The politics of conflict: a constructivist critique of consociational and civil society theories


  • *  Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the three anonymous referees from Nations and Nationalism, Radu Cinpoes, Atsuko Ichijo and Francois Nectoux for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.


ABSTRACT. This article presents a (critical realist) constructivist critique of both consociational and civil society/transformationist approaches and their crude understandings of politics and the prospects for political change. Consociationalism's primordialist or essentialist foundation leads it towards a world-weary, pessimistic, conservative realism about how far ‘divided societies’ may be transformed. Advocates of the civil society approach, in contrast, take an instrumentalist view of identity and are optimistic that a radical transformation can be achieved by mobilising the people against ‘hard-line’ political representatives. The constructivist approach can provide a framework in which a more complex and nuanced understanding of identities is possible. This better equips us for understanding the prospects of bringing about desirable political change. The first part of this article is a critique of Nagle and Clancy's consociationalism. The second part provides a brief outline of a constructivist critique of both the consociational and civil society understandings of politics and their contribution to understanding the politics of managing conflict.