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Culture, Identity, and Conflict: Suggested Areas for Further Research Yoshiko M. Herrera Harvard University nder the heading of identity and conflict, there are three main areas where more research is needed: (1) theorization of the relationship between identity and action; (2) empirical work on the definition, measurement, and development of identities; and (3) integrated ap- proaches to the role of economic and cultural factors in identity politics. IDENTITY AND ACTION Much of the research on identity is unclear concerning how identity affects the behavior of actors; that is, how does having an identity lead to action? The relationship between identity and action has to be more fully addressed, especially if the goal is to explain specific outcomes, such as ethnic conflict. Currently there are at least three main theories of how identity affects behavior.] The first is essentially a theory of interpretation; that is, having an identity allows actors to interpret the external world in particular ways. In this case, the material or social incentives for a particular action take on different values according to one's identity. Thus, action still flows from material or social incentives, but identity affects the valuation of incen- tives. 1For a review, see Abdelal, R., Y. M. Herrera, A. I. Johnston, and T. Martin. Treating Identity as a Variable: Measuring the Content, Intensity, and Contestation of Identity. Pa- per, presented at APSA, August 30-September 2, 2001. 77
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78 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES A second theory corresponds roughly to what is sometimes referred to as role theory. Here the central causal process in behavior is the perfor- mance of roles. The behavior of actors is more or less consistent with actors' role expectations flowing from their identities thus, if we are peace loving, we should act in a peace-loving fashion. Identity provides socially appropriate roles that actors perform and that are taken for granted. In this conceptualization, the reasons to act in a particular way are found in a decision to perform a role, not in a decision to choose between optimizing paths to some preferred outcome. Alternatively, social identity theory suggests that the central causal process in behavior derives from in-group and out-group differentiation, not the roles or identity traits per se that are attributed to in-groups and out-groups. In this case, action is in some sense a reaction to, and condi- tioned by the existence of, those who are different. Some relationships (with the group that is socially recognized as similar) are more coopera- tive than others (with the group that is socially recognized as different) even if the same issue is at stake (territory, power, or status). These three theories are obviously not the only ways to understand the relationship between identity and action, but they may be a useful beginning. MEASURING IDENTITY The enormous amount of work on theorizing identity has resulted in some definitional and methodological clarity but also in a good deal of chaos. While we have developed many theories of identity, too few have been put to work in terms of measuring and documenting the develop- ment of actual identities in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Too many works begin by assuming the existence of particular identities, and focus instead on analyzing the effects of such identities (without, however, nec- essarily making explicit the relationship between identity and action see above). In addition, many works use proxies for identity, such as lan- guage or racial categories, rather than attempting to measure identity explicitly. If the contributions of constructivist approaches to ethnicity are to be appreciated, we should think about how constructivism informs scholarly categorization of identity, including, for example, the construc- tion of datasets on ethnicity.2 2On appreciating theoretical advances in data sets, see Symposium: Cumulative Findings in the Study of Ethnic Politics. Pp. 7-25 in APSA-Comparative Politics Newsletter Winter 2001; on measuring identity, see Abdelal et al., 2001.
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CULTURE, IDENTITY, AND CONFLICT: AREAS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH 79 ECONOMIC BASES OF IDENTITY POLITICS In recent years, as scholars have recognized that economic issues are integral to identity politics and nationalist movements, analyses have in- creasingly focused on the examination of the economic factors. However, because the methodology used in analyses of political or cultural factors traditionally has been quite different from that used in the analysis of economic factors, most studies of identity politics focus either on politi- cal/cultural factors, or alternatively, on economic factors. In studies that attempt to account for both, often ideology or beliefs, on the one hand, account for political and cultural variables, while instrumental rational- ity, on the other hand, accounts for economic variables. More recently, there have been several significant attempts to account for cultural and economic variables using integrated models. There are two basic types of integrated models. In the first, culture is used instru- mentally for material gain.3 In the second, cultural benefits substitute for material benefits.4 Although the integrated models seem theoretically able to account for a range of outcomes, unfortunately there are two areas where these models remain inadequate. First, one must be able to explain why identity-based movements occur in both wealthy and poor regions. In other words, within or across countries, why do different economic conditions lead to similar outcomes or vice versa? A second problem with current integrated models of identity politics is that they cannot account for the fact that local notions of economic advantage are often inconsistent with outside assessments, and therefore current models cannot explain seemingly irrational economic behavior that is, groups or elites pursue identity-based claims even when it appears they will be materially worse off for doing so. Thus, to develop a better understanding of the relationship between economic factors and identity or cultural politics, the researcher is faced with a triple task of · further advancing integrated models that can account for both cul- tural and economic factors · explaining the general pattern of identity politics, that is, why iden- tity-based movements occur in both rich and poor regions 3For examples, see R. sates. 1983. Modernization, Ethnic competition, and the Rational- ity of Politics in contemporary Africa. Pp. 152-171 in state versus Ethnic Claims: African Policy Dilemmas, D. Rothchild and v. Olorunsola, eds. Boulder westview Press, and Shepsle, K. and A. Rabushka. 1972. Politics in Plural societies. Columbus: Merrill. 4For examples, see Laitin, D. 1998. Identity in Formation: The Russian Speaking Popula- tions in the Near Abroad. Ithaca: Cornell university Press.
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80 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES · better accounting for the apparent economic irrationality of some identity movements A useful line of research might consider that just as culture and poli- tics can be analyzed in terms of instrumental rationality, so too can eco- nomics be analyzed in terms of historically, socially constructed ideas.5 In other words, economic data like other types of information including demographic statistics, biological facts, and so forth are subject to mul- tiple, legitimate understandings and uses by elites and groups. To put it in the language of other contemporary debates, economic advantage and disadvantage may be as imagined as nations. In previous integrated mod- els, the relative economic situation comes in as a deus ex machine to explain the variation. The models assume that ethnicity is fluid but that the eco- nomic interests are definite and real. However, empirical evidence sug- gests that economic interests may well be as fluid as ethnicity. This alter- native theory of economic rationality builds on the nationalism literature but addresses the one area of social information that has been ignored by constructivist scholars, namely economic information. In addition, the theory may advance the development of integrated models of identity politics by providing a more satisfying explanation of how politicized economic factors affect the development of identities. 5see Herrera, Y. M. 2001. Imagined Economies: Regionalism in the Russian Federation. Unpublished manuscript. Harvard university.
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