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Ethnic Identity, Collective Action, and Conflict:

By Macartan Humphreys, Daniel N. Posner


Theories of ethnic mobilization and conflict tend to assume that political actors are easily able to place other actors into their “correct” ethnic categories. While this may be the case for some individuals and some categories, it is not always so. We argue that this variation, although typically ignored, has implications for theoretical, empirical, and policy-oriented research on ethnic cooperation and conflict. In this paper we propose the use of experimental methods to collect data regarding how the information actors have about the identities of others varies within a polity. We describe an experiment that provides insight into the individual and group-level determinants of ethnic “identifiability” – that is, on how well, and under what conditions, actors can correctly identify the ethnic backgrounds of others. We also demonstrate how the information gathered in this experiment informs a second set of experiments that enable us to distinguish between rival explanations for the relationship between ethnicity and collective action. The experiment described in this paper will be conducted in Uganda in July-August 2003, with a trial run taking place in the U.S. in November 2002. We welcome all suggestions, theoretical and practical to help improve our research design.

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