Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 80
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    de la Cuesta, Brandon and Imai, Kosuke 2016. Misunderstandings About the Regression Discontinuity Design in the Study of Close Elections*. Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 19, Issue. 1, p. 375.

    Dimico, Arcangelo 2016. Size Matters: The Effect of the Size of Ethnic Groups on Development. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics,

    Fontana, Lorenza B. and Grugel, Jean 2016. The Politics of Indigenous Participation Through “Free Prior Informed Consent”: Reflections from the Bolivian Case. World Development, Vol. 77, p. 249.

    Haklai, Oded and Norwich, Liora 2016. Bound by Tradition: The Exclusion of Minority Ethnonational Parties from Coalition Governments—A Comparison of Israel and Canada. Ethnopolitics, Vol. 15, Issue. 3, p. 265.

    MacDuffee Metzger, Megan Bonneau, Richard Nagler, Jonathan and Tucker, Joshua A. 2016. Tweeting identity? Ukrainian, Russian, and #Euromaidan. Journal of Comparative Economics, Vol. 44, Issue. 1, p. 16.

    Robinson, Amanda Lea 2016. Internal Borders: Ethnic-Based Market Segmentation in Malawi. World Development,

    Sano, Yujiro Antabe, Roger Atuoye, Kilian Nasung Hussey, Lucia Kafui Bayne, Jason Galaa, Sylvester Zackaria Mkandawire, Paul and Luginaah, Isaac 2016. Persistent misconceptions about HIV transmission among males and females in Malawi. BMC International Health and Human Rights, Vol. 16, Issue. 1,

    Sorens, Jason P. 2016. Secession Risk and Fiscal Federalism. Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Vol. 46, Issue. 1, p. 25.

    Tonwe, Daniel A. and Eke, Surulola James 2016. Peace and conflict are two sides of this ‘coin’: explaining the persistence of identity-based conflagrations in Nigeria. African Identities, Vol. 14, Issue. 3, p. 209.

    Tusicisny, Andrej 2016. Reciprocity and Discrimination: An Experiment of Hindu-Muslim Cooperation in Indian Slums. Political Psychology,

    Bilinski, Adam 2015. Cultural legacies and electoral performance of ethnic minority parties in post-communist Europe. Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 21, Issue. 4, p. 721.

    Brazys, Samuel Heaney, Peter and Walsh, Patrick Paul 2015. Fertilizer and votes: Does strategic economic policy explain the 2009 Malawi election?. Electoral Studies, Vol. 39, p. 39.

    Cacault, M. Paula Goette, Lorenz Lalive, Rafael and Thoenig, Mathias 2015. Do we harm others even if we don't need to?. Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 6,

    Dowd, Caitriona 2015. Cultural and religious demography and violent Islamist groups in Africa. Political Geography, Vol. 45, p. 11.

    Gerring, John Thacker, Strom C. Lu, Yuan and Huang, Wei 2015. Does Diversity Impair Human Development? A Multi-Level Test of the Diversity Debit Hypothesis. World Development, Vol. 66, p. 166.

    Glynn, Adam N. and Ichino, Nahomi 2015. Using Qualitative Information to Improve Causal Inference. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 59, Issue. 4, p. 1055.

    Isaksson, Ann-Sofie 2015. Corruption Along Ethnic Lines: A Study of Individual Corruption Experiences in 17 African Countries. The Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 51, Issue. 1, p. 80.

    Kuenzi, Michelle and Lambright, Gina 2015. Campaign appeals in Nigeria's 2007 gubernatorial elections. Democratization, Vol. 22, Issue. 1, p. 134.

    Lipscy, Phillip Y. 2015. Explaining Institutional Change: Policy Areas, Outside Options, and the Bretton Woods Institutions. American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 59, Issue. 2, p. 341.

    Macdonald, Geoffrey 2015. Racial Politics and Campaign Strategy in South Africa's 2009 Election. Politikon, Vol. 42, Issue. 2, p. 155.


The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 November 2004

This paper explores the conditions under which cultural cleavages become politically salient. It does so by taking advantage of the natural experiment afforded by the division of the Chewa and Tumbuka peoples by the border between Zambia and Malawi. I document that, while the objective cultural differences between Chewas and Tumbukas on both sides of the border are identical, the political salience of the division between these communities is altogether different. I argue that this difference stems from the different sizes of the Chewa and Tumbuka communities in each country relative to each country's national political arena. In Malawi, Chewas and Tumbukas are each large groups vis-à-vis the country as a whole and, thus, serve as viable bases for political coalition-building. In Zambia, Chewas and Tumbukas are small relative to the country as a whole and, thus, not useful to mobilize as bases of political support. The analysis suggests that the political salience of a cultural cleavage depends not on the nature of the cleavage itself (since it is identical in both countries) but on the sizes of the groups it defines and whether or not they will be useful vehicles for political competition.

Corresponding author
Daniel N. Posner is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Box 951472, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472 (
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? *