Ethnicity persists as an effective source for political mobilization as evidenced by conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Northern Ireland. An understanding of ethnicity and ethnic conflict requires an understanding of various theories of human action. To explore these theories I turn to the events that unfolded during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Traditionally scholars have attributed the genocide to “instrumental” theories, emphasizing the attainment of political, economic and social objects, or to “primordial” theories that stress certain psychological aspects of ethnicity. These theories presuppose that human beings are nothing more than “responding organisms.” I purpose undertaking an alternative view of human action that stresses a cultural analysis of ethnic conflict. This view originates from the Symbolic Interaction Theory developed by the social psychologist G.H. Mead and his student, Herbert Blumer. This theory views human beings as agents whose actions are based on meaning. Symbolic Interactionism acknowledges frameworks for meaning, yet focuses on the pervading force of human agency. I view the Rwandan conflict in a cultural context, highlighting what the parties believe is at stake, identifying interests of and threats to the disputants, and emphasizing the ability of individuals to freely choose their actions.
Jasmine Megowan, ’01 Marion, IA
Sponsor: David Loebsack