Unit Three: Global Patterns of Inter-group Relations

Sociologists have noticed in societies around the world that contain minorities there exists basic patterns between the dominant culture and the various minority subcultures.  The methods discussed below  range from rejecting minority representation in society and the conducting of inhumane practices, to accepting minority representation and practicing humane relations with minority groups. The treatment of minority groups improves as you move from the worst possible treatment (genocide) to the best possible treatment (pluralism).


Photo by Robert WyrodSkulls at Nyamata genocide memorial.Genocide is the systematic slaughter of a minority group of people by the dominant group in society.  Genocide occurs because the dominant group is able to label the minority group as subhuman.  The acceptance of the label allows ordinary citizens to participate in the slaughter of the minority group.  Hitler was able to convince Germans that Jews and other  groups in society were evil and that they should be destroyed.  White settlers were able to convince other settlers and the government that Native Americans were savages and could be systematically killed.  The Hutus’ attempt to destroy all Tutsis in Rwanda, and the Serbs attempt to kill Muslims and Croats in Yugoslavia, are recent examples of the dominant group attempt to rid their society of a minority group.  But the labeling of groups as “us” and “them” is not the only component of genocide.  Another factor is dehumanization.   The powerful “in-group” defines the less powerful “out-group” as less than human.  Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder.  The large scale murder which is part of genocide is almost always organized, usually by the state.  Special army units or militias are often trained and armed.  Plans are made prior to the genocidal killings.   Once plans have been made, there is usually an attempt to divide and polarize.  At this stage we see attempts to keep the in and out groups separated: laws against intermarriage or social interaction are passed, propaganda is promoted through the media, and moderates are targeted and harassed.  Soon after, victims are identified and separated out, with death lists created.  The final act of genocide is the extermination of the out-group.  Because of modern technology, most modern genocides are known to the world as they happen.   For this reason, soon after the killing is over,  those responsible for the genocide begin a campaign to deny its existence.  This denial may take the form of digging up the mass graves, burning the bodies, and trying  to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses.  Those responsible will deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.  They will block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile.

There is some disagreement between different academic organizations (sociologists, historians) over which mass murders throughout history constitute a genocide.  Sometimes the disagreement rests on the numbers killed (how many people have to die for it to be labeled a genocide).   Sometimes the disagreement is the reason for the killing (was the killing part of a larger war between nations?  Was the killing part of a civil war?) The definition of genocide above is for the field of sociology.  But other organizations have their own unique meanings.

On December 9, 1948 the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes “genocide” as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.  The treaty went into effect in January 1951.  ” It defines genocide as:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

According to the United Human Rights Council, the following genocides occurred in the 20th and early 21st Century:

Armenian Genocide – 1915-1918 – 1,500,000 Deaths   The dominant group, the Turks who were Muslim, were killing Armenians, a minority group, who was Christian.

Ukraine Famine (Stalin) – 1932-1933 – 7,000,000 Deaths   The Soviet Government, the dominant group, killing Ukrainian citizens, who were a minority group.

Nanking Massacre – 1937-1938 – 300,000 Deaths   Japanese soldiers invading China and killing Chinese citizens.

History of the Holocaust – 1938-1945 – 6,000,000 Deaths   The German (Nazi) government which was the dominant group, killing minority groups, most notably Jews

Cambodian Genocide – 1975-1979 – 2,000,000 Deaths  Communist government (Khmer Rouge) killing its own citizens

Genocide in Rwanda – 1994 – 800,000 Deaths   Dominant group Hutus killing minority group Tutsis

Bosnia Genocide – 1992-1995 – 200,000 Deaths  Dominant group, Serbians, killing minority groups (Croations, Bosnian Muslims)

Genocide in Darfur–  2003 – ?    400,000 Deaths  Government and rebel troops which are Muslim killing non-Muslim minority groups

With respect to genocide, it is estimated that governments have murdered probably around 174 million people during the 20th Century. Most of this killing, perhaps around 110 million people, is due to communist governments, especially the USSR under Lenin and Stalin and their successors (62 million murdered), and China under Mao Tse-tung (35 million). Some other totalitarian or authoritarian governments are also largely responsible for this toll, particularly Hitler’s Germany (21 million murdered) and Chiang Kai-chek’s Nationalist government of China (about 10 million). Other governments that have murdered lesser millions include Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Japan, North Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, and Tito’s Yugoslavia.  The conservative count of 174 million murdered is four times the number killed in combat in all domestic and foreign wars during the century, including World Wars I and II.

In 1998, 120 countries voted to adopt the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. With its Statute signed by 139 states and ratified by 76, the ICC formally came into existence on July 1, 2002 at The Hague, in the Netherlands. It is a permanent court, independent of the United Nations, and intended to cover the world. In the Preamble to the Statute the State Parties agreed to the Statute, while:

Affirming that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation, . . .

Determined to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes, . . . .

Recalling that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes, . . . .

Determined to these ends and for the sake of present and future generations, to establish an independent permanent International Criminal Court in relationship with the United Nations system, with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole . . . .”

This shows a clear international desire that the crime of genocide not go unpunished regardless of where it occurs.


Motives Behind Genocide

There are a number of motives behind why genocides occur.  One reason is that the group in power wants to destroy another group that is perceived to threaten their power.  Examples would be political groups vying for power in Pakistan in 1971, and Stalin’s forced collectivization in the Ukraine in 1932.

A second reason is when a group is perceived to be hated, envied, or distrusted.  Jews for these reasons have been persecuted throughout history, culminating in the Holocaust.  Christian Armenians in Turkey from 1915 – 1918 suffered the same fate.

The pursuit of an ideological transformation of society has been a major cause for the deaths of millions during the twentieth century.  This motive has been common in communist nations- kulaks in the Soviet Union, counterrevolutionaries in Cambodia, and nationalists in China.

A fourth motive for genocide is a quest for purification.  Here there is an attempt to remove beliefs, cultural practices, and ethnic groups that are perceived to be contaminating society.  Examples would be “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s,  capitalists under communist regimes, and the elimination of Christian groups and Moslem “blasphemers” in many current Islamic countries such as in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The final motive is economic gain.  Individuals and groups of people see the possibility of economically improving their lives if they can kill a group of people and confiscate their land and possessions.  This can be seen in the killings of Native Americans in the Americas, to the killing of Tutsis in Rwanda.

Future of Genocide

What will the future of genocide be?  It seems that as the population of the human species has increased, so has the number of people killed.  If human society continues to claim that mass killings within a country do not fit the definition of genocide, or that wealthy, militarily powerful countries say that they do not want to get involved because it doesn’t fall into their country’s “national interests”,  and if international agencies are powerless to act, then there will be more genocides in the future. The quote below reflects the dark side of genocide:

“Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my ‘Death’s Head Units’ with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?”  – Adolf Hitler to his Army commanders, August 22, 1939

1.  History of Genocide

2.  Genocide-Free Palestine Rap Song

3.  Never Again Rap Video

4.  Memory of the Camps (video)

5.  We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations For Relief From a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People


Population Transfer

trailoftearsPopulation transfer occurs when the dominant culture attempts to expel a minority group.  Population transfer can take place indirectly, by making life unbearable, such as with Czarist Russia and Jews, or directly, by forcing people to relocate, as with the United States placing Native Americans on reservations.  Sometimes it can be done by allowing large amounts of immigrants into the country, thereby making the once dominant group a minority group.  This is currently taking place in Tibet, where China has relocated millions of Chinese into Tibet, making native Tibetans a minority.  Whether direct or indirect, the affected population is often forced to move to land that is unfamiliar.  Often the area the group is moved to  is not suited for the group’s way of life. Many suffer or die along the way.

Population transfer may not always be involuntary.  Sometimes a minority group recognizes that conditions are deteriorating and may voluntarily leave. This was the case for Jewish people living in Germany in the 1930’s.  The Nazi government began passing laws and taking away basic rights. Although it could be argued that Jews were not “forced” to leave, the discriminatory laws made the choice to leave easier.

Some social scientists in the beginning of the twentieth century l argued that population transfer is a more humanistic approach to the problems of ethnic conflict.  Under genocide, the out-group is slaughtered.  With population transfer, they are at least given a chance at survival.  Population transfer accelerated in the twentieth century due to transportation improvements such as railroads and highways.  However, after the forced expulsions by the Nazi’s of different groups such as the Jews during World War II, population transfer is now being viewed as a war crime.  “Deportation or forcible transfer of population” is defined as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (Article 7).

1.  Population Transfer and Control

Internal Colonization

migrantworkersThis perspective focuses on how dominant groups will allow minority groups to live with the dominant group, but only so that the dominant group can economically exploit the minority group.  The dominant group can exploit the minority group because of arrangements in the social structure of the society. A federal political power will displace local residents in managing political, economic, social and general cultural affairs.  Under internal colonization, there is forced integration of the indigenous people into the dominant society on terms controlled by the dominant society.  The dominant group pursues policies that constrain, transform or destroys the culture of the indigenous people.  Members of the indigenous group are administered by members of the dominant group in such a way as to be managed and manipulated. The members of [an internal colony] may be differentiated by ethnicity, religion, language or some other cultural variable; they are then overtly or covertly excluded from prestigious social and political positions. Exploited groups are declared to be  legally incompetent to manage their own assets and affairs, like minor children and the mentally deficient. These groups end up being perpetual “wards” of the federal government and the government their permanent “trustee.” Historically, the term “colonialism” has described this sort of relationship between nations. However, since the 1945 United Nations Charter, a nation’s structural domination and exploitation of any other nation or people, even or especially when disguised as exercising a perpetual “trust,” has been illegal in the international law canons. The principle has been clarified and amplified in later instruments, most unequivocally in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV), also known as the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, 1960.

Examples of internal colonization would be the South African system of Apartheid, the Reservation system of Native Americans in the United States, and the exploitation of migrant workers in the United States.  American Indian communities face internal colonization in many ways, each of which, is an example of external political, economic or social “power-holders” exercising control over internal functions of the reservation community. A primary example of this appears in tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians who reside on reservation land. Current law states that tribal police (a functioning component of the tribal government) only hold legal jurisdiction over tribal members living on the reservation, not over non-Indians living on the reservation. This has resulted in tribal police being unable to adequately enforce tribal law over non-Indians on reservations, and keeps the tribal government from being exercising national sovereignty. By non-Indians residing on reservations being only under the jurisdiction of the federal or state government, it reflects the federal control over supposedly “sovereign” tribal governments. This relates to internal colonialism because it suggests that an outside political power-holder maintains the jurisdictional authority over community affairs regarding non-Indians.



Segregation is the formal separation of racial and ethnic groups.  The dominant group is able to exploit the labor of the minority group through control of the various social institutions.   Through formal or informal laws, the dominant group maintains social distance from the minority group.  An example of a segregated society would be Southern society in the United States prior to the Civil Rights Movement.   This is a time when “Jim Crow” laws were in effect. Neighborhoods, schools,  medical facilities, and restaurants are all separate.  In addition, many workers are forced into jobs that don’t pay well and where their labor can be exploited, such as cooks, cleaners, housekeepers, factory workers, etc…

In segregated societies, separate and unequal in the norm.  For minorities, the housing they live in is outdated and overcrowded, the schools under funded, and public services inadequate to meet the needs of the population. Informal (a black man moving off a sidewalk to let a white man pass) or formal laws (no intermarriage between whites and blacks) are established to ensure separation and to signify social rank.   The political and criminal justice systems are used to maintain social inequality between the dominant and minority groups.  There is distrust of the minority group by the dominant group, so there is an emphasis on having the minority group live in segregated residences.  Palestinians (minority group) who work inside Israel (dominant group) need to carry passes and go through armed checkpoints in the morning, and the same process to return to their segregated neighborhoods in the evening.

1.  Behind the Veil: Documenting the History of Jim Crow in America

2.  A Century of Segregation Timeline

3.  The Origin of the Phrase “Jim Crow”


meltingpotAssimilation refers to the process by which a minority group is absorbed into the dominant culture. The process of assimilation can occur in two ways.  The first is forced assimilation.  This is where the dominant group forces its values and customs on the minority group and refuses to allow the minority group to practice cultural customs or to speak their language. An example would be the former Soviet Union and its treatment of minority groups such as the Lithuanians, where they were forced to celebrate Russian holidays and speak Russian.    Sometimes the assimilation process can be mild or permissible.  Under permissible assimilation,  the minority group is given time to adopt and adapt to the dominant group’s cultural values and patterns.   Currently in the United States, many  minority group members voluntarily adopt the dominate culture’s values and norms.

Assimilation can be a process as described above with forced and permissible assimilation, or it can be an end result or goal.  Cultural assimilation occurs when two or more groups come to share a common culture, which is demonstrated by the development of a shared system of values, beliefs, and lifestyles. The United States has long supported cultural assimilation through the idea of the “melting pot.”  The “melting pot” is the idea that new citizens will stop thinking of themselves as their country of origin (German, Chinese, African, Mexican) and start to regard themselves as Americans instead.   Structural assimilation occurs when two or more social groups come to share one common social structure (political, legal, economic, education, religious institutions).  If structural assimilation is successful, then all the groups will hold roughly equal positions in the various social structures mentioned above. Under structural assimilation there is an increase in intermarriage between the minority groups and the dominant group.  Cultural assimilation has had more success around the world.  It is easier to get people to speak different languages and eat different food, than it is to get people to develop friendships outside of their group or to obtain economic equality.

1.  The Myth of the Melting Pot

2.  Reservation Boarding Schools and Assimilation

3.  The Melting Pot Song

4.  Native American Assimilation Rap Song

5. British Prime Minister David Cameron  Announces a New Plan to Punish and Possibly Deport Migrants Who Fail to Improve Their English Speaking Skills


switzerlandPluralism  is when the dominant culture encourages racial and ethnic variation.  If successful, there will no longer be a dominant culture. Minority groups are able to participate freely in the social institutions of a society. There is a common culture and set of institutions throughout society.  Yet each group will maintain a distinct subculture.   Under pluralism, society is made up of a number of distinct parts- a mosaic.  Pluralism emphasizes the preservation of the distinct cultural characteristics of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups.  An example would be modern day Switzerland.  The three main groups in Switzerland are the Germans, Italians, and French.  Each group has kept its own language and live peacefully with political and economic equality.  Pluralism has been so successful in Switzerland that none of the three groups consider themselves to be a minority group.

In recent years that has been an increasing interest in pluralism.  As we enter the twenty-first century, the number of members of different groups that question the desirability of assimilation has risen.   Distinctions between among various ethnic groups in our society do not show signs of disappearing.  In addition, topics such as immigration and bilingual education have made many Americans question whether diversity, pluralism, and multiculturalism have exceeded the tolerance level and have put the nation at risk.  Another factor that has increased the interest in pluralism is recent global events which are emerged in ethnic conflicts.  The break up of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of Yugoslavia,  the violence between Suni and Shia Muslims in Iraq and the continued insurgent fighting in Sri Lanka, have provided evidence that the ethnic division in our world is still pervasive.

Types of Pluralism

As with assimilation, we can further break down the concept of pluralism into cultural and structural components.  Cultural pluralism occurs when groups maintain their own identity, by retaining certain cultural traits, such as beliefs, values, language, and religion, while sharing others.  The groups will be part of the same society, and may even live in the same area, but in many ways they live in different worlds.  Examples of culturally pluralistic groups would be Native Americans who live on isolated reservations, and the Amish who live in religious communities.

Structural pluralism exists when groups have adopted the values and beliefs of the dominant culture but do not have full and equal access to the institutions of the larger society.  With structural pluralism, cultural differences are minimal, but groups maintain subordinate positions  within society.  Groups practice a common culture, but in different places.  Different groups might all pledge allegiance to the country, speak the same language, use the same monetary system, and eat the same food, but will at the same time for example, attend their own churches and marry within their own group. Churches, mosques, and synagogues are good examples of structural pluralism.  Many denominations are identified with specific ethnic or racial groups.  In a speech in 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. claimed that 11:00 on Sunday morning is the “most segregated hour in America”.

chinatownThere are some ethnic groups where their situation doesn’t fit the two types of pluralism described above.  Some groups will encounter some material success (such as income or wealth) but will not become assimilated or Americanized (learn English, adopt American values and behaviors).   One example would be the enclave minority.  This is where a group establishes itself in its own neighborhood, and relies on small businesses that are interconnected, which rely on each other for survival.   Examples would be the many “Chinatowns” across the country and the Cuban American community in Southern Florida.  The economic success of enclave minority groups is found in the strong ties of cooperation and mutual aid.  Success is due  in large part because they have decided to not become Americanized.


Some groups have other goals than to be assimilated into society.  Separatism refers to how a group can have the goal of severing ties (political, cultural, and geographic) with the larger society.  Under separatism, there is little or no contact between the various groups.  Groups relate to one another almost like separate, independent nations.  In promoting separatism, the minority groups seeks to switch places with the dominant group and become the ruling elite.  Within the United States, there have been few calls for separatism (some Native American groups, the Black Panthers).   Around the world, there have been calls for separatism in Africa, and in the former Yugoslavia.  Sociologists of the functionalist perspective tend to view separatism negatively because of the divisions within the society and the human and physical destruction involved.


  action Movies Relevant to This Unit

Below are a list of movies that exhibit sociological concepts learned in this unit.

1.  Hotel Rwanda.  One man’s attempt to save a group of people destined to be killed during the Rwandan Genocide.

2.  The Killing Fields.  Academy award winning field which looks at the Cambodian genocide.


 books03Books Relevant to This Unit

Below are a list of books that exhibit sociological concepts learned in this unit.

1.  The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective by Robert Gellately

2.  Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle

3.  The Politics of Genocide by Edward Herman

4.  An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 by Benjamin Madley



Farley, John E.
2005   Majority-Minority Relations  (5th Edition)  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:   Pearson Education

Healey, Joseph F.
1998   Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class  (2nd Edition)  Thousand Oaks, California:   Pine Forge Press

Copyright ©2006, 2014 Glenn Hoffarth All Rights Reserved


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