In the third part of my course, I use books such as Arend
Lijphart's Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration
and Horowitz's Ethnic Groups in Conflict and A Democratic
South Africa? to introduce students to the toolkit of policies
that can be used to solve ethnic conflicts. Lijphart identifies
four policiesan inclusive "grand coalition,"
a minority veto, cultural autonomy, and ethnic proportionalitythat
together he believes have prevented violence in states such
as Malaysia and Switzerland, and that can prevent ethnic violence
elsewhere. Horowitz, on the other hand, believes that Lijphart's
policies underestimate the degree to which ethnic identities
are constantly changing. In Ethnic Groups in Conflict, he
identifies several electoral and constitutional mechanisms,
such as the alternative vote system, that he thinks are more
likely to moderate ethnic conflicts and encourage inter-ethnic
Although the suggestions I have offered here relate to a
course on ethnic violence, the course framework I suggestanalyze
the identities, see how the state has made things better or
worse, and then choose policies to make things bettercan
easily be adapted for courses that deal with other types of
violence. In a course examining violent crime, for example,
it seems natural to start with books that lay out general
theories of violence, such as David Courtwright's Violent
Land, which offers a gendered explanation for the prevalence
of violence on the American frontier and in inner cities.
In the second part of the course we could then move on to
such works as Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner's Violence
in Cross-National Perspective, which present comparative data
that tends to undermine the simple theories presented in the
first part of the course. Finally, in the third segment of
the course I might assign James Q. Wilson's Thinking about
Crime, which emphasizes the importance of city-level policing
and sentencing policies in explaining why similar cities have
very different levels of violence.
In teaching about violence, my objective is always to give
my students a sense that violence is not normal, and that
the conflicts they see reported on TV or in the press are
not a permanent feature of human existence, but the result
of political processes that can and ought to be changed. I
get this point across partly by making every course I teach
explicitly comparative and historical, so that students can
see that the same social problems lead to violence in some
countries at some times, but not in others. But the best way
of getting students to think creatively about the causes of
violence, I have found, is to ask them to write a term paper
in which they diagnose and "solve" their own violent
conflict. In my course on ethnic conflict, I ask my students
to write a 25-page paper in which they can analyze any ethnic
conflict they choose. My only requirement is that they: a)
describe the role of the state in creating the groups that
are involved in violence; b) assess the ways in which the
state has, historically, intensified or helped resolve the
conflict; c) put forward and justify their own recommendations
on how best to solve the conflict in question, using the toolkit
of policies covered in the third part of the course. Many
of my students are immigrants, or the children of immigrants,
and one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching has been
to see them re-examine conflicts in their countries of origin
using new and more hopeful lenses that they have acquired
in the class.
Allport, Gordon W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading,
Mass.: Addison Wesley.
Archer, Dane, and Rosemary Gartner. 1984. Violence and Crime
in Cross-National Perspective. New Haven: Yale University
Bartlett, Robert. 1993. The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization
and Cultural Change, 950-1350. Princeton: Princeton University
Courtwright, David. 1996. Violent Land: Single Men and Social
Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press.
Eaton, Richard. 1993. The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier,
1204-1760. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Horowitz, Donald L. 1992. A Democratic South Africa?: Constitutional
Engineering in a Divided Society. Berkeley: University of
Katzenstein, Mary, and Myron Weiner. 1981. India's Preferential
Policies: Migrants, the Middle Classes, and Ethnic Equality.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lijphart, Arend. 1977. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative
Exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Nirenberg, David. 1996. Communities of Violence: Persecution
of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University
Wilson, James Q. 1985. Thinking about Crime. 2nd ed. New
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