Research Explores Relationship Between Conflict and Identity: What We Know and What We Need to Know | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

March 18, 2021by Natalie Davis0

Summary of:

Chowdhury, S. M. (2021). The economics of identity and conflict. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance.

Background & Theory

This article reviews various studies and information available as it pertains to conflict and identity, and looks at how these are connected and what research has provided us about these areas, and where we yet need to study further.

Research Question

Chowdhury, in “The economics of identity and conflict” (2021), seeks to address the following question:

    1. How are identity and conflict related? What do we know, and what should we know about this relationship?


The author provides a summary of existing research, theories, and information regarding conflict and identity. The research comes primarily from three disciplines – psychology, political science, and economics. Chowdhury first explains some of what we already know regarding identity, conflict, and their relationship, and then discusses theoretical background, experimental evidences, and empirical evidences and what they show us regarding conflict and identity. Specifically provided are many examples in each area to help the reader both understand the general concepts as well as what we know and what we may need to better understand.


Most importantly, and has been defined before, there is certainly a relationship between conflict and identity. However, Chowdhury notes the many nuances and variables that are at play, and the conflicting data about how identity and conflict may be related (i.e., previous research has varied in whether minimal or real identity hold different weight or whether they are similar). There should be further research to evaluate these areas, and an unanswered question that Chowdhury points out: “whether an identity instigates conflict, or a conflict makes identity salient” (p. 17). Better understanding the various variables can help us better understand how to prevent or resolve conflict caused or exacerbated by identity (an example would be understanding how conflict is impacted by majority/minority identities, or also by a factor such as income of an outgroup/ingroup).

What This Means

  • Identity and conflict are certainly related and the research to support this is heavily backed. However, there are still many aspects related to this relationship we don’t yet fully understand and could benefit from in the conflict resolution field.
  • Any organization, structure, or conflict resolution specialist can benefit from better understanding identity, conflict, and how they are related. Knowing the unique situations and factors at play (i.e. full context) can greatly benefit any leadership or mediator in resolving or preventing conflict.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Do what you can to understand the identities of those involved in a conflict and the full context of the situation; this can greatly help to understand the overall reason for the conflict and help resolve it.

For everyone: Self-reflecting to understand our own identities can be very helpful in preventing or resolving conflict. It’s ok to feel strongly about your identities, but be weary of prejudice or bias that might arise from them.

Natalie Davis

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