Book notice: Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue May 29 15:44:20 UTC 2007

*Marc Howard Ross**. Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict. *Cambridge
University Press.*
*Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics.

Ethnic conflict often focuses on culturally charged symbols and rituals that
evoke strong emotions from all sides. Marc Howard Ross examines battles over
diverse cultural expressions, including Islamic headscarves in France,
parades in Northern Ireland, holy sites in Jerusalem and Confederate flags
in the American South to propose a psychocultural framework for
understanding ethnic conflict, as well as barriers to, and opportunities
for, its mitigation. His analysis explores how culture frames interests,
structures demand-making and shapes how opponents can find common ground to
produce constructive outcomes to long-term disputes. He focuses on
participants' accounts of conflict to identify emotionally significant
issues, and the power of cultural expressions to link individuals to larger
identities and shape action. Ross shows that, contrary to popular belief,
culture does not necessarily exacerbate conflict; rather, the constructed
nature of psychocultural narratives can facilitate successful conflict
mitigation through the development of more inclusive narratives and

1. Introduction: easy questions and hard answers. What are they fighting
about?; 2. The political psychology of competing narratives; 3. Narratives
and performance: ritual enactment and psychocultural dramas in ethnic
conflict; 4. Loyalist parades in Northern Ireland as a psychocultural drama;
5. Where is Barcelona? Imagining the nation without a state; 6. Digging up
the past to contest the present: the politics of archaeology in Jerusalem's
old city; 7. Dressed to express: Muslim headscarves in French schools; 8.
The politics of memory and memorialization in post-apartheid South Africa;
9. Enlarging South Africa's symbolic landscape; 10. Flags, heroes and
statues: inclusive versus exclusive identity markers in the American South;
11. Culture's central role in ethnic conflict.

"Among the many strengths of this book are its wide range of case-studies
which succeed in demonstrating the multiplicity of forms that cultural
expression in conflict situations may take on: parades in Northern Ireland,
the politics of archaeology in contested Jerusalem, Muslim headscarves in
schools in France, and the controversy over exhibiting the Confederate flag
in public places in the American South. This is a first-rate work sure to
make a valuable contribution to courses in political science, sociology,
anthropology and ethnic and conflict studies."
Kevin Avruch, Associate Director, Institute for Conflict Analysis &
Resolution, George Mason University

"This brilliant and much-needed book does more than convincingly illuminate
how cultural narratives, ritual expressions, and enactments contribute to
the escalation of ethnic conflicts. Marc Ross strikingly documents how and
when new ones can be created that are more inclusive, and so contribute to
the de-escalation of conflicts and to the solidity and endurance of conflict
Louis Kriesberg, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies,
Syracuse University and Founding Director of the Program on the Analysis and
Resolution of Conflicts

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