The diverse modes of conflict-regulation in deeply divided societies

Sammy Smooha, Theodor Hanf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A review of some contemporary and historical deeply divided societies shows a great diversity of modes of conflict-regulation consisting of variations of partition, violence, domination and accommodation. This wide range of alternatives suggests that unilateral or violent management of communal conflicts is not inevitable. Four options for dealing with deep internal ethnic conflicts are presented. Partition is suitable only in certain cases where the groups have incompatible nationalisms and they are largely territorially separated. Ethnic democracy combines genuine democratic institutions with ethnic dominance and appears when strong majorities espouse integral, exclusionary nationalism and a commitment to democracy. Consociational democracy is a compromise which grants equal status and veto power to the constituent groups and hence fits situations of lack of a clear majority or a strong dominant group. A liberal democracy is another mode which is also possible to apply to highly split societies in which large sections of the population deny or wish to diminish ethnic affiliations. These four options are illustrated by applying them to four high conflict areas: partition to the West Bank and Gaza, ethnic democracy to Israel, consociational democracy to Lebanon and liberal democracy to South Africa. It is concluded that deeply divided societies differ markedly in the appropriate form of conflict-regulation which varies according to the history and specific patterns of intercommunal relations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-47
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Sociology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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