Identity Conflict Based on Social Thesis

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Subject: Literature - African
  • Type: Thesis
  • Paper: #70724004

Excerpt from Thesis :

In other words, the question that needs to be answered is, how did psycho-social identity differences create such deep rifts in a society that was in fact closely related by intermarriage and years of living closely together. This leads to the conclusion that there are other social and political factors that need to be taken into account in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the events, as well as how they impacted on the meaning of identity. .

Social Dominance and other theories

As noted above, the discussion and analysis of the causative features of this conflict and the concomitant effect of this analysis on possible resolution scenarios is largely dependent of the ability of the particular theoretical model to take into account the many variables of this conflict. In order to achieve a more holistic view of the conflict one has to take into account the fact that the hostility in Rwanda, as in many other regions of the African continent had their origins in "…modern struggles for power and wealth" ( Pottier). As Pottier states in Re-Imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century, "The world, however, easily overlooked this modern origin, since the confrontations it witnessed appeared to have taken on strongly ethicized, seemingly 'tribal' overtones and justification" ( Pottier). This study goes on to make a valid point that is germane to the present discussion and analysis of the role of identity. This refers or the view that,

The Rwandan 1994 genocide in particular… was for too long and at too great a cost portrayed by the media as rooted in tribalism. Rwanda's bloodbath was not tribal. Rather it was a distinctly modern tragedy, a degenerated class conflict minutely prepared and callously executed " ( Pottier).

The above quotation also refers to a somewhat different theoretical trajectory which, if followed, would take us beyond the ambit of the present emphasis on the issue of identify. However, what the above quotation clearly emphasizes is that all the aspects and variables in this conflict cannot be comfortably dealt with by social identity theory. If follows therefore that in order to understand the Rwandan conflict in terms of identity one has to search for a more inclusive and comprehensive theoretical framework to ascertain the origin and the roots causes of this genocidal behavior.

This point is made in Social Dominance Theory: Its Agenda and Method by Sidanius et al. (2004). The authors state that that conventional theories and views about identity as a cause of conflict have not been able to explain the widespread nature and ferocity of the conflict in Rwanda and other areas of the world. The reason he gives for this theoretical shortcoming is as follows:

We suggest that part of the reason for this hole in our theoretical understanding is that almost all approaches have focused on some specific psychological or sociological cause of prejudice and discrimination. Rarely have social scientists attempted to understand these problems by exploring the interactions among several levels of analysis -- that is, the manner in which psychological, sociostructural, ideological, and institutional forces jointly contribute to the production and reproduction of social oppression

(Sidanius et al. 2004).

The above is an essential and important theoretical viewpoint and one that accords with the present analysis of the Rwandan conflict. In essence this means that the concept of identify should be widened and expanded to include more than just its psychological aspect. If we also take into account the more postmodern and post-structuralist views of identity as an amalgam of social, psychological, cultural historical and political elements, then this view of identity become even more relevant.

Social Dominance theory provides a more integrative perception of the role of identity in conflict. As one critic comments, this theory suggests that "…most forms of group conflict and oppression & #8230;can be regarded as different manifestations of the same basic human predisposition to form group-based social hierarchies" (Maiese). This refers to the sociological concept of social stratification which is clearly seen in the hierarchical structure of Rwandan society. This also leads to a system of subordination and domination of one group by another, in this case the Hutu and Tutsi, who were struggling to maintain or advance their social status. Sidanius et al. ( 2004) takes this theory a step further in suggesting the integration of the individual and social aspects of identity. "Rather than merely asking why people stereotype, why people are prejudiced, why they discriminate, or why they believe the world is just and fair, social dominance theory asks why human societies tend to be organized as group-based hierarchies ( Sidanius et al., 2004).

Other theoretical perspectives

With the emphasis on the search for a more integrated approach to the question of identity and conflict, we will briefly examine some of the other major theories that illuminate the problem of identity and conflict in the Rwandan context. Social Categorization theory is also a theory that explains aspects of this conflict. This refers to the development of prejudice and stereotypical images and perception of the "other," as a result of forms of prejudicial social categorization. This is obviously applicable in the foundation myth held by the Tutsi group referred to above - that they were immigrant rulers, racially distinct from Hutus, and naturally superior to them. Consequently, ingroup bias and outgroup prejudice were a major aspects in social category-based group differences.

Self-Categorization theory advances social identity theory by asserting that

Self-conception or self -- cognition takes place on multiple levels of inclusiveness. Basically this theory is concerned with "…variation in self-categorization"….and it focuses on " the distinction between personal and social identity" (Turner). In other words, this theory attempts to investigate how the higher-order processes of group behavior are a result of a change in perception from self-identity to social identity.

This relates to the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi in a number of ways; for example in the fact that while many of the people in Rwanda who had close personal relationships that crossed ethic boundaries, but that these personal relationships were subsumed by the larger oppositional social categories. This also refers to cognitive factors that promote categorization of oneself as a group member. This relates more specifically to how Tutsi and Hutus defined themselves relative to their groups. The theory helps to explain the fact that conflict was fostered by the perception of stereotypes; such as propaganda that warned Hutu men to beware of Tutsi women. And portrayed Tutsi women as arrogant and looking down on Hutu men whom they considered ugly and inferior..


As Jones ( 2001) notes, "…there were significant obstacles to conflict resolution in Rwanda…"(Jones, 2001, p. 1). The high levels of hostility, distrust and violence proved to be effective barriers to any attempts to solve the conflict. Another obstacle was the level of rhetoric and ideological misinformation that was created by each side.

One possible solution to a situation like Rwanda would be to separate the groups by force and to establish a neutral or militarily controlled zone. This option stops the conflict but does not solve the problem.

Another more optimal solution can be derived from the above theoretical analysis. One of the most obvious resolution scenarios for an intense conflict can be derived from both psychological and social theories of identity. This solution suggests that as the conflict is based on an intense view of separate identity. Therefore, if a new unified identity that includes the aspirations of both groups can be developed, then this should resolve the conflict. In other words, as the violence and aggression is based on division and differentiation in terms of identity, then efforts to reshape these perceptions of difference through mediation and reconstruction would lead to a situation where the perceived stereotypes and false ideologies of one group by another would be replaced by a more accommodating and realistic view of commonalities rather than differences. Of course this is an idealistic view and one would have to take into account the fact that identity is also influenced and shaped by factors such politics and power.


The conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi involves a complex array of factors and variables. Central to this conflict is the concept of identity and difference between the two different groups. However, as has been suggested in the above analysis of critical theory, the meaning of identity is multivalent and composed of many aspects and layers of influence.

The various theories of conflict and identity provide different vantage points and perceptions; from the psycho-social dimension in Social Identity theory to the understanding of the construction group identity in Social Dominance theory. Each provides insight and part of the answer. But in order to understand the way that identity functions as a causative factor in conflict one has to adopt a more…

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