Theme Panel: New Perspectives on ‘Sons of the Soil’ Conflict


Theme Panel: New Perspectives on ‘Sons of the Soil’ Conflict

Fri, September 2, 2:00 to 3:30pm

Migration has always been a feature of social and political life throughout the world. In some cases, the arrival of large numbers of internal migrants exacerbates tensions and gives rise to violent clashes between ethnically-distinct ‘native’ or ‘local’ populations and recent arrivals –what Myron Weiner famously termed ‘Sons of the Soil’ (SoS) conflicts. The scale of these conflicts is alarming. Recent research reveals that nearly one third of all ‘ethnic civil wars’ fought between 1945 and 2008 were SoS conflict (Fearon and Laitin 2011: 200). Spates of nativist violence and anti-immigrant sentiments in places as diverse as China, India, Kenya, South Sudan, former Soviet Republics, Israel and various OECD countries also demonstrate the global reach of SoS conflicts.

Despite the prevalence and persistence of nativist tensions and migration-related violence in both developed and developing countries, migration remains conspicuously absent from the conflict literature. Making matters worse is that analyses of population movements and conflict are often mistakenly amalgamated under the labels of ‘ethnic conflict’ or ‘civil wars’. As a result, we still know relatively little about the broader forces giving rise to SoS conflict. The emerging field of political demography, defined as “the study of the size, composition, and distribution of population in relation to both government and politics” (Weiner and Teitelbaum 2001: 11-12), offers a promising avenue for studying the migration/conflict nexus. Preliminary quantitative studies suggest that the propensity for violent conflict augments as the proportion of non-indigenous people in the total population increases (e.g. Forsberg 2010). Yet, compared to other demographic indicators such as youth bulges, aging and differentiated fertility rates, large-scale population movements continue to go largely unnoticed for their impact on national politics and conflict. This oversight is surprising considering that a sudden inflow of people into a host region can severely transform the demographic profile of a host region, as Syria’s neighbours are now experiencing the hard way.

Based on an upcoming edited volume on SoS conflict, this roundtable integrates migration dynamics into the study of group conflict and violence around the world. We investigate the applicability of the SoS trope as a useful heuristic device to examine migration-related conflicts in both the Global South and the Global North. Adopting diverse methodologies (including case study, ethnography, discourse analysis, and large-N surveys) and covering a plurality of regions (e.g. Africa, OECD countries, South and Southeast Asia, former USSR and the Middle East), the participants in this roundtable will address the following set of questions: What are the main distinguishing features and dynamics of SoS conflicts? What are the mechanisms linking migration to conflict, and how might these vary across time? What can SoS tropes typically attributed to developing countries tell us about the anti-immigration nativism exhibited by many of the so-called ‘developed’ countries of the North? By putting migrant/local relations squarely at the center of our comparative analysis, we aim to provide new conceptual and theoretical insights and offer a more nuanced and disaggregated analysis of the multiple dimensions and dynamics underlying a complex range of conflict around the world. In so doing, the roundtable promises to address critical themes that should be of great interest to scholars interested in a wide range of topics such as political demography, civil wars and ethnic conflict.

View in the 2016 Online Program.

Isabelle Cote, Memorial University of Newfoundland

David D. Laitin, Stanford University
Eric P. Kaufmann, Birkbeck College, University of London
Matthew I. Mitchell, Saint Paul University
Monica Duffy Toft, University of Oxford
Bethany Lacina, University of Rochester
Kathleen Klaus, Northwestern University