Ethnic violence is a complex and multi-dimensional problem, however often the root cause is infringement of territory. Recognising that this seemingly intractable societal problem can be formulated as one with a single key variable allows it to be approached and hopefully understood as a complex system.
Drawing inspiration from the analogy of physical systems of interacting particles, in some cases the propensity towards ethnic violence between well defined groups can be formulated as a system with a single 'order parameter'; the physical extent of the space occupied by different groups. This approach was validated by applying pattern finding techniques to spatial census data in the former Yugoslavia. By identifying regions where spatial groups were of a critical size, a susceptibility to violence was predicted. By comparing this prediction to reports of violence, the model was shown to demonstrate an accuracy of up to 90%.
Intuitive arguments lead to the conclusion that distinct ethnic, religious or linguistic groups are likely to be in conflict with one another when their territory is infringed upon or is at least perceived to be so. Conversely, if these groups are well separated to the point of unequivocally maintaining some kind of self-determination or alternatively are well-mixed to the point that no single group can claim even a local majority, peace is maintained through self-interest. This heuristic metric may be quantified as the spatial extent of individual group identity and measured using a wavelet filter as borrowed from image processing.
Having identified the conditions for violence to occur, the question of how it can be mitigated presents itself. Switzerland is an obvious case study; a successful and peaceful country despite significant linguistic and religious diversity. Examining the role of boundaries reveals that the current stable configuration of religious and linguistic groups is contingent upon specific physical and political boundaries.
The physical boundaries provided by the natural mountainous terrain has led to the separation of groups speaking different languages while the uniquely decentralised system of cantons have allowed for the political separation of religious groups.
- Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence (2014) A. Rutherford, D. Harmon, J. Werfel, S. Bar-Yam, A. Gard-Murray, A. Gros, R. Xulvi-Brunet and Y. Bar-Yam