The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory

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The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory

By Monica Duffy Toft
Princeton University Press, 2003
256 pp. $37.50
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Toft's book is well written and closely argued and contains four thoroughly researched case studies from the former Soviet Union. Its central proposition is that the likelihood of ethnic violence rests on how a conflict's principal antagonists think about or value a disputed territory. If a state considers territory indivisible, then it cannot satisfy the demands of an ethnic minority for sovereignty. This observation (which Toft claims is original and calls her "theory of indivisible territory") seems rather obvious and not necessarily inconsistent with alternative theories that focus on relative deprivation, ancient hatreds, security dilemmas, or elite manipulation. She also suggests that dispersed and urbanized groups are less prone to violence. That this is true with the dispersed is hardly surprising, but it is not only the Northern Ireland case that confounds the proposition in the case of the urbanized (try Beirut).