In the post-Cold War era, the most common and often the most violent conflicts are ethnic conflicts. Many people, including many scholars, see ethnic conflicts as a return to the past, as contests between ancient and well-defined groups with long-standing grievances and animosities. Jack David Eller argues instead that these conflicts are a defining phenomenon of the "new world order"--that they are, in many ways, modern-day inventions based only loosely on "traditional" cultures and hostilities.
From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict presents in-depth case studies on Sri Lanka, the Kurds, Rwanda and Burundi, Bosnia, and Quebec, along with two theoretical introductory chapters that offer the reader the tools to understand the relationship between "culture" or "tradition" and contemporary ethnic conflicts. Eller finds that ethnicity is not a simple instantiation of "traditional" culture, nor is conflict a simple consequence of ethnicity. Rather, each is constructed out of certain raw cultural materials, through a process of remembering, forgetting, interpreting, and inventing. Ultimately, Eller demonstrates, these groups are fighting not about culture, but with culture.
No other book combines the level of analysis offered here with in-depth case studies of several important examples. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in understanding these conflicts. It will be assigned reading for students and scholars of cultural diversity and ethnic conflict in anthropology, history, political science, and peace and conflict studies.
Jack David Eller is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Denver/Teikyo Loretto Heights University.