Ashutosh Varshney, “Ethnic conflict and civil society: India and beyond”, World Politics 53 (2001), pp. 362-398

Summary: examines the links between civil society and ethnic conflict. Argues that there is an integral (probabilistic) link between the structure of civic life in a multiethnic society, on the one hand, and the presence or absence of ethnic violence, on the other (in short, that trust based on interethnic, not intraethnic, networks is critical). To illustrate these links, two interconnected arguments are made:


1) interethnic and intraethnic networks of civic engagement play very different roles in ethnic conflict. Because they build bridges and manage tensions, interethnic networks are agents of peace, but if communities are organized only along intraethnic lines and the interconnections with other communities are very weak or even nonexistent, then ethnic violence is quite likely.

*exogenous shocks, tensions, or rumours are thus mediated by the type of networks  that exist.

2) civic networks, both intraethnic and interethnic, can also be broken down into two other types: a) organized (associational forms of engagement) and b) quotidian (everyday forms of engagement). Both forms of engagement, if robust, promote peace: contrariwise, their absence or weakness opens up space for ethnic violence. Of the two, however, the associational forms turn out to be sturdier than everyday engagement, especially when confronted with attempts by politicians to polarize people along ethnic lines.

*vigorous associational life, if interethnic, acts as a serious constraint on politicians, even when ethnic polarization is in their political interest. The more the associational network cuts across ethnic boundaries, the harder it is for politicians to polarize communities.


Method: uses three paired comparisons (all in India) of a riot-prone city matched with a peaceful one (with populations between half a million and just over four million), with all three sets paired according to roughly similar Hindu-Muslim percentages in the city populations, a second set paired with extra controls for previous Muslim rule and reasonable cultural similarities, and a third pair included controls for history, language, and culture.






-while everyday forms of engagement may be enough to maintain peace on a small scale (villages or small towns), it is no substitute for interethnic associations in larger settings (cities and metropolises). Size reduces the efficacy of informal interactions, privileging formal associations.

-the role of inter-communal civic networks has been crucial for peace at a proximate level. Taking the long view, however, the causal factor was a transformative shift in national politics. Once put in place by the (Indian) national movement, the civic structures took on a life and logic of their own, constraining the behaviour of politicians in the short to medium run