Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



Scholars, policymakers, and the media present a conflicting picture of the relationship between ethnicity and civil conflict. In order to clear up the confusion and better establish this relationship, I argue that it is necessary to: (1) distinguish between different types of ethnic composition; (2) conceptualize and measure ethnic composition as not only a static phenomenon but a dynamic one in which population changes alter group security calculations and therefore their decision making; (3) consider the unique mobilization capacity of ethnic groups; and (4) examine the effect of ethnic composition at the subnational level of analysis. In doing so, this dissertation attempts to determine the overall effect of ethnicity on conflict, whether countries that organize their subnational political boundaries along ethnic lines decrease the risk of civil conflict, or alternatively, whether this strategy actually increases the risk of civil unrest, particularly in the form of violent secessionist movements. Through a quantitative, subnational analysis of India and Pakistan, I conclude that the relationship between ethnic composition and civil conflict is quite complex. I find partial support for the proposition that fractionalization has no effect on conflict, but most interestingly, conclude that ethnic dominance actually decreases the risk of conflict onset. Specifically, combining a federal institutional structure with territorial boundaries along ethnic lines to ensure a dominant ethnic group serves to substantially decrease the risk of civil conflict as well as the specific threat of secessionist opposition movements. Finally, I conclude that despite the specific ethnic composition of a particular subnational area, large changes in the relative size of ethnic groups create a situation of uncertainty and insecurity, thereby increasing the risk of conflict onset.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Sobek, David