Using science to avoid ethnic violence

May 28, 2014 by Maya Bialik
Linguistic groups and topographical boundaries in Switzerland. Maps of Switzerland showing (A) proportion of linguistic groups according to the 2000 census, (B) elevation within Switzerland, (C) overlay of linguistic groups onto a digital elevation model, and (D) topographical features including lakes (blue) and ridges extracted using edge detection (cyan). Comparison of calculated propensity (color bar) to violence between linguistic groups without (E) and with (F) the inclusion of topographical features as boundaries using a characteristic length scale of 24 km. Mercator projection, except C which is the Europe Albers projection. The distance scale is approximate.

What if we could use science to understand, accurately predict, and ultimately avoid, ethnic violence? A new study published in PLOS ONE does just that. The key to peace, the theory argues, is to either completely integrate or completely separate people based on cultural, linguistic, and ethnical differences.

Researchers at New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) analyzed two countries that both have boundaries separating cultural and linguistic groups, and found that the violence in both cases matched the theory's predictions, but in very different ways. Switzerland, a model of success when it comes to , contains boundaries within it that align with people ethnicities, and has almost no violence. In fact, the only area of violence occurs in Jura, precisely where NECSI's theory predicts that the boundaries between groups are insufficient. In Yugoslavia on the other hand, the boundaries do not actually align with people's differences and, as predicted, there is violence at the points of friction. This shows that there are right ways and there are wrong ways to set up boundaries to achieve peace within a country. Knowing that can help us make informed decisions and design for peace.

"We've seen that the ways borders and boundaries between groups are arranged really can prevent . When I think of the suffering and the lives lost, and I see those results, the findings just can't be ignored," said Andreas Gros, one of the authors.

"Conflicts rooted in ethnic strife are tearing countries apart today," said Bar-Yam. "Scientists who focus on predictive models cannot help but raise the question: 'What, if any, conditions are identifiable for peaceful coexistence among multiple groups with linguistic and religious differences?'"

The paper shows that Switzerland can be used as a model for many places in the world that are diverse and struggle with maintaining peace. This study shows that it is not necessary to create separate countries; groups with that delineate local autonomy will live peacefully together. The and the data also show that people who are in fully integrated societies will also successfully live in peace.

Explore further: Social psychologists say war is not inevitable, psychology research should promote peace

More information: The paper is available online: necsi.edu/research/social/peace_PLoS_f.pdf

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User comments : 13

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rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (1) May 29, 2014
So the ultimate answer would be to lock every single person in their own cell and prevent them from interacting.

And there you have it. Peace by force. Brilliant!
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) May 29, 2014
One key point is missed.
When people voluntarily emigrate to a new place, say USA or Australia or Canada everyone is in the same and people can't afford ethnic violence.
Didn't Stalin forcibly mix Asians Europeans in the USSR?
How well has that worked?
ThomasQuinn
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2014
Geez, ryggesogn2 is even more ignorant of historical facts than I thought!

Unfamiliar with the ethnic violence in North America during the colonial era (i.e. 17th and 18th centuries)? Not just European vs. Native American, but also Dutch vs. Scandinavian, French vs. English, Spanish vs. English, Spanish vs. French and Dutch vs. English. Let's not even get started on the 19th century, because the list is just too long.

You drag in Stalin because you just can't bring yourself to post something that doesn't involve some red-baiting, but that 'forcibly mixing' also occurred, copiously, under the Tsars, not to mention in other places like the Holy Roman Empire (Slavs and Western Europeans), the Osman empire (Turkic peoples with Balkan peoples), the Roman Empire (Africans, Levantines, Germano-Celtic and Northern Mediterranean peoples). Guess what? It seems there is a close link between ethnic mixing and empire! Including (ultra-capitalist) colonialism!

Yikes! Bad capitalists! Now what?!
ThomasQuinn
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2014
I see we have someone who can down-vote but not think of a rebuttal...
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2014
"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."
http://www.washin...untries/

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Jun 01, 2014
In places where most people immigrants with only 1 or 2 generations in an area, say the western USA, or in expat communities in the Middle East, everyone is new and from somewhere else. There is no ethnic majority to dominate and oppress.
Certainly people with common language and cultures will tend to associate forming ethnic neighborhoods in major cities.
Conflicts occur when an entrenched group is threatened.
Conflicts with ethnic minority Muslims in Scandinavian and Europe are occurring because the Muslims refuse to accept the laws of their neighbors.
Same in the US as more illegal immigrants are allowed to flaunt the law and don't accept the concept of liberty bringing their corrupt culture with them.
ThomasQuinn
5 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2014
You really hate facts, don't you? I demonstrate how you are an ignorant buffoon, and you just ignore and keep right on spewing your nonsense. You love fact-free rightist theorizing, and a little downright racist haranguing. No wonder you only ever get one-star ratings for what you post here.

Interesting how you define liberty as the right to conform to your rules and standards. Kinda like the Confederate interpretation of liberty as the right to hold other people in bondage.

Bottom line: man, you are a waste of oxygen.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2014
I hope the findings don't get abused, as there are people (politicians, military-industrial complex, ... ) who make a lot of money by creating racial tensions.
ThomasQuinn
not rated yet Jun 02, 2014
Any and all findings will get twisted and abused by people trying to gain from them. It's the job of scientists and intellectuals all over the world to make sure they don't go unchallenged over it.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2014
scientists and intellectuals all over the world to make sure they don't go unchallenged over it

How, when their livelihoods depend upon state plundered wealth?
ThomasQuinn
not rated yet Jun 02, 2014
scientists and intellectuals all over the world to make sure they don't go unchallenged over it

How, when their livelihoods depend upon state plundered wealth?


Only in your sick imagination.
Sinister1812
not rated yet Jun 08, 2014
I see we have someone who can down-vote but not think of a rebuttal...


I wasn't going to say anything, but you kinda did the same thing to me on another article.
ThomasQuinn
1 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2014
I see we have someone who can down-vote but not think of a rebuttal...


I wasn't going to say anything, but you kinda did the same thing to me on another article.


What article would that be? I don't recall having ever encountered you on Phys.org before.