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Ethnicity and Democratic Governance

Spoke 2

What are the alternative strategies, policies and practices available to states and societies in responding to ethnic diversity?  

Coordinators: John McGarry and Richard Simeon
Participants: Sujit Choudhry, Yash Ghai, Baogang He, Michael Keating, Brendan O’Leary, Christian Leuprecht and Marie-Joëlle Zahar

This theme focuses on the effectiveness of different strategies designed to respond to the tensions of ethnic diversity and to develop sustainable accommodations. There are two main perspectives on this question (McGarry and O’Leary 1994).

One focuses on the need to recognize, institutionalize and empower differences through such devices as federalism, autonomy, decentralization, consociationalism (power-sharing), affirmative action, legislative quotas and the like (Nordlinger 1972; Lijphart 1977; Ghai 2000b; Keating 2001; McGarry 2002; McGarry and O’Leary 2004).

Others argue that such practices may entrench, perpetuate and exacerbate the very divisions they are designed to manage (Brass 1991; Horowitz 2000; R. Taylor 2001; Zahar 2005a, 2005b). Hence they propose alternative strategies that will blur, transcend and cross-cut differences, and create incentives for leaders to build bridges between contending groups.

We identify five macro-political strategies and a number of complementary micro-policies related to these two perspectives. These are:

  • Consociationalism, or power-sharing;

  • Federalism/regional autonomy;

  • Secession or partition;

  • Multicultural integration;

  • Assimilation and denial of difference.

States may target these strategies at the same group at different times, or at different groups at the same time. Some of the strategies seek to eliminate ethnic differences (e.g., assimilation) while others seek to accommodate them (e.g. consociationalism) (McGarry and O’Leary 1994, 1996). Some, such as federalism, can be aimed either at eliminating difference or accommodating difference, depending on how internal boundaries are drawn (McGarry and O’Leary 2005). These broad strategies often suggest a range of complementary micro-policies affecting, for example, the civil, military and police services; the educational sector and cultural policy; welfare policy and/or employment law; and economic management and development policies. A comprehensive study of the ways in which states can respond to diversity should operate at both the macro- and micro-level. It should also explore the balance between strategies that empower ethnic communities as distinct and self-governing actors, and strategies that integrate them into common national institutions and identities – ‘building out’ and ‘building in.’ (Simeon 2002).

Our working assumptions are that the effectiveness of these different strategies depends:

  • On the link between the macro-level strategies and micro-level policies. Micro-level policies that operate on a different logic from the macro-strategy may undermine the coherence of public policies, as one policy operates at cross-purposes with another. But they may also have beneficial effects, allowing room for dissent and experimentation, and offsetting some of the potential problems that arise from a too-rigorous implementation of the larger strategy;

  • On the broader socio-economic context of development and globalization, including the impact of internal and external population movements, social stratification, trade policy and investment flows that shape the development, interests and relations of ethnic communities (Spoke 1).

Our Approach

The research program will focus on two dimensions: First, an inventory of the repertoire of institutions, policies and practices that have been employed to accommodate and manage difference. Second, we will explore the political processes through which accommodation and democratic governance have succeeded or failed. Data will be drawn from the analysis of constitutional texts, legislation, interviews and secondary sources. We will conduct country case studies in a wide variety of settings and will build on these case studies in a series of synthetic, integrative comparative studies focusing on theoretical development of the conditions under which multi-ethnic societies can develop political institutions consistent with democracy and social justice.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000