Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ethnic conflict, boundaries and cultural identity

I'm not too sure what to think of this paper. It's a really interesting topic, namely, the relative merits of maintaining cultural identity vs. cultural integration. I'm not a big fan of this kind of modeling, but the application of their model to geopolitical situations in the former Yugoslavia and India are interesting, although the Yugoslavia one is not very convincing. The figure shows A converted into their model B and then "Our prediction of populations likely to be in conflict with neighboring groups [red overlay, (C) and (D)] agrees well with the location of cities reported as sites of major fights and massacres [yellow dots, (D)]"
The implications that they draw in their conclusion are compelling though:
"It is worth considering whether, in places where cultural differentiation is taking place, conflict might be prevented or minimized by political acts that create appropriate boundaries suited to the current geocultural regions rather than the existing historically based state boundaries. Such boundaries need not inhibit trade and commerce and need not mark the boundaries of states, but should allow each cultural group to adopt independent behaviors in separate domains. Peaceful coexistence need not require complete integration."
Global Pattern Formation and Ethnic/Cultural Violence

May Lim, Richard Metzler, Yaneer Bar-Yam

Science 14 September 2007: Vol. 317. no. 5844, pp. 1540 - 1544
Abstract: We identify a process of global pattern formation that causes regions to differentiate by culture. Violence arises at boundaries between regions that are not sufficiently well defined. We model cultural differentiation as a separation of groups whose members prefer similar neighbors, with a characteristic group size at which violence occurs. Application of this model to the area of the former Yugoslavia and to India accurately predicts the locations of reported conflict. This model also points to imposed mixing or boundary clarification as mechanisms for promoting peace.

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