Minorities and mistrust: On the adoption of ethnic recognition to manage conflict

Elisabeth King, Cyrus Samii

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An enduring debate in the conflict management literature concerns the wisdom of recognizing versus avoiding reference to ethnic identities in institutions to manage ethnic conflict. Understanding why ethnic recognition occurs is crucial for informing this debate. We develop a theory based on functional and political mobilization effects of recognizing ethnic groups. Contrary to reasoning that minority leaders would be most interested in recognition, the theory suggests that recognition consistently favors the interests of leaders from larger, plurality groups, whereas minority leaders face a ‘dilemma of recognition’ between functional gains and mobilization threats. We use mixed methods to test our theory. For our quantitative analysis, we draw on an original coding of recognition in constitutions and comprehensive political settlements from 1990 to 2012. We find that for cases with leaders from plurality groups, recognition is adopted 60% of the time. With leaders from minority groups, the rate is about 40 percentage points lower, even after accounting for many background factors. Additional quantitative tests and a qualitative analysis present more detailed evidence to show that the processes correspond to the logic of our theory. Answering these questions about when and why recognition is adopted is a crucial step in evaluating its effects on conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-304
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2018


  • ethnic conflict
  • ethnic identity
  • identity politics
  • minority rights
  • peace agreements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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