Why are some multi-ethnic states susceptible to violent escalation, state breakdown and collapse while others are not? Current perspectives on violent ethnic conflict and its underlying causes are surveyed in an attempt to answer that question. The authors agree that the proper analysis of ethnic conflict requires a systematic, multi-factored, and integrated approach. More generally, the analysis of ethnic conflict requires a framework that, on the one hand, heeds the historical context within which the conflict takes place but, on the other hand, identifies the more specific causes and interactions that lead to violent escalation. A blend of analytical skills that combine in-depth analysis of regions and countries with identification of dynamic patterns of behaviour is essential. Through an assessment of attributes and dynamic processes, the authors demonstrate that collective action leading to violence depends very strongly on the course of interaction as well as general attributes of states.