This chapter introduces the puzzle that the book seeks to explain. Ethnic movements—that is, organized political campaigns by groups whose collective identity is defined by language, religion, or other ethnic markers to influence state policy—have haunted politics in almost all of today’s states. Yet, while they have provoked violent conflict in some countries, they have remained peaceful in others. Strikingly, some of the most unequal societies of today’s world have experienced mostly nonviolent ethnic group mobilization. Starting from concrete case examples, the chapter presents the book’s central question: why is ethnic mobilization more likely to trigger violent conflict in some countries than in others? By discussing the merits and shortcomings of existing studies, it reveals the need for a theory that explains both why ethnic groups rebel and how they rebel. The chapter then describes the study’s empirical approach and outlines the plan of the book.
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