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Dissertation Ethnic Conflict

Subject Categories

Ethnic Studies | Political Science | Sociology


development, ethnic conflict, race, racism, social stratification


The study presents an alternative framework, from the dominant political and economic theories, for explaining the feeble and relatively slow pace of development of an ethnically divided, resource rich country.

The study, using primary and secondary sources, empirical evidence, and interpretive analysis, examines the emergence and role of racial conflict and its stifling impact on national development in Guyana, which represents an extreme case of a society plagued by racial division. Organizations including labor unions and political parties, as well as occupations and aspects of the economy, among other social constructs, are all racially divided. Utilizing an inter-disciplinary (sociology, political science, economics, history, anthropology, culture) scope of investigation, the study explains: how Guyana became a multi-ethnic state, how ethnic rivalry emerged during colonialism; how ethnicity has shaped its development; how racial conflict was advanced by colonial forces to serve their interests; how it became institutionalized; how it was used by the US and UK to delay the independence of the colony; and how the race conflict affected the political and economic development of the post-colonial state including its debilitating impact on social change.

The study determines that the failure of development in Guyana is tied to a range of interrelated social issues and problems associated with ethnic identity and rivalry. The study discusses various theories on economic development and on ethnic conflicts in order to explain Guyana's ongoing racial conflict and illustrates some effects of conflict on Guyana's development. It examines, discusses, interprets, and analyzes various variables (power and economic control) impacting on ethnic relations and politics in Guyana and their effects on the country's overall development. It also looks into the causes for heightened ethnic competition and conflict attributing blame to both major (largely ethnic) political parties, PPP and PNC, and their respective founding leaders, Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mr. Forbes Burnham as well as their respective supporters, Indians and Africans.

The study also proposes solutions as models of governance to manage ethnic conflict to facilitate development. The study has implications for similar societies serving as a guide to help resolve ethnic conflicts that could affect national development.

Recommended Citation

Bisram, Visnoonand, "Impact of Ethnic Conflict on Development: A Case Study of Guyana" (2015). CUNY Academic Works.


Ethnic conflict is a persistent and vexing problem for the world today. The intercommunal violence during these conflicts not only significantly alters the social and spatial geography in these regions for decades, but also frequently involves external actors who magnify the social conflict. It is within the urban areas that the impacts of violence are often most acute and deleterious to the once functioning system. Ethnic conflict transforms many urban areas into “divided cities” in which barricades and armed posts dominate the landscape. With this paradigm of conflict in mind, the overarching purpose of this dissertation is two-fold: 1) to examine how and why certain peaceful societies devolve into intercommunal conflict, and 2) to outline how ethnic conflict ultimately, and often irreparably, transforms an urban area into a “divided city.” In this dissertation, Nicosia, the ethnically divided capital of Cyprus, serves as the primary case study used to illustrate the process of social devolution from ethnic conflict to a militarily fortified urban division. The three main research questions are asked concerning Nicosia’s division. 1) What historic factors contributed to the progression and intensification of the social and spatial cleavages that appear in the urban landscape today? 2) To what extent is the urban divide diagnostic of the overarching ethnic conflict on Cyprus? 3) How is Nicosia’s urban division similar to or different from other “ethnically” divided cities and how might this comparison help further the general understanding of the causes and consequences of these entities? These three questions help frame Nicosia within the context of the larger social conflict on Cyprus as well as assist in developing linkages with other divided cities. As articulated throughout this study, Nicosia is a “model” divided city that typifies how the historically-laden process of ethno-territorial polarization can manifest itself in the physical and social geography of a contested region. In the end, divided cities epitomize the “worst-case-scenario” outcome of ethnic conflict and once the urban divisions take root, they prove exceptionally challenging to remove from the social and physical landscape.


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