Ethnic Conflicts in the Former USSR: The Use and Misuse of Typologies and Data

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

(1999) Ethnic Conflicts in the Former USSR: The Use and Misuse of Typologies and Data , Journal of Peace Research 36(5): 571–591.

This article summarizes research on ethnic conflict in the Former Soviet Union (FSU). Various appealing but unsatisfactory typologies have been proposed, focusing on the subjects of the conflict (actors, goals, motivations); on the environment of the conflict (territory, language, socio-economy, environment and resources; or on characteristics of the conflict (scale, length, form of fighting, losses, aftermath). Most conflict typologies reflect better the thinking and political agenda of the typologists than the actual social panorama. Conflict theories and data presentations contain strong prescriptive elements and may even generate new conflict. For the conflicts in the Former Soviet Union, existing typologies fail to grasp several major factors, such as the strategies and behavior of individuals, social and political disorder, power and status aspirations, elite manipulations, and outside interventions. This article discusses data on human and material losses in nine violent conflicts: Karabakh, Fergana, Osh, South Ossetia, Transdniestria, Tajik, Abkhazia, Ingush-Ossetian, and Chechen. In conclusion, a plea is made for writing 'between' theory and data, without sacrificing sensitive and self-reflective narration in order to produce new insights and new knowledge.