4.4.5 The Potential for Ethnic Conflict

As described earlier (, people are reassured by a sense of belonging to social groups.  They value their membership.  Social groups form around having shared experiences or tastes: such as living in the same neighbourhood, or working together, or being educated together, or having shared leisure interests.  People naturally belong to several such groups.  And there can a sense of rivalry between some kinds of group: sports teams, for example.

A shared culture can also be the basis for feeling a sense of group identity – and awareness of difference from other groups – but although people from different cultures can live together peacefully (4.4.1), a sense of difference can become a basis for conflict as described in the following sub-sections:

  • Any social group’s sense of identity can be strengthened by depicting other groups negatively ( This is an underlying tendency that has the potential to turn into hostility.
  • Leaders can try to strengthen their power by exploiting that potential: stimulating fear and hostility towards people of different ethnicity, even if they have been coexisting peacefully there for generations (
  • Immigrants may look different and might have unfamiliar customs. Resentment against the resulting change in the character of a neighbourhood can fuel ethnic conflict (



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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/445b.htm