Show Book List

Buy from Amazon
Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Chris Dillow
Wall Street Journal
International Herald Tribune
Telegraph India

Amartya Sen

Identity and Violence

When we hear of a conflict, we want to know who the two sides are - we need to categorize people in order to work out the reason for the conflict. But In Identity and Violence:The Illusion of Destiny Amartya Sen warns us that we need to take care when attaching labels to people in this way, since the labelling itself can easily become a reason for violence.

Sen's argument is that no person is defined by a single label. Each of us is a member of many different communities. But it is all to easy for those who wish to gain power to focus attention on a single membership - in particular that of religious belief. Sen sees this splitting the world into 'them and us' as a tendency which is responsible for a great deal of the conflict in the world and one which must be resisted.

Sen looks at several different aspects of this process in the world today. The rise of fundamentalist Islam is an obvious example. There is also a chapter on the West v anti-West split, and the dangers of countries losing much of value in the attempt to separate themselves from western influence. Sen also has a warning for those with the best of intentions, that multiculturalism shouldn't become a federalisation of people into different groups.

Sen pushes his main message a lot, and the book seems a bit repetitive at first, but it gets more interesting as it proceeds, benefitting from his wide knowledge. My feeling is that Sen has something very important to say, and I certainly intend to read more of his works.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews