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Ethnic Politics Described
Scholars have increasingly shifted some of the attention given to ethnic politics from discussions of conflict and peacemaking to discussions of how to make ethnically divided societies more democratic. In most cases, democratic theorists, in making their normative recommendations, have not taken into account everything we know about how ethnic identity and ethnic politics work in the real world.
While much ink has been spilled on the conflict between empowering minority ethnic groups and protecting the individual freedoms of the members of those groups, the specific recommendations for accomplishing either of these goals tend to grow out of specific times and places. This cultural context may be explicit, as when Will Kymlicka uses Canadian examples to illustrate the different sorts of ethnic groups that can exist and the different rights that should be accorded to each, or the context may be implicit, as when American political theorists model the participation of minority groups in democratic politics generally on the ways in which minorities have historically participated in the American political system. In reality, how members of ethnic groups participate in politics democratic or otherwise will be determined by a whole range of factors, such as the history and culture of a country, the size of a minority relative to the majority, the strengths of the identities in question, and the possibility of alternate identities that lay claim on individuals’ loyalties. For example, a minority group that votes as a bloc is something of a curiosity when it makes up 1% of the population of a state, but an existential threat to democracy when it makes up 40%.
One of these factors which is most often overlooked is the degree to which ethnic identity is dynamic and even malleable: identities can sharpen or fade over time, and under some circumstances groups can combine or split up. Knowing this, we should consider not only the impact that our solutions will have in the present, but also the ways in which they will affect the evolution of identities in the future. Orr, Scott. "The Theory and Practice of Ethnic Politics: How What We Know about Ethnic Identity Can Make Democratic Theory Better" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Aug. 2007.
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