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Networks of Coexistence: Explaining Variation in Cross-Ethnic Ties

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

What factors lead individuals in volatile environments to form social ties across ethnic divisions?

Prior research suggests that close contact with other groups can improve attitudes and quell stereotypes but can also spark violent conflict, particularly in a densely-packed community with limited resources. For this study, we took a mixed methods approach, interviewing dozens of low-income adults throughout the five municipalities of Kampala, Uganda and conducting a social network survey of 1138 residents of an ethnically-mixed slum. Using methods from network science and machine learning, we measure the extent to which each tribe “self-segregates” and investigate which factors may make an individual more likely to form friendships with members of other tribes. Preliminary findings include:

Respondents who migrated from Northern Uganda, some of them fleeing the Lord’s Resistance Army, are far less likely to form cross-ethnic ties, even with other Northerners. This trend persists across borrowing, secret-sharing, and leisure networks and is robust to multiple measures of tie-strength.

Individuals who have lived longer in Kampala (though not necessarily in the same slum) are more likely to branch out across ethnic boundaries, regardless of their own region of origin.

From our qualitative interviews there emerges a clear and consistent narrative of a strong sense of ethnic identity, yet a lack of animosity toward other groups. Despite ongoing property disputes, rampant crime, and competition for scarce resources, respondents expressed feelings of solidarity with their fellow residents from other tribes.

While our investigations are still in the initial stages, our findings hint at the role ethnically mixed neighborhoods may play in facilitating interethnic ties and promoting coexistence.

Principal Investigator
Matthew Simonson, PhD Student, Network Science Institute and NULab Fellow alumnus

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