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JSPES, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring 2012)
pp. 38-66

Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Heterogeneous Societies

Tatu Vanhanen

University of Helsinki, Finland

Ethnic groups have tended to conflict since the beginning of the known human history, and the intensity of violent conflicts does not seem to have decreased during the last centuries. Why are ethnic conflicts so common across all civilizational boundaries and over time? Researchers have explained particular ethnic conflicts as being due to various political, cultural, and other environmental factors, but they have not yet been able to produce any theoretical explanation that could be tested by global empirical evidence. It will be argued in this paper that the universality of ethnic conflict can be traced to our common human nature, to our evolved disposition to ethnic nepotism. This hypothesis is tested by empirical evidence on a scale of institutionalized ethnic interest conflict (IC) and on a scale of ethnic violence (EV), which are intended to measure the degree of ethnic conflict from two different perspectives, and by the degree of ethnic heterogeneity (EH), which is used to measure ethnic nepotism, in a group of 176 contemporary countries. The results show that EH explains approximately 70 percent of the global variation in IC and nearly half of the variation in EV. These results leads to the conclusion that ethnic nepotism provides the most powerful theoretical explanation for the persistance of ethnic conflicts.