Chapter

Conflict and Complexity

Part of the series Understanding Complex Systems pp 235-248

The Geography of Ethnic Violence

  • Alex RutherfordAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , May LimAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Richard MetzlerAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Dion HarmonAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Justin WerfelAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Shlomiya Bar-YamAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Alexander Gard-MurrayAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Andreas GrosAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute
  • , Yaneer Bar-YamAffiliated withNew England Complex Systems Institute Email author 

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Abstract

We consider the conditions of peace and violence among ethnic groups, testing a theory designed to predict the locations of violence and interventions that can promote peace. Violence arises at boundaries between regions that are not sufficiently well defined. We model cultural differentiation as a separation of groups whose members prefer similar neighbors with a characteristic group size at which violence occurs. Application of this model to the area of the former Yugoslavia and to India accurately predicts the locations of reported conflict. Characterizing the model’s success in predicting peace requires examples where peace prevails despite diversity. Switzerland is recognized as a country of peace, stability, and prosperity. This is surprising because of its linguistic and religious diversity that in other parts of the world lead to conflict and violence. Here we analyze how peaceful stability is maintained. Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well-defined topographical and political boundaries separating linguistic and religious groups, respectively. In exactly one region, a porous mountain range does not adequately separate linguistic groups and violent conflict has led to the recent creation of the canton of Jura. Our analysis supports the hypothesis that violence between groups can be inhibited by both physical and political boundaries. A similar analysis of the area of the former Yugoslavia shows that during widespread ethnic violence existing political boundaries did not coincide with the boundaries of distinct groups, but peace prevailed in specific areas where they did coincide.