Reducing the negative consequences of identity: A potential role for the nonprofit sector in the era of globalization

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People of diverse backgrounds - most notably, diverse ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds - increasingly live in close proximity to one another. The trajectory is inexorable, and has many benefits. However, it also has had significant costs, including violent conflict between people with different identities, especially ethnic and religious identities. One important way to deal with this conflict starts with the recognition that people have multiple dimensions to their identities - in Amartya Sen's words, people's identities are 'inescapably plural'. A person's identities may change over time: various contexts, and stages of life, make different dimensions of identity more salient. Society can aim to strengthen alternative identity dimensions that would substitute for and weaken ethnic, religious, and other identity dimensions that may lead to conflict and violence, instead of complementing and strengthening them. We argue that the nonprofit sector is well situated to help in this endeavor. Nonprofit organizations may provide suitable circumstances for the encouragement of single alternative identity dimensions, such as musical and sports identities, or for the development of a set of complementary dimensions of identity that do not involve ethnicity and religion. Such organizations would engage in the provision of relational goods, thus playing on the nonprofit sector's relative advantage. The paper makes a concrete proposal for a community center model that could contribute to the reduction of negative effects of identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-600
Number of pages22
JournalAnnals of Public and Cooperative Economics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Sep 2008


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