Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories Thesis

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Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories

In 1994 the Rwandan genocide resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis and Hutu political moderates by Hutus. Estimates of the death toll have ranged between 500,000 and 1,000,000,

The extent of the unleashed anger and violence that occurred shocked the world. The scale of the conflict is succinctly summarized by Jones ( 2001).

It is difficult to overstate the scale or brutality of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Between 6 April and 17 July, the Rwandan state engaged in an act of mass carnage against its own population, targeting a minority ethnic group and political opponents. In a mere fourteen weeks, several hundred thousand people -- perhaps as many as a million -- were gunned down, beaten to death, or literally hacked to pieces by machete, often after being raped, tortured, and forced to watch or participate in the execution of family members (Jones, 2001, p. 1).

This event also led to tremendous social upheaval and about fifty percent of the population were displaced due to there fighting. "The Rwandan genocide was horrific even by the standards of a century repeatedly marred by mass political and ethnic slaughters" (Jones, 2001, p. 1).

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The horrendous genocide that took place as a result of the conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups has been a cause of much debate and theoretical soul-searching in recent years. In the light of postmodern and post-structural discourse there has been a renewed interest in the importance of the relationship between social and psychological identity and prejudice and oppression. As a result the underlying causative factors in the Rwandan conflict have become a subject that reflects on contemporary views and theoretical assessments of the concept of identity in societies. This has meant that the analysis of Rwandan conflict and genocide is part of a reevaluation of the meaning of identity and how the differences in group and individual perceptions of identity could have led to genocide on the scale and ferocity of Rwanda.

Thesis on Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories Assignment

In this light, a central thesis that will be explored in this paper is that the understanding of identity and identity conflict needs to be expanded beyond the psychological or purely sociological dimensions. In order to understand how identity acted as a fuse to the Rwandan genocide it will be suggested that a more inclusive and comprehensive theoretical perspective on identity needs to be adopted.

Theoretical perspectives on the conflict

Self-Justification Theory

In order to understand the origins of the conflict one must take into account the pre-colonial myths that were an important factor in the animosity between the Hutu Tutsi groups. This refers to the Rwandan origin myths that was promulgated to justify hierarchical relationships and inequalities in the society and which were later to simmer into genocide. The myth of Kigwa, a deity who fell from heaven and his three sons, Gatwa, Gahutu and Gatutsi, provides the background to the feelings and perceptions of self-identity that was source of self-justification in the conflict (Lemarchand, 1999).

As a result of their different responses to a task set by Kigwa, Gatutsi become his successor, and Gahutu became his brother's servant, while Gatwa was relegated to the status of outsider. This mythical view therefore placed the Tutsi above the Hutu in terms of social and cultures ranking, power and privilege. This in brief and put very simplistically forms the basis for a perceptions of the hierarchical distinctions that constitute the essence of cultural and social identity in the society, and which was to be transformed in the convoluted and complex history of the country into the conduit for social conflict.

This self -- conception or perception of identity was subsequently used and distorted by the colonial invasion of the country. This in turn resulted in the view that the Tutsi were the oppressors in the society. The Hutu on the other hand developed a sense of identity which included a view of themselves as liberators of the country from Tutsi oppression -- which is another form of self -- justification through identity.

As stated, the colonization of the country exacerbated the situation with regard to identity and self-justification. The effects of the colonial involvement and distortion are an area of discourse that is extensive and strictly beyond the ambit and parameters of this paper. Suffice to say that the Hutu sense of identity was used by the colonizers to their advantage and led ultimately to a scenario in which the Hutu sense of inferiority became linked to a perception of their rightful place and leadership of the country, while the superiority of the Tutsi group was transformed into a perception of their illegitimacy as a result of their essential " foreignness" in the country.

Social Identity Theory

One of the central factors in this conflict is the psychological interpretation as to what drove people to murder their neighbors en masse. This is also linked to the psychological complex that constitutes societal identification and acceptance. What adds a considerable degree of depth and complexity to the issue of interpretation is the fact the society was largely homogeneous and there was a great degree of intermixing and intermarriage between the ethnic groups.

A further complicating aspect that should be borne in mind in any theoretical assessments or analysis is that Rwanda was a country that was largely socially constructed and engineered, as it were, by the process of colonization. This also relates to various ideological aspects that have to be taken into account; such as the fact there was the perception in terms of identity that the Tutsis were innately superior to the Hutu, which was also a central causative factor in the friction that was to result in the horrendous violence that ensued. As referred to, the majority Hutus took to viewing the Tutsis as foreign invaders and not true Rwandans. This psychosocial construct and racist ideology set the stage for hatred and preceded the genocide.

Taking the above variables into account, Social Identity theory is possibly one of the most obvious means of interpreting the events and the inner dimensionality of the conflict that occurred in Rwanda. Social identity theory takes three central psychological variables into account; these are social categorization, social identity, and social comparison or Identification. These components can be related to the Rwandan situation. The aspect of social categorization is related to social identity in the strong group affiliation that created the Hutu and Tutsi group divide. The aspect of social comparison was also clearly part of the problem in the assumption of superiority by the Tutsis.

However, there are certain limitations to this theoretical trajectory that require the additional perspectives that are offered by other theoretical stances. It will suggested throughout this paper as a central focus of discussion that this conflict can only adequately understood in terms of the full range of its causative factors that need to be provided in a more integrative theoretical approach .

The issue and problematics of identity is one of the focal points of debate in terms of the contemporary analysis of conflict and individual and group behavior. As Huddy ( 2001) notes:

Postmodern theorists in the humanities have challenged traditional conceptions of identity by arguing that the fixed subject of liberal humanistic thinking is an anachronism that should be replaced by a more flexible individual whose identity is fluid, contingent, and socially constructed ( Huddy, 2001, p. 127).

The above view also takes into account the relationship between individual behavior and social and group constructs. In essence, Social Identity theory focuses on aspects of intergroup conflict, the conformity to group norms, as well as the issues and outcome of low group status, and the "…conditions under which it generates collective action, and the factors that promote the categorization of oneself and others into groups" ( Huddy 128).

One of the limitations of this theory is the critique that social identity theorists are "…disinclined to examine the sources of social identity in a real world complicated by history and culture" (Huddy 127). However, this theory has application to the present study and the conflict between the two groups in that it describes the ways in which group identity can lead to division on many levels and lead to civil war and genocide.

However, the problematics of using Social Identity theory to explain the events that took place in Rwanda is underscored in an article by Tony waters entitled, Tutsi Social Identity in Contemporary Africa. There author points out that there were few real or substantial social differences between these two groups of people. In fact, he points to the fact that there had been a great deal of intermarriage and intimate levels of association between the Hutus and Tutsi prior to the civil war.

This view therefore tends to problematize the issue of simple identity difference between the two groups as a central causative factor. It consequently opens up other possibilities and theories that need to be investigated. It raises the question… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories.  (2009, December 1).  Retrieved January 27, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories."  1 December 2009.  Web.  27 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Identity Conflict Based on Social Theories."  December 1, 2009.  Accessed January 27, 2021.