Existing research on the causes of violent ethnic conflict is characterized by an enduring debate on whether these conflicts are the result of deeply felt grievances or the product of an opportunity structure in which rebellion is an attractive and/or viable option. This article argues that the question of whether incentive– or opportunity-based explanations of conflict have more explanatory power is fundamentally misguided, as conflict is more likely the result of a complex interaction of both. The fact is, however, that there is little generalized knowledge about these interactions. This study aims to fill this gap and applies crisp-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in order to identify constellations of risk factors that are conducive to ethnic conflict. The results demonstrate the explanatory leverage gained by taking causal complexity in the form of risk patterns into account. It takes no more than four different configurations of a total of eight conditions to reliably explain almost two-thirds of all ethnic conflict onsets between 1990 and 2009. Moreover, these four configurations are quasi-sufficient for onset, leading to conflict in 88% of all cases covered. The QCA model generated in this article also fares well in predicting conflicts in-sample and out-of-sample, with the in-sample predictions being more precise than those generated by a simple binary logistic regression.
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