How Fluid Is Fluid? The Mutability of Ethnic Identities and Electoral Volatility in Africa

karen ferree

in Constructivist Theories of Ethnic Politics

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199893157
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980079 | DOI:
How Fluid Is Fluid? The Mutability of Ethnic Identities and Electoral Volatility in Africa

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This chapter proposes and tests an argument about how much fluidity we should expect in activated ethnic identity categories in electoral politics. It has now become commonplace to assert that ethnic identities are constructed, fluid, and responsive to political, social, and economic contexts including elections. But how fluid are they? How easily can political entrepreneurs fighting elections construct new ethnic groupings? Not very easily, this chapter argues. Based on a statistical test of the relationship between ethnic structure and electoral volatility, using a recently developed cross-national dataset on ethnic divisions in Africa, this chapter finds that the widespread possibility of short term change identified by Chandra and Boulet may be significantly restricted in countries with “nested” ethnic structures—ethnic structures in which attribute-values on one dimension are contained within attribute-values on another. Voters and politicians operating within nested structures, Ferree argues, consider as feasible only those combinations which include all attribute-values on a given node as real ethnic groups. This finding implies a highly constrained version of constructivism—at least with regard to the short time frame relevant for electoral volatility.

Keywords: elections; volatility; winning coalitions; constructivism; fluidity; nested ethnic structures

Chapter.  12280 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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