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Politics of Social Divisions

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  • Last Updated : 13 Jun, 2022
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Two African-American athletes, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos raised a black-gloved fist during the singing of the US national anthem during the Medal Ceremony of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. They had won gold and bronze medals in their respective events. They were attempting to call international attention to racial inequality in the United States with this gesture. The uplifted clenched fists and black-gloved hands were meant to represent Black Power.

The Olympic tale from Mexico illustrates social divisions and inequality. However, there are various types of social divisions that exist in society. Regional, linguistic, and religious distinctions have caused societal divisions.

The Origins of Social Disparities

The majority of socioeconomic disparities are due to the chance of birth. People around us, for example, are male or female, tall or short, have various complexions, and have various physical abilities or impairments. However, some of the variances are the result of our decisions. Some people, for example, are atheists, or those who do not believe in God or any religion. While some people believe in God, others do not. Other options include deciding what to study, what profession to pursue, and what games or cultural activities to participate in. Social differences separate people who are similar, but they can bring people together who are very different. People from many social groupings have similarities and characteristics that cut over their groups’ boundaries.

Differences in Overlapping and Cross-Cutting

Because of discrepancies in their social, economic, or racial disparity, persons are discriminated against or one class/group is given precedence over the other. The two forms of social distinctions are overlapping and cross-cutting. Overlapping differences occur when one type of social difference becomes more prominent than the other and people begin to feel like they belong to distinct communities. It leads to social collapse and division. For example, Dalits in India endure discrimination since they come from poor backgrounds. If social divisions cut over each other, it means that groups with a common interest in one topic are likely to be on opposing sides of another. Northern Ireland and the Netherlands, for example, were both largely Christian but were split between Catholics and Protestants.

Social Divisions Politics

Politics and social divisions are extremely hazardous and explosive when combined. Competition between political parties is a part of democracy. If they start competing on the basis of existing social divisions, it can turn those divisions into political divisions, resulting in conflict, violence, and even country dissolution. 

Possible outcomes of social divisions in politics

The divide between the two largest Christian groups in Northern Ireland, 53 percent Protestants and 44 percent Roman Catholics, took the form of politics. Nationalist parties represented the Catholics, who desired that Northern Ireland be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, which is overwhelmingly Catholic. Unionists who wished to stay in the primarily Protestant United Kingdom represented the Protestants. Later on, it took a more severe form, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of individuals. Political struggle along religious and ethnic lines in Yugoslavia resulted in the country’s breakup into six sovereign republics. At the same time, not every manifestation of socioeconomic differences in politics results in such catastrophes. However, it has an impact on voting in most countries, particularly India.

Three factors are critical in determining the result of social division politics:

  • The outcome is determined by how people view their own identities. It becomes very tough to address if people see their identities in singular and exclusive terms.
  • It all depends on how political leaders elevate community needs. It is easier to meet demands that are constitutionally permissible and do not jeopardize the welfare of another group. 
  • It depends on how the government responds to different groups’ requests. 

The political manifestation of socioeconomic divides is extremely common and can be healthy in a democracy. This allows socioeconomically disadvantaged and marginalized people to air their grievances and have them addressed by the government.

There is competition between political parties in politics. This competition could lead to political splits if these political parties utilize it to reinforce some societal divisions. This can result in conflict, violence, or even a country’s dissolution. Religious divisions in Northern Ireland, for example, have resulted in ethnopolitical strife. The country is dominated by two major Christian sects: Protestants (53%), and Catholics (44%). Northern Ireland’s Catholics desired to join the Republic of Ireland, while Protestants preferred to stay in the United Kingdom. This resulted in years of violence, with tens of thousands of people dying. Peace was only restored in 1998 when the UK government and the Nationalists signed a peace deal that put an end to all hostilities. The second case in point is Yugoslavia, where political groups refused to work together. Each ethnoreligious group aspired to be the most powerful. As a result, Yugoslavia disintegrated into seven sovereign republics.

Sample Questions

Question 1: Discuss three elements that influence the result of social divisions in politics.

Answer:

The following are the three aspects that influence the outcomes of social division politics:

  • The outcome is determined by how people view their own identities.
  • It is quite difficult to accommodate persons who see their identities in singular and exclusive terms.
  • It all depends on how political leaders elevate community needs.
  • It is easier to meet demands that are constitutionally permissible and do not jeopardize the welfare of another group. 
  • It depends on how the government responds to different groups’ requests.

Question 2: What impact do societal divisions have on politics? Please provide two instances.

Answer:

Competition between political parties is a part of democracy. Their rivalry has a tendency to split any community. If they start competing on the basis of existing social divisions, it can turn those divisions into political divisions, resulting in conflict, violence, and even country dissolution.
This has happened in several countries: 

  • In North Ireland, a violent and bitter ethnopolitical struggle has erupted. There are two major Christian groups represented in the country: Protestants (53%) and Roman Catholics (44%). Nationalist parties represented the Catholics, who desired that Northern Ireland be reunited with the Republic of Ireland, which is overwhelmingly Catholic. Unionists who wished to stay in the primarily protestant United Kingdom represented the Protestants. Hundreds of civilians perished as a result of the struggle between Nationalists and Unionists. 
  • Yugoslavia – Political rivalry along religious and ethnic lines resulted in Yugoslavia’s breakup into six independent republics.
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