Square Pegs in Round Holes: Inequalities, Grievances, and Civil War

Journal article

Buhaug, Halvard; Lars-Erik Cederman & Kristian Skrede Gleditsch (2014) Square Pegs in Round Holes: Inequalities, Grievances, and Civil War, International Studies Quarterly 58 (2): 418–431.

Read the article here (Open Access)

Much of the recent research on civil war treats explanations rooted in political and economic grievances with considerable suspicion and claims that there is little empirical evidence of any relationship between ethnicity or inequality and political violence. We argue that common indicators used in previous research, such as the ethno-linguistic fractionalization (ELF) and the Gini coefficient for income dispersion, fail to capture fundamental aspects of political exclusion and economic inequality that can motivate conflict. Drawing on insights from group-level research, we develop new country-level indices that directly reflect inequalities among ethnic groups, including political discrimination and wealth differentials along ethnic lines. Our analysis reveals that these theoretically informed country profiles are much better predictors of civil war onset than conventional inequality indicators, even when we control for a number of alternative factors potentially related to grievances or opportunities for conflict.

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