it to class and give it to you when it comes out)

Other readings will be on Sakai; links are included on the online syllabus.

Doing the readings

Since this is an upper-level seminar most of our time will be spent discussing the assigned readings in light of the questions posed above.  I therefore expect you all to have done the readings before each class.

What does “doing the readings” mean?

It doesn’t mean just sitting down and mechanically going through the articles and books; that’s a sure way to make even an interesting text boring.

Reading is an active and interactive process between the reader and the text. If you’re really reading a text you are also reacting to it. I’ve included a wide range of texts in order to provoke a wide range of responses from readers.

Reading should also be a reflective process. To really understand an article deeply it is usually necessary to read it and think about it, and then read it again, and think about it again, and discuss it with others, write about it and read it yet again. I’ve found that even after many readings, when I read a text in order to explain it to someone else I get new perspectives on the author’s arguments and assumptions, on the text’s strengths and weaknesses.

So when I say “do the readings,” I mean “engage yourself with the ideas of the text.” I understand that some of the texts are quite complex and that not all of them are entertaining. But struggle is part of the reading experience. If something’s not clear, if it’s confusing, talk about it with others outside of class, and/or bring it up in class. As I mentioned above, taking notes on a text while you read it or re-read it is also a very good way to engage the text and to make sure you understand it.

One way to think about this is to look at the readings as stories.  The authors are telling us a story about something.  What is the focus of each story?  What happens in each story?  Why?


  • Class participation (25%) Learning is an active process; if you think about the things you’ve learned the best, they’re usually things that you haven’t sat back passively and “absorbed,” but rather things that you learned by actively taking part and practicing. So too with critical thinking. I therefore expect each of you to be active participants in your learning. This is especially important in a seminar. To be an effective participant means having done the readings and being prepared to take part in discussions. Your class participation grade will be based on a combination of attendance, participation, and being prepared. 
    • No electronic devices. During class I expect all electronic devices to be turned off. This includes laptops, cell phones, iphones, tablets, etc. If you cannot bear to be parted from your device, you should take another class. Use of an electronic device in class will count as an absence for that day. Here are some of the reasons for this policy (from Scientific American). Here are even more (from a leading prof of new media).
  • Short reactions to readings (25%) Each week I’ll ask you to do a short (3-4 page) reaction to the assigned readings. In the papers you should briefly summarize the main points of the reading(s) and then give your reaction, analysis, etc.
  • Presentation (15%): Each student will have 15 minutes at the end of the semester in which to present his/her research project and to take questions. You should clearly and succinctly lay out the question(s) you are addressing, the sources you used, the ways in which you went about answering your question(s), the challenges that you faced, and the answer(s) that you found.
  • Research paper (35%): A 20-25 page paper focusing on a topic related to the themes of the seminar. I expect you to meet with me to discuss ideas. I am very open to the topic of the paper, as long as it is related to the themes of the course. The 35% includes not just the final paper but the other assignments leading up to it (see below).
  • I expect that you’ll meet with me to discuss possible topics, sources, etc. I expect you to use a range of sources, at least 15 and preferably more: journal articles, books, and if available, good web sources.
    • Written proposal is due by Friday November 4;
    • Annotated bibliography by Friday December 2;
    • In class on  December 6 you will be expected to make a brief presentation to the class on your research project, tying it into the themes of the semester and leading a discussion on it.
    • Final paper is due during finals week, on Friday December 16 by 1pm. I will be handing out in class a detailed description of these written assignments. 

Be sure to check out the Guidelines for the proposal and annotated bibliography Here are some useful links:

You cannot pass the course unless you have handed in all written assignments.


Reading Assignments

Tu 8/30 Introduction Questions and answers; Culture and identity; Ethnicity, nations and states
Books delivered at start of class for those who order from Buffalo Street Books

Tu 9/6 Political background: Nationalism, ethnicity, the state and identity: European origins
Required reading:
Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, Chapters 1,2,3,4,6

Tu 9/13 The concepts of “ethnicity” and “ethnic groups”
Required reading:
Laitin, “Theory of Political Identities”
Brubaker, “Ethnicity without groups”

Esman, “Ethnic Solidarity as a Political Force”

Tu 9/20 Space, race, and nationalism
Required reading:
Hage, White Nation, excerpts
Hage, Chapters 7 & 9
“One Nation leader Pauline Hanson delivers incendiary maiden speech to Senate” (be patient, page loads slowly)

Tu 9/27 – 10/4 Accommodation, Assimilation or Exclusion
Required reading:
The Politics of Nation-Building
Tu 9/27:
Preface, Chapters 1-5
Tu 10/4:
Chapters 6-9

Tu 10/11 – Tu 10/18 Case: US
Required reading:
Tu 10/11:

Brimelow, excerpts from 
Alien Nation
The End of American Lynching, Introduction, Chapters 1-2
Hawkins, “‘You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.’ Fliers like these are showing up on lawns across the U.S.”
Tu 10/18:
, The End of American Lynching, Chapters 3-4, Conclusion

Tu 10/25 – Tu 11/1 Case: Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia)
Required readings:
Tu 10/25:
– Maas, 
Love Thy Neighbor, Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 6
– Hozic, “Letter from American (A Christmas Letter to a southern widow)”
Tu 11/1:
– Gagnon, Myth of Ethnic War, “Preface” and Ch.1 “The Puzzle of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s”
– Gagnon, “Yugoslavia in 1989 and After”
– Gagnon, “Ethnic Conflict as Demobilizer”
– Gagnon, “Liberal Multiculturalism an Post-Dayton Bosnia: Solution or Problem”

Friday 11/4 Proposal for research paper due

Tu 11/8 – Tu 11/15 Case: Rwanda
Required readings:
Tu 11/8:

Excerpts from Peter Gourevitch, 
We wish to inform you…
Killing Neighbors, Introduction

Tu 11/15:
, Killing Neighbors, Chapters 1-6, Conclusion

Tu 11/29 Justice in the aftermath of violent ethnic conflict
Required reading:
ć, Hijacked Justice: Dealing with the past in the Balkans

Tu 12/6 Presentations on research projects (details to be provided)

Friday 12/2 Annotated Bibliography for research paper due

Friday 12/16, 1pm: Research papers due (finals week)