Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Diversity, economics, and politics

Is ethnic diversity a cause of economic and political conditions? Or are there other factors that cause diversity?

This is one of a series of explorations of data by the Wasington Pots's Max Fisher that could become the basis for discussion and research in a comparative politics classroom.

A revealing map of the world’s most and least ethnically diverse countries
Most diverse
Ethnicity, like race, is a social construct, but it’s still a construct with significant implications for the world. How people perceive ethnicity, both their own and that of others, can be tough to measure, particularly given that it’s so subjective. So how do you study it?…

There are a few trends you can see right away: countries in Europe and Northeast Asia tend to be the most homogenous, sub-Saharan African nations the most diverse. The Americas are generally somewhere in the middle. And richer countries appear more likely to be homogenous…

Here are a few observations and conclusions:
  • African countries are the most diverse.
  • Japan and the Koreas are the most homogenous.
  • European countries are ethnically homogenous.
  • The Americas are often diverse.
  • Wide variation in the Middle East.
  • Internal conflicts appear to be more common in countries with high diversity.
  • Diversity correlates with latitude and low GDP per capita.
  • Strong democracy correlates with ethnic homogeneity.

Here’s the money quote on the potential political implications of ethnicity:
In general, it does not matter for our purposes whether ethnic differences reflect physical attributes of groups (skin color, facial features) or long-lasting social conventions (language, marriage within the group, cultural norms) or simple social definition (self-identification, identification by outsiders). When people persistently identify with a particular group, they form potential interest groups that can be manipulated by political leaders, who often choose to mobilize some coalition of ethnic groups (“us”) to the exclusion of others (“them”). Politicians also sometimes can mobilize support by singling out some groups for persecution, where hatred of the minority group is complementary to some policy the politician wishes to pursue.

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