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Polarization, Fractionalization and Conflict



This article provides a theoretical framework that distinguishes between the occurrence of conflict and its severity, and clarifies the role of polarization and fractionalization in each of these cases. The analysis helps in ordering the various definitions, and in providing explanations for the empirical observations on the relationship between conflict, on the one hand, and polarization or fractionalization, on the other. The behaviour of players in conflict is described as a game, and equilibrium payoffs to all players are computed. The status quo is characterized by a set of political institutions that channel the different opposing interests and turn them into a collective decision, with a second set of payoffs. Groups rebel against the status quo political institution whenever the latter set of payoffs is dominated by the former. When society is highly polarized, the potential cost of rebellion is extremely high, and this cost may serve as the guarantor of peace. So, in highly polarized societies, the occurrence of open conflict should be rare but its intensity very severe, whenever it happens. On the other hand, highly fractionalized societies are prone to the occurrence of conflict, but its intensity will be moderate. It matters, therefore, whether one studies the intensity of conflict, conditional on conflict breaking out, or the likelihood that conflict actually occurs. Specifically, it is shown that: (i) measures of fractionalization and polarization tend to run in opposite directions, (ii) the onset of conflict critically depends on the political system in place, (iii) the occurrence of conflict and the intensity of conflict also tend to move in opposite directions, (iv) the relationship between polarization or fractionalization and conflict is non-monotonic and (v) the intensity of conflict depends positively on the degree of polarization.
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  • Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2007. "Polarization, Fractionalization and Conflict," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 703.07, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  • Handle: RePEc:aub:autbar:703.07

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    1. La Porta, Rafael & Lopez-de-Silanes, Florencio & Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert, 1999. "The Quality of Government," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(1), pages 222-279, April.
    2. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2011. "A Model Of Ethnic Conflict," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 496-521, June.
    3. Alesina, Alberto & Devleeschauwer, Arnaud & Easterly, William & Kurlat, Sergio & Wacziarg, Romain, 2003. "Fractionalization," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 155-194, June.
    4. Jean-Yves Duclos & Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2004. "Polarization: Concepts, Measurement, Estimation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(6), pages 1737-1772, November.
    5. Collier, Paul & Hoeffler, Anke, 1998. "On Economic Causes of Civil War," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 50(4), pages 563-573, October.
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    8. Banerjee, Abhijit V & Duflo, Esther, 2003. "Inequality and Growth: What Can the Data Say?," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(3), pages 267-299, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dimico, Arcangelo, 2013. "Size Matters: The Effect of the Scramble for Africa on Informal Institutions and Development," MPRA Paper 54550, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 18 Mar 2014.
    2. Veselov, D. & Yarkin, A., 2016. "Wealth Distribution and Political Conflict in the Model of Transition from Stagnation to Growth," Journal of the New Economic Association, New Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 30-60.
    3. repec:eee:exehis:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:82-103 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Erica Field & Matthew Levinson & Rohini Pande & Sujata Visaria, 2008. "Segregation, Rent Control, and Riots: The Economics of Religious Conflict in an Indian City," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 505-510, May.
    5. Bleaney, Michael & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2016. "State history, historical legitimacy and modern ethnic diversity," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 159-170.
    6. Anirban Mitra & Debraj Ray, 2014. "Implications of an Economic Theory of Conflict: Hindu-Muslim Violence in India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 122(4), pages 719-765.
    7. repec:bla:obuest:v:79:y:2017:i:3:p:291-318 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Catherine Bros, 2010. "Social fragmentation and public goods: polarization, inequality and patronage in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar," Documents de travail du Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne 10026, Université Panthéon-Sorbonne (Paris 1), Centre d'Economie de la Sorbonne.
    9. Nisreen Salti & Jad Chaaban, 2012. "The political economy of attracting public funds: the case of Lebanon," International Journal of Development and Conflict, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, vol. 2(1), pages 1250001-125.
    10. Laia Balcells & Lesley-Ann Daniels & Abel Escribà-Folch, 2014. "The determinants of low-intensity intergroup violence. The case of Northern Ireland," HiCN Working Papers 190, Households in Conflict Network.
    11. Fuad Aleskerov & Victoria Oleynik, 2016. "Multidimensional Polarization Index and its Application to an Analysis of the Russian State Duma," Papers 1608.01351,
    12. Marktanner Marcus & Makdisi Samir, 2008. "Development against All Odds? The Case of Lebanon," Review of Middle East Economics and Finance, De Gruyter, vol. 4(3), pages 101-133, September.
    13. Clementi, Fabio & Molini, Vasco & Schettino, Francesco, 2018. "All that Glitters is not Gold: Polarization Amid Poverty Reduction in Ghana," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 275-291.
    14. Giménez-Gómez, José-Manuel & Yabibal Mulualem Walle & Zergawu, Yitagesu Zewdu, 2017. "Trends in African migration to Europe: Drivers beyond economic motivations," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 330, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    15. repec:spr:metron:v:75:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s40300-017-0112-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Guilhem Cassan & Lore Vandewalle, 2017. "Identities and Public Policies: Unintended Effects of Political Reservations for Women in India," IHEID Working Papers 18-2017, Economics Section, The Graduate Institute of International Studies.
    17. Rehman, Faiz Ur & Vanin, Paolo, 2017. "Terrorism risk and democratic preferences in Pakistan," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 95-106.
    18. Rohner, Dominic, 2011. "Reputation, group structure and social tensions," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 188-199, November.
    19. Héctor Galindo Silva, 2007. "Polarización económica y emergencia de confilctos violentos internos un estudio empírico," DOCUMENTOS DE ECONOMÍA 004449, UNIVERSIDAD JAVERIANA - BOGOTÁ.
    20. Rohner, D., 2006. "Information, Reputation and Ethnic Conflict," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 0658, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.

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