study of ethnic conflict. People look at and approach the world based on particular—often unacknowledged and untested—understandings of how it should be organized and territorially delimited. In the absence of any systematic analysis of those geographic understandings, the geography of ethnic conflict can easily be reduced simply to an exercise in naming the regions in which groups are located.
A serious geographic analysis of ethnic conflict can shed light on the spatial, territorial, and environmental dimensions of ethnic group interaction. It raises questions about the nature and significance of particular political-territorial structures, the role of boundaries, the character of flows between places of influence and control, and the role of the physical environment in shaping conflict and cooperation. Geographic work along these lines has clear implications for developing policy responses to ethnic conflicts. More broadly, it focuses attention on issues that are fundamental to an understanding of the dynamics of ethnic conflict, including the degree of legitimacy accorded particular territorial arrangements by different populations, the ways in which economic and social arrangements are at odds with dominant territorial structures, the implications of territorial arrangements for intergroup relations and understandings, and the effects of regional inequalities on political and social stability.
The insights to be gained from a geographic perspective on ethnic conflict can be illustrated by the geographic analysis of the Vance-Owen partition plan for Bosnia after the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s (Jordan, 1993). The Vance-Owen plan came out of an attempt to divide the country on the basis of highly generalized ethnolinguistic maps. Analysis of daily commuting patterns (see Figure 2.2) showed, however, that the territorial units on which the Vance-Owen plan was based bore no relationship to the social and economic organization of Bosnia prior to the outbreak of conflict, which helped to explain why the Vance-Owen plan was so strongly opposed by those living there. In addition, analyses by geographers in the U.S. Department of State pointed out that by defining a large number of ethnic enclaves the Vance-Owen plan would result in an enormous amount of boundary length between opposing groups. When adversaries are not committed to peace, increasing boundaries between them may not be a promising avenue for conflict resolution. Taking into account geographic considerations of this sort is critical if policy analysts are to contribute to the resolution of complex disputes such as the one in Bosnia.
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