Cultural Unity and Diversity: A Study in Religio-Ethnic Group Relations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

Bates, Robert Searle

     The main objective of this study is understanding the conflict between cultural groups in Ceylon. . . . In examining the conflict in Ceylon between the Sinhalese and Tamil groups, four alternative social science approaches are utilized. This dissertation deals with three focal questions: How is the cultural group identified? What is the conflict's root or source in relation to the established identity of the group? Thirdly, what possible, adequate basis is there for resolving the conflict? Each of these questions [is] considered under the four perspectives.
     The first perspective is a determinist social scientific approach which understands the group as a result of external forces, and conflict also as derived from external forces and measured in the disproportionate distribution of groups across statistical indices of a geographic, demographic, and socio-economic nature. More narrowly, the conflict is usually understood as the result of an unbalanced allocation of societal resources. The second is a functional approach, where the key to examining the social system is through its central norms and values. Here, intergroup conflict has its source in the inadequate adaptation or participation of individuals and groups within, or the inadequate flow of loyalty towards the social system or national community. The third alternative is the voluntarist approach, in which the cultural group is identified as a focus of common interests, involving common values, traditional loyalties, and historical memories, and conflict lies in inevitable struggle between groups in their conflicting interests and inherited loyalties.
     It is the fourth approach which is taken as the essential key to understanding the identity of the cultural group, the source of intergroup conflict, and the possible basis of resolving that conflict. This is the intentional approach, identifies the cultural group in terms of its 'common culture' -- that is, the framework of interpretation, typifications, by which it understands its actions -- simply, its 'project,' the larger enterprise in which it sees itself engaged, and conflict as emerging out of the self-understanding of the groups in conflict, and from their respective interpretations of their relationship with each other.

Gibson Winter