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The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and
The
Political
Salience
of
Cultural
Difference:
Why
Chewas
and
Tumbukas
Are
Allies
in
Zambia
and
Adversaries
in
Malawi
Author(s):
Daniel
N. Posner
Source:
The
American
Political
Science
Review,
Vol.
98,
No.
4 (Nov.,
2004),
pp.
529-545
Published
by:
American
Political
Science
Association

Stable

URL:

http://www istor.org/stable/4145323

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and

and

Conditions

Conditions

 

The

 

Political

 

Salience

 

of

 

Cultural

   

Difference:

 

Why

 

Chewas

and

The Political Salience of Cultural Difference: Why Chewas and

 

Tumbukas

Tumbukas Are Allies in Zambia and Adversaries in Malawi

 

Are

 

Allies

 

in

 

Zambia

 

and

 

Adversaries

 

in

 

Malawi

 
DANIEL N. POSNER Universityof California, Los Angeles DANIEL N. POSNER University of California, Los Angeles
DANIEL
N. POSNER
Universityof
California,
Los
Angeles
DANIEL N. POSNER University of California, Los Angeles
 

his paper explores the conditions under which cultural cleavages become politically salient. It

his

paper

explores

the

conditions

under

which

cultural

cleavages

become

politically

 

salient.

It

 

does

so

 

by

taking

advantage

of

the

natural

experiment

afforded

by

the

division

of the

Chewa

does so by taking advantage of the natural experiment afforded by the division of the Chewa

         

and

Tumbuka

and Tumbuka peoples by the border between Zambia and Malawi. I document that, while the

peoples

by

the

border

between

Zambia

 

and

Malawi.

I

document

that,

while

the

objective

cultural

differences

between

Chewas

and

Tumbukas

on

both

sides

of the

border

are

identical,

objective cultural differences between Chewas and Tumbukas on both sides of the border are identical,

 

the

political

the political salience of the division between these communities is altogether different. I argue that

this

salience

 

of

the

division

between

these

communities

is

altogether

different.

I

argue

that

this

difference

stemsfrom

the

different

sizes

of the

Chewa

and

Tumbuka

communities

in

each

country

relative

difference stems from the different sizes of the Chewa and Tumbuka communities

in each country relative

     

to

 

each

country's

to each country's national political arena. In Malawi, Chewas and Tumbukas are each large groups vis-

national political

arena.

In

Malawi,

Chewas

and

Tumbukas

are

each

large

groups

vis-

   

a-vis

the

country

as

a

whole

and,

thus,

serve

as

viable

basesfor

 

political

coalition-building.

In

Zambia,

a-vis the country as a whole and, thus,

serve

as viable bases for political coalition-building. In Zambia,

                     

Chewas

and

Tumbukas

are

small

relative

to

the

country

as

a

whole

and,

thus,

not

useful

to

mobilize

as

Chewas and Tumbukas are small relative to the country as a whole and,

thus, not useful to mobilize as

               

basesof

political

bases of political support. The analysis suggests that the political salience of a cultural cleavage depends

support.

The

analysis

suggests

that

the

political

salience

ofa

cultural

cleavage

depends

not

on

the

nature

of the

cleavage

itself (since

it

is

identical

in

both

countries)

but

on

the sizes

of the groups

not on the nature of the cleavage itself (since it is identical in both countries) but on the sizes of the groups

     

it

defines

and

whether

or

not

they

will

be

useful

vehiclesfor

political

competition.

it defines and whether or not they will be useful vehicles for political competition.

 
ultural differences are claimed to be at the
ultural
differences
are
claimed
to
be
at
the
 

root

of

 

many

of

the

world's

conflicts,

both

root of many of the world's conflicts, both

     

ultural differences are claimed to be at the

within

states

(Gurr

2000;

 

Horowitz

1985,

2001;

within states (Gurr 2000; Horowitz 1985, 2001;

 

Lake

 

and

Rothchild

1998)

and

among

them

Lake and Rothchild 1998) and among them

   

(Huntington

(Huntington 1996). Yet the mere presence of cultural

1996).

Yet

the

mere

presence

of

cultural

differences

cannot

possibly

be

a

sufficient

condition

 

differences cannot possibly be a sufficient condition

     

for

the

emergence

of

political

or

social

strife,

for

there

for the emergence of political

or social strife, for there

       

are

far

are far more cultural cleavages in the world than there

more

 

cultural

cleavages

in

the

world

than

there

are

conflicts.

A

reasonably

competent

ethnographer,

 

are conflicts. A reasonably competent ethnographer,

         

dispatched

dispatched to almost any country in the world, could

to

almost

any

country

in

the

world,

could

probably

enumerate

dozens

of

differences

among

the

probably enumerate dozens of differences among the

         

peoples

peoples he or she was sent to study. These might include

he or

she

wassent

to

study.

These

might include

the

color

of

their

skin,

the

religions

they

practice,

the

 

the color of their skin, the religions they practice, the

       

dialects

they

speak,

the

places

 

from

which

they

mi-

dialects they speak, the places from which they mi-

     

grated,

grated, the foods they eat, the clothes they wear, and

the

foods

they

eat,

the

clothes

they

wear,

and

the

marriage

practice, among many other

rituals

they

practice,

among

many

other

the marriage rituals they

attributes.

Yet

the

vast

majority

of these

differences

are

attributes. Yet the vast majority of these differences are

     

likely

likely to play no role as axes of political competition

to

play

no

role

as

axes

of

political

competition

or

 

social

conflict.

Members

of

the

society

in

question

or social conflict. Members of the society in question

might

might readily acknowledge these differences if asked

readily

acknowledge

these

differences

if

asked

about

them,

but

they

will

almost

certainly

view

only

a

about them, but they will almost certainly view

 

only a

         

tiny

fraction

of

them

as

relevant

bases

of

social

iden-

tiny fraction of them as relevant bases

of social iden-

         

tification

or

political

division.l

This

presents

a

puzzle:

tification or political division.' This presents a puzzle:

 

Daniel

Daniel N. Posner is Assistant Professor, Department of Political

N.

Posner

is

Assistant

Professor,

Department

of

Political

Science,

Science, Box 951472, University of California, Los Angeles, Los

Box

951472,

University

of

California,

Los

Angeles,

Los

Angeles,

Angeles, CA 90095-1472 (dposner@polisci.ucla.edu).

CA

90095-1472

(dposner@polisci.ucla.edu).

 
 

Ihe

author

thanks

Lovemore

Hauya,

Nahomi

Ichino,

Joseph

   

The author thanks Lovemore Hauya, Nahomi Ichino, Joseph

                 

Musukwa,

Musukwa, Grace Kamusikili, Charles Kasambala, Mzee Nkhwachi

Grace

Kamusikili,

Charles

Kasambala,

Mzee

Nkhwachi

Nyirongo,

Nyirongo, and Ian Shaba for their research assistance; Kimberly

and

Ian

Shaba

for

their

research

assistance;

 

Kimberly

Smiddy

Smiddy for her hospitality in Lilongwe; and Carles Boix,

for

Wiseman

her

hospitality

in

Lilongwe;

and

Carles

Boix,

Wiseman

Chirwa,

Matthew

Chirwa, Matthew Kocher, Michael Thies, Matthew Turner, James

Kocher,

Michael

 

Thies,

Matthew

TUrner,

James

Vreeland,

Vreeland, Jennifer Widner, and two anonymous reviewers for their

Jennifer

Widner,

and

two

anonymous

reviewers

for

their

comments.

I

also

received

helpful

feedback

from

participants

at

the

comments. I also received helpful feedback from participants at the

               

University

University of Chicago Comparative Politics Workshop, the Working

of

Chicago

Comparative

 

Politics

Workshop,

the

Working

Group

Group in African Political Economy, the Laboratory in Comparative

in African

Political

Economy,

the

Laboratory

in

Comparative

               

Ethnic

Ethnic Processes, and the Hoover Institution U.S. and World Affairs

Processes,

and

the

Hoover

Institution

U.S.

and

World

Affairs

Seminar.

I

am

grateful

to

the

Center

for

Social

Research

in

Zomba,

Seminar. I am grateful to the Center for Social Research in

Zomba,

                       

Malawi

Malawi and to the Institute for Economic and Social Research in

and

to

the

Institute

for

Economic

and

Social

Research

in

Lusaka, Zambia for facilitating this research, and to the James Lusaka, Zambia for facilitating this
Lusaka,
Zambia for
facilitating
this
research,
and
to
the
James
Lusaka, Zambia for facilitating this research, and to
the James
S. Coleman
African
Studies
Center
at
UCLA
and
the
UCLA
In-
S. Coleman African Studies Center at UCLA and the UCLA In-
ternational
Institute
for
their
financial
support.
All
errors
are
my
ternational Institute for their financial support. All errors are my
own.
own.
I
Fearon
and
Laitin
(1996)
provide
the
striking
estimate
that,
in
1 Fearon and Laitin (1996) provide the striking estimate that, in
Africa,
there
has
only
been
one
instance
of ethnic
violence
for
every
Africa, there has only been one instance of ethnic violence for every

Why

do

some

 

cultural

differences matter for politics
differences matter
for
politics

Why do some cultural differences matter for politics

 

and

and others not?

others

not?

 
 

To

pose

this

question

is

not,

of

course,

to

deny

that

To pose this question is not,

of course, to deny that

       

political

political differences sometimes do follow cultural lines.

differences

sometimes

do

follow

cultural

 

lines.

In

settings

In settings as diverse as Belgium, Sri Lanka, Sudan,

as

 

diverse

as

Belgium,

Sri

Lanka,

Sudan,

Cyprus,

Cyprus, and New York City, political cleavages and

and

New

York

City,

political

cleavages

and

cultural

differences

correspond

closely.

Indeed,

 

it

is

cultural differences correspond closely. Indeed, it is

             

frequently

frequently argued that the political divisions in these

argued

that

the

political

divisions

in

these

places

places are made deeper precisely because they hew

are

made

deeper

precisely

because

they

 

hew

to

ethnic

boundaries

as

much

as

they

do

(Horowitz

 
 

to ethnic boundaries as much as they do (Horowitz

   

1985;

1985; Lijphart 1977). But for every cultural

cleavage

Lijphart

 

1977).

But

for

every

cultural

cleavage

that

serves

as

a

basis

of

political

division

there

are

nu-

that serves as a basis of political

division there are nu-

             

merous

others

 

that

have

no

political

import

at

all.

The

merous others that have no political import at all. The

     

cultural

division

between

Catholics

and

Protestants

 

in

cultural division between Catholics and Protestants in

Northern

Ireland

may

be

highly salient,

but

not

the

one

Northern Ireland may be highly salient, but not the one

             

between

Presbyterians

and

Episcopalians.

The

cleav-

between Presbyterians and Episcopalians. The cleav-

 

age

between

citizens

of

Ile-lfe

and

citizens

of

Oyo

may

age between citizens of Ile-Ife and citizens of Oyo may

             

be

central

to

the

politics

of

southern

Nigeria,

but

not

 

be central to the politics of southern Nigeria, but not

           

the

cleavage

between

 

Catholics

and

Muslims

(Laitin

the cleavage between Catholics and

Muslims (Laitin

     

1986).

1986). Even Rwanda, a country usually assumed to

Even

Rwanda,

a

country

usually

assumed

to

be

divided

by

 

a

single

cleavage

between

Hutus

and

 

be divided by a single cleavage between Hutus and

       

Tutsis,

Tutsis, also contains other bases of social division in

also

contains

other

bases

of

social

division

 

in

its

its midst, such as

midst,

that between Hutus of the south and

such

 

as

that

between

Hutus

of

the

south

and

northwest

and,

among

Tutsis,

 

between

members

of

 

the

northwest and, among Tutsis, between members of the

       

repatriated

repatriated diaspora and those who have been long-

diaspora

and

those

who

 

have

 

been

long-

time

Rwandan

residents

(Straus

 

2004).

 

In

principle,

time Rwandan residents (Straus 2004). In principle,

     

any

of

any of these cultural cleavages might have emerged as

these

cultural

cleavages

might

 

have

 

emerged

as

           

the

central

axes

of

political

division

 

in

these

countries.

 

the central axes of political division in these countries.

       

Why,

Why, then, did some of them become politically salient

then,

did

some

of them

become

 

politically

salient

             

while

the

 

others

remained

politically

 

irrelevant?

 

while the others remained politically irrelevant?

         
 

This

paper

proposes

a

simple

answer

 

to

this

ques-

 

This paper proposes a simple answer to this

ques-

           

tion.

I

argue

that

the

political

 

salience

of

a

cultural

tion. I argue that the political salience of a cultural

       

cleavage

cleavage will depend on the sizes of the groups that

 

will

depend

on

the

 

sizes

of

the

groups

that

it

it defines

 

defines

relative to the size of the arena in which

 

relative

to

the

size

of

 

the

arena

in

which

political competition is taking place. If the cultural political competition is taking place. If the
political
competition
is
taking
place.
If
the
cultural
political competition is taking place. If the cultural
cleavage
defines
groups
that
are
large
enough
to
con-
cleavage defines groups that are large enough to con-
stitute
viable
coalitions
in
the
competition
for
political
stitute viable coalitions in the competition for political
power,
then
politicians
will
mobilize
these
groups
and
power, then politicians will mobilize these groups and
the
cleavage
that
divides
them
will
become
politically
the cleavage that divides them will become politically
2,000
cases
that
would
have
been
predicted
on
the
basis
Of
cultural
2,000 cases that would have been predicted on the basis of cultural
differences
alone.
differences alone.
529
529
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salient.

If

the

cultural

cleavage

 

defines

groups

that

are

salient. If the cultural cleavage defines groups that are

       

too

small

to

serve

as

viable

bases

of

political

support,

too small to serve as viable

bases of political support,

   

then

these

groups

will

go

unmobilized

and

the

cleavage

then these groups will go unmobilized and the cleavage

 

that

separates

that separates them will remain politically irrelevant.

them

will

remain

politically

irrelevant.

The

cultural

differences

between

the

groups

will

still

The cultural differences between

the groups will still

     

exist,

but

there

will

be

no

political

importance

attached

 

exist, but there will be no political importance attached

   

to

to them.

them.

 

The

idea

that

the

political

 

salience

of a

cultural

cleav-

a

The idea that the political salience of

cultural cleav-

     

age

lies

age lies in nothing more than the sizes of the groups

in

nothing

more

than

the

sizes

of

the

groups

that

it

defines

contrasts

with

 

traditional

approaches

that it defines contrasts with traditional approaches

     

to

the

some cleavages matter rather

question

of

why

some

cleavages

matter

rather

to the question of why

 

than

others.

For

example,

it

is

often

assumed

that

what

than others. For example, it is often

assumed that what

     

matters

for

the

salience

of

 

a

cleavage

is

the

degree

of

matters for the salience of a cleavage is the degree of

   

cultural

differences

between

the

groups

(e.g.,

Caselli

cultural differences between the groups (e.g., Caselli

       

and

Coleman

2002).2By

this

logic,

a

cleavagebetween

 

and Coleman 2002).2 By this logic, a

cleavage between

   

Christians

and

Muslims

would

be

expected

to

be

more

Christians and Muslims would be expected to be more

   

salient

than

one

between

Anglicans

and

Lutherans.

A

salient than one between Anglicans and Lutherans. A

 

slightly

slightly different approach emphasizes not the degree

different

approach

 

emphasizes

not

the

degree

of

difference

between

the

groups

but

the

nature

of

the

 

of difference between the groups but the nature of the

     

difference.

By

this

logic,

certain

kinds

of

social

cleav-

difference. By this logic, certain kinds of social cleav-

 

ages—for

ages-for example, those based on race-are simply

example,

those

 

based

on

race—are

simply

assumed

to

have

more

power

than

others

in

generating

assumed to have more power than others in generating

       

third

approach,

salient

social

and

political

divisions.3A

salient social and political divisions.3 A third approach,

         

exemplified

exemplified in the classic work of Lipset and Rokkan

in

the

classic

work

of

Lipset

and

Rokkan

(1967),

(1967), emphasizes the historical emergence of social

emphasizes

the

historical

emergence

of

social

cleavages

cleavages over time and the progressive displacement

over

time

and

the

progressive

displacement

of

one

this logic, the salience of one

by

the

next.

By

this

logic,

the

salience

of

one

of one by the next. By

     

cleavage

cleavage over another is a function of the particular

over

another

is

a

function

of

the

particular

stage

of

historical

development

in

which

the

political

stage of historical development in which the political

   

system

system happens to be located at the time. Yet a fourth

happens

to

be

located

at

the

time.

Yet

a

fourth

approach

approach emphasizes how the experience of colonial-

emphasizes

how

 

the

 

experience

of

colonial-

ism

led

to

the

reification

of

some

social

cleavages

over

ism led to the reification of some

social cleavages over

       

others

others (e.g., Young 1994). For example, Laitin's (1986)

(e.g.,

Young

1994).

For

example,

Laitin's

(1986)

investigation

investigation into the nonpoliticization of religious di-

into

the

nonpoliticization

of

religious

di-

visions

in

Yorubaland

shows

how

the

experience

of

visions in Yorubaland shows how the experience of

       

British

colonialism

endowed

social

identities

revolving

British colonialism endowed social identities revolving

 

around

connections

with

one's

ancestral

city-state

with

around connections with one's ancestral city-state with

       

hegemonic

hegemonic status vis-A-vis other kinds of identities. In

status

vis-ä-vis

 

other

kinds

of

identities.

In

his

account,

it

is

the

marriage

between

the

local

legit-

his account, it is the marriage

between the local legit-

     

imacy

imacy of city-state elites and the power of the colo-

of

city-state

elites

and

the

power

of

the

colo-

nial

state

that

makes

the

 

city-state

identity

category

nial state that makes the city-state identity category

       

salient.

salient.

 
 

In

all

of

these

approaches,

either

the

specific

charac-

 

In all of these approaches, either the specific charac-

       

teristics

of

the

groups

in

question,

the

history

through

teristics of the groups in question, the history through

   

which

they

were

constructed,

or

the

particular

kind

of

which they were constructed, or the particular kind of

               

cleavage

cleavage that divides them is central to the explanation

that

divides

them

 

is

central

to

the

explanation

for

why

for why the cleavage comes to matter politically. In the

the

cleavage

comes

to

matter

politically.

In

the

structural

approach

advanced

in

this

paper,

predictions

structural approach advanced in this paper, predictions

     

about

which

axis

of

social

 

division

will

emerge

as

po-

about which axis of social division will emerge as po-

       

litically

litically relevant depend on none of these factors. The

relevant

depend

on

none

of

these

factors.

The

origins

origins of the cleavage (emphasized by constructivists)

of

the

cleavage

(emphasized

by

constructivists)

and

its

cultural

content

(emphasized

by

primordialists)

and its cultural content

(emphasized by primordialists)

are

irrelevant.

All

that

matters

is

cultural

demography:

are irrelevant. All

that

matters is cultural demography:

the

sizes

of

the

groups

that

the

cleavage

defines

relative

the sizes of the groups that the cleavage defines relative

       

to

the

to the political and social arenas in

political

which they are op-

and

social

arenas

in

which

they

are

op-

     

2

This

assumptionis

2 This assumption is the motivation for Fearon's

 

(2003)

the

index of

motivation

for

Fearon's(2003)

 

index

of

cultural

cultural diversity, which distinguishes among groups based

diversity,

on

the

which

 

distinguishes

among

groups

based

on

the

structural

similarities

in

the

languages

spoken

by

their

members.

 
 

structural similarities in the languages spoken by their members.