Skip to main content

Explaining Interethnic Cooperation

  • James D. Fearon (a1) and David D. Laitin (a1)

Though both journalists and the academic literature on ethnic conflict give the opposite impression, peaceful and even cooperative relations between ethnic groups are far more common than is large-scale violence. We seek to explain this norm of interethnic peace and how it occasionally breaks down, arguing that formal and informal institutions usually work to contain or “cauterize” disputes between individual members of different groups. Using a social matching game model, we show that local-level interethnic cooperation can be supported in essentially two ways. In spiral equilibria, disputes between individuals are correctly expected to spiral rapidly beyond the two parties, and fear of this induces cooperation “on the equilibrium path.” In in-group policing equilibria, individuals ignore transgressions by members of the other group, correctly expecting that the culprits will be identified and sanctioned by their own ethnic brethren. A range of examples suggests that both equilibria occur empirically and have properties expected from the theoretical analysis.

Hide All
Axelrod Robert. 1984. Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.
Banton Michael. 1983. Racial and Ethnic Competition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barth Fredrik, ed. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Boston: Little Brown.
Bates Robert. 1983. “Modernization, Ethnic Competition, and the Rationality of Politics in Contemporary Africa.” In State Versus Ethnic Claims: African Policy Dilemmas, ed. Rothchild Donald and Olorunsola Victor A.. Boulder, CO: Westview.
Boehm Christopher. 1994. Blood Revenge: The Anthropology of Feuding in Montenegro and Other Tribal Societies. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Bremmer Ian, and Taras Ray. 1993. Nation and Politics in the Soviet Successor States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Calvert Randall. 1995. “Rational Actors, Equilibrium, and Social Institutions.” In Explaining Social Institutions, ed. Knight Jack and Sened Itai. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Cohen Abner. 1969. Custom and Politics in Urban Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Colson Elizabeth. 1974. Tradition and Contract. Chicago: Aldine.
Cornell Bradford. 1995. “A Hypothesis on the Origins of Ethnic Discrimination.” Rationality and Society 7 (01):430.
Deutsch Karl. 1966. The Nerves of Government. New York: The Free Press.
Downs George, and Rocke David. 1990. Tacit Bargaining, Arms Races, and Arms Control. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
Downs George, and Rocke David. 1995. Optimal Imperfection? Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Dumont Paul. 1982. “Jewish Communities in Turkey during the Last Decades of the 19th Century.” In Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, vol. 1, ed. Braude Benjamin and Lewis Bernard. New York: Holmes and Meier.
Dubnow S. M. 1916. History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, vol. 1. Trans. Friedlaender I.. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.
Ellison Glenn. 1994. “Cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma with Anonymous Random Matching.” Review of Economic Studies 61 (07):567–88.
Fearon James D. 1994. “Ethnic War as a Commitment Problem.” Paper presented at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New York.
Fudenberg Drew, and Tirole Jean. 1991. Game Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gagnon V. P. 1994/1995. “Ethnic Nationalism and International Conflict: The Case of Serbia.” International Security 19 (Winter):130–66.
Gambetta Diego. 1993. The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Geertz Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Gellner Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Gellner Ernest. 1988. “Trust, Cohesion, and the Social Order.” In Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, ed. Gambetta Diego. London: Blackwell.
Gluckman Max. 1955. Custom and Conflict in Africa. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Goldscheider Calvin, and Zuckerman Alan S.. 1984. The Transformation of the Jews. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Green Edward, and Porter Rob. 1984. “Noncooperative Collusion Under Imperfect Price Information.” Econometrica 52 (01): 87100.
Greif Avner. 1989. “Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders.” Journal of Economic History 49 (12):857–82.
Greif Avner. 1994. “Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society.” Journal of Political Economy 102 (10):912–50.
Hardin Russell. 1995. One for All. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Hasluck Margaret. 1954. The Unwritten Law in Albania. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hobbes Thomas. 1985 [1651]. Leviathan. New York: Penguin Books.
Horowitz Donald. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kandori Michihiro. 1992. “Social Norms and Community Enforcement.” Review of Economic Studies 59 (01):6380.
Kaplan Robert D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts. New York: Vintage.
Knappert Jan. 1965. “Language Problems of the New Nations of Africa.” African Quarterly 5 (1):95105.
Laitin David. 1995a. “Marginality: A Microperspective.” Rationality and Society 7 (01):3157.
Laitin David. 1995b. “National Revivals and Violence.” Archives Européennes de Sociologie 36 (1):343.
Landa Janet Tai. 1994. Trust, Ethnicity, and Identity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.
Lederhendler Eli. 1989. The Road to Modern Jewish Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lewis I. M. 1961. A Pastoral Democracy. London: Oxford University Press.
Lohmann Susanne. 1997. “A Theory of Domestic-International Linkage.” Journal of Conflict Resolution. Forthcoming.
Milgrom Paul, North Douglass, and Weingast Barry. 1990. “The Role of Institutions in the Revival of Trade.” Economics and Politics 2 (03):123.
Miller Willian Ian. 1990. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Moore Sally Falk. 1978 Law as Process: An Anthropological Approach. London: Routledge.
Morrison Donald, Mitchell Robert, and Paden John. 1989. Black Africa: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Paragon House.
Morrow James D. 1992. “Signaling Difficulties with Linkage in Crisis Bargaining.” International Studies Quarterly 36 (06):153–72.
Moynihan Daniel P. 1993. Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Olzak Susan. 1992. The Dynamics of Ethnic Competition and Conflict. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Posen Barry. 1993. “The Security Dilemma and Ethnic Conflict.” Survival 35 (Spring):2747.
Putnam Robert, with Leonardi Robert and Nanetti Raffaella Y.. 1993. Making Democracy Work. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Rieder Jonathan. 1985. Canarsie. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Samatar Said S. 1982. Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tajfel Henri, ed. 1982. Social Identity and Intergroup Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taylor Michael. 1976. Anarchy and Cooperation. London: Wiley.
Wagner R. Harrison. 1993. “The Causes of Peace.” In Stopping the Killing: How Civil Wars End, ed. Licklider Roy. New York: New York University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 53 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1078 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.