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Ethnic Violence Without Collective Action?

Sat, September 1, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Hynes, 210

Abstract

When, why, and how do interethnic conflicts incite persistent ethnic violence? Prominent theories of ethnic violence are contingent on ethnic groups solving collective action problems. In contrast, this paper highlights mechanisms through which, even absent explicit coordination, punishments, biases, or shared objectives in ethnic groups, the structure of social networks may systematically promote low-intensity forms of ethnic violence. A computational model shows that interpersonal connections and uncertainty among a particularly violence-prone minority population can result in persistent ethnic attacks. In-depth process tracing analysis using federal indictments, media sources, and interviews in Southern California support and expand upon these results. Gang members in the region use the threat of sanctions to encourage peers to attack particular adversaries. In the context of exogenous shifts in the structure of local criminal conflicts, uncertainties about the identities and network ties of residents led gang members in some areas to engage in indiscriminate ethnic violence.

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