Shared Values, Institutions and Development: The Case of the Gurage and Oromo of south-western Ethopia
The study is based on anthropological approaches to ethnicity, in which its meaning has for long been emphasised from the standpoint of either of the two polar theories of primordialism or essentialism (which treats ethnicity as a ‘given social existence’ emanating from ideas of shared origin and culture) and instrumentalism or constructivism (which emphasise the interactional setting of ethnicity). But it draws on recent theories that have introduced the need for a comprehensive engagement with the ethnic phenomena that simultaneously takes into account content and boundary. Of particular interest for this research is the suggestion to understand ethnicity as a particular social formation and as an aspect of interaction, among other things, for the investigation of the historical and social circumstances in which a particular ethnic configuration has developed, and a subsequent localization in time, place and social scale of the ethnic phenomena in question.
Studies focusing on groups in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere have been preoccupied by ambiguous relationships or connections between ethnicity and conflict. Analysis has focused on violence within the context of change characterised by increasing and intolerable stress on the material and social culture of people and the struggle for control between different groups to which they belong. This explains interaction as conflict that takes the form of violent encounters between groups which struggle for survival, as their livelihoods have come to be negatively affected by ecological conditions, unfavourable market systems, and dictatorial governance structures.
The research investigates the conditions for and variations in ethnic collective actions of different groups and how ethnic collective actions are related to development processes perceived to be within the reach of actors and how groups so mobilised behave in reference to one another, without necessarily having direct conflicting encounters, by engaging in competition to advance their own aims. The concept of competition as a form of interaction between groups who are not necessarily in contact with each other, rather than conflict as a form of contest between groups in which direct contact is an indispensable condition, fits the purpose of the research very well. Competition theory will also be used to examine the role of elites in creating and transforming ethnic identities among both groups as socio-economic and political transformations took place in the country. Such an instrumentalist view of ethnicity will be combined with examining factors causing shifts in levels and salience of ethnic boundaries and why and how the latter are favoured over other forms of social organisation to give a better picture of processes of ethnic mobilisation.
Finally, what is called a political opportunity approach will be used to analyse migrant mobilisations, although in the context of Europe, in order to examine ethnic-based claim-making as being affected both by institutional opportunities created as part of nation building processes and by national model of citizenship. The extent to which institutional opportunities are perceived by different groups to be inclusive or exclusive affects ethnic mobilizations to either become more radical or a moderate action repertoire of groups. Citizenship models are examined in terms of national identity, as defined by certain elements of what is considered to be the core culture such as religion or ethnicity and the extent to which they give people legitimacy to intervene in and a way for claims pertaining to the national public space and provide a framework for the recognition of ethnic and cultural differences.