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About MAR

Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Defining a Minority at Risk


MAR focuses specifically on ethnopolitical groups, non-state communal groups that have "political significance" in the contemporary world because of their status and political actions. Political significance is determined by the following two criteria:

  • The group collectively suffers, or benefits from, systematic discriminatory treatment vis-a-vis other groups in a society; and,
  • The group is the basis for political mobilization and collective action in defense or promotion of its self-defined interests.

Many group traits can contribute to the sentiments and interests that lead to collective action by ethnopolitical groups. The possible bases of communal identity include shared language, religion, national or racial origin, common cultural practices, and attachment to a particular territory. Most communal identity groups also share a common history, or myths of shared experience, that often include their victimization by others. No one of these is essential to group identity. Fundamentally what matters is the belief--by people who share some such traits and by those with whom they interact--that the traits Set them apart from others in ways that justify their separate treatment and status.

Since the strength and political significance of group identities change over time, the numbers of groups meeting the two general criteria also change. In 1998, such groups (275 in 116 countries) made up 17.4% of the world's population. These numbers reflect the application of seven rules:

  1. They include groups only in countries with a population (within the year of interest) greater than 500,000;
  2. They include groups only if in the year of interest they numbered at least 100,000 or, if fewer, exceeded 1% of the population of at least one country in which they resided;
  3. They include groups separately in each country in which they meet the general criteria. For example, the Kurds are profiled separately in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran;
  4. They include advantaged minorities like the Sunni Arabs of Iraq and the Overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia, but exclude advantaged majorities;
  5. They exclude refugee and immigrant groups unless and until they are regarded by outside observers as permanent residents;
  6. They count and code groups at the highest level within-country level of aggregation that is politically meaningful. For example, all Hispanics in the U.S. are profiled as a single group because they are usually regarded and treated by Anglo-Americans as one collectivity; and,
  7. They estimate membership in a group using the widest demographic definition, even though not all people who nominally are members of a group necessarily identify with it.


Group Types

MAR groups are categorized as one of six types:


These are regionally concentrated peoples with a history of organized political autonomy with their own state, traditional ruler, or regional government, who have supported political movements for autonomy at some time since 1945.


These are conquered descendants of earlier inhabitants of a region who live mainly in conformity with traditional social, economic, and cultural customs that are sharply distinct from those of dominant groups.


These are ethnically or culturally distinct peoples, usually descended from slaves or immigrants, most of whom occupy a distinct social and economic stratum or niche.

Communal Contender

These are culturally distinct peoples, tribes, or clans in heterogenous societies who hold or seek a share in state power. Disadvantaged communal contenders are subject to some degree of political, economic, or cultural discrimination but lack offsetting advantages. Advantaged communal contenders are those with political advantages over other groups in their society. Dominant communal contenders are those with a preponderance of both political and economic power.

Religious Sect

These are communal groups that differ from others principally in their religious beliefs and related cultural practices, and whose political status and activities are centered on the defense of their beliefs.

National Minority

These are segments of a trans-state people with a history of organized political autonomy whose kindred control an adjacent state, but who now constitute a minority in the state in which they reside.

Selection Bias

These are groups that do not meet traditional at-risk criteria, and therefore do not fit other group-type designations. Coded under NSF selection bias grant.


Selecting MAROB Organizations

The project developed a set of criteria for the inclusion of organizations into the MAROB dataset. These are as follows:

  • The organization makes explicit claims to represent the interests of one or more ethnic groups and/or the organization's members are primarily members of a specific ethnic minority.
  • The organization is political in its goals and activities.
  • The organization is active at a regional and/or national level.
  • The organization was not created by a government.
  • The organization is active for at least three consecutive years between 1980 and 2006.
  • Umbrella organizations (coalitions/alliances) are NOT coded. Instead, member organizations are coded.

Organizations were selected on the basis of their basic longevity. This was operationalized in the following manner: The first year that an organization is mentioned in a source as being active, it is put on a "watchlist" for potential inclusion. Once the organization is mentioned in sources for three consecutive years, it is included in the dataset, coded from the first year of the three consecutive years. If an organization included in the dataset disappears from source material for five consecutive years, it is no longer coded for following years. If after that time, it is again mentioned for three consecutive years, it is again included but as a separate organization.


© 2004 - 2024 • Minorities At Risk Project

Last Updated June 8, 2016