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Is Consociational Theory the Answer to Global Conflict? From the Netherlands to Northern Ireland and Iraq



Neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists subscribe to the idealistic belief that external powers can successfully re-engineer states into Western capitalist democracies. Consociationalism is a prominent or even dominant theory for managing conflict in ‘ethnonationally divided societies’. The consociational model is based on the Dutch experience of managing ‘plural conflict’ from 1917 to 1967. This article argues that consociationalism has become increasingly vague, ambiguous and even contradictory as the theory has been stretched in an attempt to claim relevance to both the Northern Ireland and Iraq conflicts. Although this has eroded the coherence of the consociational theory this is more than compensated for by the flexibility this gives consociationalists in marketing their concept as all things to all people. By contrast post-structuralist radical democrats are critical of the reductionism of consociational theorising and emphasise the limits of human reason to grasp adequately the complexity of diverse conflict situations.

Taylor, R. (2009) Consociational Theory: McGarry and O'Leary and the Northern Ireland Conflict. London: Routledge.

O'Leary, B. (2009) How to Get Out of Iraq with Integrity. Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Little, A. (2008) Democratic Piety: Complexity, Conflict and Violence. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Little, A. and Lloyd, M. (eds) (2009) The Politics of Radical Democracy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.