OBSERVARE
Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
ISSN: 1647-7251
Vol. 7, Nº. 1 (May-October 2016), pp. 19-32
POWER-SHARING: CONCEPTS, DEBATES AND GAPS
Alexandre de Sousa Carvalho
ascarvalho@autonoma.pt
Doctoral student in Political Science at ISCTE-IUL (Portugal), Master's in African Peace and
Conflict Studies at the University of Bradford, England and graduate of International Relations
from the University of Coimbra. Associate researcher at the Centre of International Studies,
ISCTE-IUL and consultant at OBSERVARE-UAL
Abstract
Academic literature tends to reflect the two main objectives of power-sharing: promoting
the construction of sustainable peace and serving to structure the foundations for growth
and development of democracy in divided societies. reflecting this, two dimensions and
discourses of analysis and evaluation stand out: a classical dimension centred on power-
sharing as theory and a normative proposal for democracy in divided societies, and another
focused mainly on power-sharing as a meachanism of conflict management. This article
aims to introduce the reader to discussions about power-sharing, reviewing and critically
analysing power-sharing literature to show its gaps and tensions, as well as suggesting
some points where one can continue the debate.
Keywords
Power-sharing; "Consociationalism"; Structuralism; Peace; Democracy; Conflicts
How to cite this article
Carvalho, Alexandre de Sousa (2016). "Power-sharing: concepts, debates and gaps".
JANUS.NET e-journal of International Relations, vol. 7, no. 1, May-October 2016. Date of
last consultation [online], observare.ual.pt/janus.net/en_vol7_n1_art2
Article received on 16 February 2016 and accepted for publication on 8 March 2016
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POWER-SHARING: CONCEPTS, DEBATES AND GAPS1
Alexandre de Sousa Carvalho
Power-sharing: Introduction
The scientific literature dedicated to power-sharing emerged in the late 1960s as a
normative proposal that aimed to provide democratic stability in divided societies2
through the accommodation and inclusion of political elites along with incentives for the
promotion of moderation and restraint. Driven mainly by the work of Arend Lijphart
(1969; 1977a; 1977b) who defines power-sharing as a "government cartel of political
elites"3 that, in essence, is
"a set of principles which, when carried out through practices and
institutions, provide each significant group in a society with
representation and decision-making capacities in general affairs
and a degree of autonomy on matters of particular importance to
their group" (Lijphart 1977a: 25).
The scientific literature on power-sharing corresponds, according to Horowitz (2005),
with the study of the political conditions in which violence in multi-ethnic societies
occurs and, therefore, the identification of requirements to manage and prevent such
conflicts. Therefore, they are studies of political “engineering” with a view to design an
inclusive and peaceful institutional framework in divided societies.
Power-sharing studies focus on structuring options of political systems that can manage
and combat the destructive potential of inter-communitarian divisions (or its
manipulation for political purposes). Timothy Sisk (1996: 5) defined the theory of
power-sharing as
1 The translation of this article was funded by national funds through FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e
a Tecnologia - as part of OBSERVARE project with the reference UID/CPO/04155/2013. Text translated by
Thomas Rickard.
2 Divided society should be understood as a society that is multi-ethnic and, simultaneously, where
ethnicity as well as identity questions configure a politically salient division. Reilly (2001:4)
3 Originally, Lijphart (1969:216) wrote "[...] consociational democracy means government by an elite cartel
designed to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy. The term
consociational was, as Liphart (2008:6) explains later, replaced by power-sharing.
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"a set of principles that, when carried out through practices and
institutions, provide every significant group or segment in a society
representation and decision-making abilities on common issues
and a degree of autonomy over issues of importance to the
group".
In theoretical terms, power-sharing allows the pacification of clashing groups involved
in historical antagonisms and discrimination, in order to enable the construction of just
and stable societies through more inclusive political representation. However, the way
power-sharing is achieved institutionally is variable and diverse (O'Flynn and Russell,
2005).
Thus, power-sharing theories must understand the study of structural conditions in
which violence in divided and multi-ethnic societies emerge, as well as the subsequent
institutional requirements to prevent such conflicts in a way that is democratically
sustainable and inclusive. Often named "constitutional engineering studies", power-
sharing theories have the objective of developing an institutional framework that
effectively combats the politics of ethnic exclusion of majoritarian models in plural and
polarised societies.
The dangers of tyranny of the majority
The different approaches of power-sharing theories both in its dimension of
democratic theory as well as conflict management) share a mutual recognition of the
limitations and dangers of (simple) majoritarian democracy in divided societies and
advocate the benefits of political engineering in order to define more inclusive
governance models that can mitigate latent conflicts. Both allude to the problems of
exclusion in majoritarian systems, such as distortions in political representation and/or
the potential of a "dictatorship of the majority", in which minority groups may be
permanently unable to obtain political representation or access to political power:
“[…] ethnic parties developed, majorities took power, minorities
took shelter. It was a fearful situation, in which the prospect of
minority exclusion from government underpinned by ethnic voting
was potentially permanent. ” Horowitz (1985: 629-630)
In the international context of the Second World War, newly independent countries had
a tendency to assume the same constitutional rules previously established by the old
colonial orders (Lijphart 2004). Power-sharing theories originated in this way, in
product and response to independence and the difficulties in implementing and
consolidating democratic processes in plural societies during the regression of the
second wave of democratisation (Huntington, 1991).
The main premise set out by proponents of power-sharing relates to the disadvantages
of the applicability of (simple) majoritarian democracy in divided and plural societies.
This assumption is based on an empirical assertion that, in plural societies with
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majoritarian political systems, some segments of society face potentially permanent
political exclusion from the electoral game. Larry Diamond (1999:104) summarises the
disadvantage of majoritarian models in divided societies, affirming that:
"If any generalisation about institutional design is sustainable (...) it is that
majoritarian systems are ill-advised for countries with deep ethnic, regional,
religious or other emotional and polarising divisions. Where cleavage groups
are sharply defined and group identities (and inter-group insecurities and
suspicions) deeply felt, the overriding imperative is to avoid broad and
indefinite exclusion from power of any significant group.”
In a majoritarian democracy, divided societies tend to perceive electoral competition as
a contest for possession and domination of the State and its resources, exacerbating
the adversarial dimension of politics as well as its conduct. This perception tends to
escalate during electoral periods, since access to political power can represent the
guarantee of protection of rights and political, economic and even physical survival.
Robert Dahl (1973) refers to the concept of “mutual security” and emphasises its
importance during electoral periods in ethnically divided societies, arguing that
elections, being the primary forum for inter-group competition, need a minimum level
of rights protection because a defeat in the electoral competition could pose a threat to
survival. This notion of mutual assurance is, according to Dahl, a prerequisite for
electoral competition in societies with deep divisions, and its absence underscores the
nature of the zero-sum game of 'winner-takes-all' a naturally adversarial political
game.4 Atuobi (2008), in his analysis of electoral violence on the African continent,
states that electoral processes are moments where the stability and security of African
States is undermined due to the threat of electoral violence, whose state is such that
even elections considered fair and free are not immune to violence, before, during or
after.
According to the proponents of “power-sharing” (Lijphart 1969, 1977a, 1977b and
2008; Horowitz 1985 and 1993), majoritarian models of multi-ethnic societies carry the
risk of promoting the permanent exclusion of minorities from access to power (or
access to the decision-making process), leveraging a situation of "tyranny of the
majority" (where groups are permanently barred from the political decision-making
process because of their demographic weight). However, this does not mean that the
power-sharing model is anti-majoritarian, as Arend Lijphart explains (2008:12):
"Power-sharing democracy (of both the consociational and
consensus subtype) is often described as non-majoritarian, and
even anti-majoritarian or counter-majoritarian and I have used
4 For the distinction between the adversarial nature of majority democracies and the “Coalescent” nature of
power-sharing systems, please see Lijphart (1977). An example of the adversarial nature of a majority
system can be observed in the main roots of conflict following the Kenyan general elections of 2007
(CIPEV, 2008), which deals with the history of several leaders and political elites, who exercised ethnic
identity manipulation through mobilising their respective segment of the electorate (Mbugua, 2008). The
adversarial nature of high-risk electoral competition and political conduct in Kenya was summed up in the
title of a book by Michela Wrong (2009): "It's our turn to eat."
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those terms myself, too. In fact, however, power-sharing does not
deviate much from the basic principle of majority rule. It agrees
with that fundamental premise that majority rule is superior to
minority rule, but it accepts majority rule as a minimum
requirement: instead of being satisfied with narrow decision-
making majorities, it seeks to maximise the size of these
majorities. The real contrast is not so much between majoritarian
and non-majoritarian but the between bare-majority and broad
majority models of democracy".
The concept of power-sharing is intrinsically linked to the concept of democracy: like
the democratic model, power-sharing seeks the inclusion of segments of society that
are excluded from the political decision-making process. The democratic model is
inherently considered as a fair and stable system of conflict management in post-war
contexts and/or divided societies (Lijphart, 1977a and 2008)5 for its capacity to
transform ethnic or group violence into participation and peaceful political competition.
Nevertheless, such a democratic claim does not imply that power-sharing is only
successful or unique to a democratic institutional framework: as an example, Milton
Esman (1986) recalls that the Ottoman Empire whose population was predominantly
Muslim accommodated non-Muslim communities for five centuries, guaranteeing
them a degree of autonomy, self-determination and self-management. Similarly, some
post-colonial autocratic African regimes have managed informally to balance the
executive among various groups, so that power (as well as its access) and resources
are distributed proportionally. Rothchild (1986) refers to these executives as
“hegemonic exchange regimes”, where a portion of State power and its resources are
shared proportionately among groups, which is crucial to ensure a degree of balance
and accommodation whilst controlling democratic freedoms (Rothchild, 1995).6
Two perspectives on power-sharing:
the no man's land between democratic theory and conflict management
The academic literature tends to reflect the two major objectives of the sharing of
power − i) to promote the construction of sustainable peace and ii) serve as a structure
for the foundation, growth and development of democracy in divided societies.
Reflecting this, two dimensions and discourses of analysis and evaluation tend to stand
out: a (classical) dimension centred on power-sharing along with a theory of democracy
for divided societies, and another focused mainly on power-sharing and conflict
management mechanisms.
5 Lijphart argues "Not only have non-democratic regimes failed to be good nation-builders, they have not
even established good records of maintaining order and peace in plural societies" (Lijphart 1977a).
6 Kenya during 24 years under the tutelage of Danial arap Moi is a good example of this proportional
attribution of governmental and executive positions to different ethnic groups, even when it was a one-
party State. The Kenyan government through several administrations often included representatives of
various ethnic groups in different administrations, although the vast majority of power has always been
entrusted to the ethnic group affiliated to the President (the most powerful position in the country's
political structure) (Ng'weno 2009).
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Power-sharing as democratic theory
The debate about constitutional engineering in democratic theory revolves around two
major philosophies: on the one hand, the theory of power-sharing, divided between the
"consociational" accredited to the pioneering work of Arend Lijphart (1977a 1977b;
1969;; 1985; 1990; 1996; 1999; 2004; 2008) − and the "integrative" or "structuralist"
theory, which is more associated with Donald Horowitz (1985; 1990; 1991; 1993) and
Timothy Sisk (1996); and, on the other hand, an alternative developed by Roeder and
Rothchild (2005) of power-dividing7 in line with the political-institutional framework of
north American democracy. Hoddie and Hartzell (2005) raise caution, however, to the
question of effects of sequential transition from a conflict situation to one of democratic
peace through the mechanism/dynamic of power-dividing8.
The "consociational" theory as advocated by Lijphart defines four basic principles9, two
of central importance, and two other of secondary relevance (Lijphart 1996: 258-268;
2008: 3-32):
1. A Grand Coalition (i.e. an executive comprising of representatives of the main
religious and language groups);
2. Cultural autonomy to these groups (e.g., federalism; decision-making capacity on
matters pertaining specifically to a group, etc.)
3. Proportionality in political representation;
4. Possibility of a minority veto regarding vital rights of minority groups.
Lijphart stresses that the institutions and the conduct that will incorporate these
principles should be adopted according to the society. Given that each principle of the
"consociational" theory can be applied for different models and formats, Lijphart
recommends that this system includes the four basic principles. Lijphart also advocates
the superiority of parliamentary models before presidential models10 , as well as the
preference for proportional electoral systems at the expense of majoritarian systems
(such as the first-past-the-post model of Westminster). Although "consociational"
democracy is not incompatible with presidential systems, electoral majoritarian systems
and centralised governance structures, Lijphart considers that the most appropriate
constitutional structure is provided by parliamentary regimes, proportional
representation and, in the case of societies where there are geographical
concentrations of ethnic or religious groups, federalism. Lijphart (2008) sets out some
facilitative conditions favourable to "consociationalism":
The absence of a solid majority who might prefer a majority system;
Socio-economic inequalities (and to a lesser extent, linguistic and religious issues);
Number of existing groups (complexity of negotiation);
7 For the purposes of brevity, this article does not focus on power-dividing and the evolution of the debate
about constitutional engineering in divided societies.
8 Initially increased measures of confidence (i.e. power-sharing institutions) are necessary, while the
consolidation phase of a democracy is dominated by issues of stability, meaning that institutions of
power-dividing are needed. To see more, please consult Roeder and Rothchild (2005)
9 The first version of the definition of power-sharing by Lijphart in 1969 only included the first feature. The
definition here is from his Indian case study of 1996, which contains a final formulation.
10 About the limitations of presidential systems, also see Linz (1994).
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Dimension of these groups (balance of power and importance of non-dominance);
Existence of external threats (that promote internal cohesion);
Pre-existing alliances and loyalties;
In the case of existing geographical concentrations of groups, federalism facilitates
segmental autonomy; and finally,
Traditions of compromise and accommodation.
For his part, Horowitz (1985), through an "integrative" or "structuralist" approach11,
defended the adoption of five distinct mechanisms of the model presented by Lijphart
to reduce conflict in multi-ethnic societies, namely:
1. The dispersion of power, often territorially (decentralisation), in order to avoid the
concentration of power at a single point;
2. Devolution of power with the exception of certain places destined to have an ethnic
basis in order to promote inter-ethnic competition at a local level;
3. Interethnic cooperation incentives, such as electoral laws that promote pre-
electoral coalitions;
4. Regulatory policies that encourage alternative social alignments, such as class or
territory, thus the emphasis on cross-cutting social cleavages;
5. Reduce inequalities between groups by managing the distribution of resources.
It should be noted that some recommendations of Horowitz match Lijphart on certain
topics: e.g., both advocate the federal model and reveal the importance of
proportionality and ethnic balance. It is important, however, to take into account that
all of them (the models of power-sharing to power-dividing) are ideal conceptual
frameworks where empirical combinations of the three theories are possible.
Power-sharing as a mechanism of conflict resolution
"It is easy for you and me and many others to sit there, deliberate
and criticise power-sharing but there's a big elephant in the room:
if we did not have power-sharing in Zimbabwe and Kenya, flawed
as it is, what other option would we have had?" Blessing Miles
Tendi
If the majority of scientific literature (classical theories in particular) on power-sharing
was being developed throughout the second half of the 20th century (especially in the
11 The classifications "integrative" and "structuralist" come from the criticism that Horowitz establishes,
which states that the "consociationalist" theory should stop punishing political radicalism, while its
proposal tends to reflect a promotion of moderation and cooperation in inter-group politics. Other
proponents of the "integrative" option: Reilly (2001); Sisk (1996).
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1970s and 1980s), the debate on power-sharing was resumed at the turn of the
century. However, this most recent literature is mainly focused on the sustainability of
power-sharing applied as resolution mechanisms or conflict management. Such a
resurgence has revealed new analyses concerning recent power-sharing that has, in
turn, pointed in the opposite direction to that which the classical theories have
defended. Indeed, several authors (Noel, 2005; O'Flynn and Russell, 2005; Spears,
2005; Hartzell and Hoddie, 2007; Jarstad, 2008; Mehler, 2009a and 2009b; Levan,
2011) argue that power-sharing has gone against classical literature and intended to:
Drive anti-democratic and radicalised behaviour;
Inhibit the transition from conflict management to conflict resolution by encouraging
extremism;
Stifle internal diversity and its recognition in favour of community identities and
collective concerns;
Show difficulty in recognising and dealing with cross-segmental identities;
Left insufficient space for individual autonomy;
Damage relationships of transparency and accountability;
Increase the economic inefficiency of governments;
Foster the conditions for government deadlocks and stalemates;
A. Carl LeVan (2011) focuses his attention to a three-dimensional analysis of power-
sharing:
1) its origin – extra-constitutional or coalition pacts produced by institutions;
2) its function – post-war scenarios or situations where the State runs less risk;
3) time horizon – dilemmas between long-term costs and short-term benefits.
Based on this conceptual framework, LeVan (2011) suggests that the trend of power-
sharing agreements achieved as a post-election conflict-resolution instrument, or in
order to avoid an even greater escalation of the conflict, could be undermining efforts
for promoting democracy on the African continent in recent decades ("peace before
process"). This type of agreement of an extra-constitutional origin despite its recent
popularity, has however been encouraged in academia and policy-making not only in
peace promotion and conflict resolution, but also in democratic theory and promoting
alternative democratic models. Indeed, Anna Jarstad (2008) states that both currents
(democratic theory, on the one hand, and resolution or conflict management on the
other) can advocate power-sharing for distinctly antagonistic reasons, since one of the
dimensions has as its main objective the cessation of violence, and the other, the
building (or deepening) of a more inclusive and proportional democracy. Both are not
necessarily compatible, particularly when a power-sharing agreement is reached as an
alternative to elections, which reflects, as well, the lack of cohesion and holistic analysis
that the debate on the viability and sustainability of power-sharing still denotes:
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"In the conflict management discourse, power-sharing is seen as a
mechanism to manage the uncertainty in the peace process if
need be, as a substitute for elections while research based on
democratic theory treats power-sharing as a mechanism to foster
moderation and to improve the quality of democracy. This means
that researchers of both schools advocate power-sharing for war-
shattered societies, albeit for different reasons. However, the lack
of integration between the two discourses means that there is
limited knowledge of the long-term consequences of power-sharing
in societies emerging from war. “(Jarstad 2008:111)
Jarstad, Ian S. Spears (2005) states that power-sharing and democracy can be
compatible, since one does not substitute the other. Additionally, Spears also gives
clues to resistance on the part of political elites to implement power-sharing
agreements in post-conflict situations. This takes into account the structural problems
of many countries on the African continent alluding to the importance of the debates
that the international relations literature has provided on issues of failed or weak States
and contemporary violent conflicts (often intrastate and informal in nature), the Third
World security predicament – but that the literature on power-sharing has neglected:
"Power-sharing has been repeatedly advocated as a method of
post-conflict governance in Africa. In virtually all cases, however,
the results have been the same: including power-sharing
agreements have been resisted by local leaders or, if accepted,
have rarely been fully implemented or adhered to over the long
term. Given this unimpressive record, it is remarkable that power-
sharing nevertheless continues to be the centrepiece of so many
African peace initiatives. To expect power-sharing to work in Africa
is to expect it to work under the most difficult conditions, and this,
in fact, is part of the problem. For the conditions of anarchy that
accompany civil war and state collapse often require solutions that
are prior to, or in addition to, power-sharing – or ones that exclude
power-sharing altogether." 12
Mehler (2009a) stresses, like LeVan (2011), the need to analyse power-sharing in
addition to mitigation analysis of the conflict, arguing that power-sharing should be
seen as a process and not as an event, citing the current example of success of
Burundi13, which after 20 years of trying was considered an example of failure.
12 Spears, Ian S. "Anarchy and the Problems of Power Sharing in Africa" in Sid Noel (ed.) From Power
Sharing to Democracy, Quebec: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005. Pp. 184-197.
13 See also Vandengiste (2009).
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Which way for the debate on power-sharing?
Classical theories of power-sharing focused primarily on permanent designs (though
not necessarily static) of institutional engineering for the political accommodation of
different groups in a divided society. The recent power-sharing literature has focused
mainly on power-sharing as a temporary mechanism in peace agreements in favour of
a security imperative, even if it is antagonistic to the democratisation efforts of prior
decades. However, little attention has been given to power-sharing as a dynamic
process with advances, setbacks and transitions.
The studies of “constitutional engineering” that propose the adoption of inclusive
policies for pluralistic, divided and/or in-transition societies have been developed since
the late 1960s. However, this type of political science has only recently begun to be
studied in relation to conflict of a third kind (Holsti, 1996), which are frequent on the
African continent despite the theme of contemporary intra-State conflicts being closely
linked to governance issues and the formation of States and their structural
(im)balances. The study of power-sharing agreements, particularly in the context of
Africa, gains increasing prominence as an instrument for analysis of the path of
democratic consolidation on the continent.
Power-sharing arrangements have succeeded in Africa in recent years (Mehler, 2009;
Levan, 2011). Mehler (2009) points to 17 countries of the African continent as having
had "meaningful" power-sharing agreements only between 1999 and 2009, while
Hartzell and Hoddie (2007) recall that, of 38 peace processes between 1945 and 1999
as a result of the negotiation to the end of civil wars, only one the Gbadolite in 1989
did not contain any element or norm of power-sharing. Over the years, several
African countries have had a history of experience in the field of constitutional
engineering to design and develop democratic institutional frameworks that have
tended to be more inclusive (e.g., Nigeria, Burundi); recent popularity, on the other
hand, seems to be focused mainly on the inclusion of power-sharing as a mechanism
for the management and prevention of violent conflicts through the negotiation of
peace agreements (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2007; Mehler, 2009). The African continent,
considering the amount of countries composed of multi-ethnic societies for which the
theories of power-sharing were initially designed and developed, as well as the
frequency of violent conflict and arising peace processes, it is fertile ground for the
emergence of these agreements.
However, in the vast literature on power-sharing, research agendas and analytical
approaches have focused almost exclusively on an institutional perspective and elites,
both in its latest dimension of mitigation and conflict management as in the classical
theoretical approach to power-sharing, as well as its normative political engineering
proposal for a permanent institutional structure based on the accommodation of
political elites. This has prevented a holistic and interdisciplinary analysis in studies on
the power-sharing and its consequences, especially in Africa where it has been
dominant since the end of the cold war.
It is especially surprising that, with the renewed academic interest on this topic, the
influence of the nature of political parties and party systems in power-sharing situations
and its dynamics and consequences are comparatively neglected to the detriment of
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the dominant top-down analysis 14. Even though political parties are one of the main
actors in any political system because of their ability to channel, aggregate and express
political wills and stop power deadlocks for not only the management and resolution
of conflicts in societies in which they are placed, but also act as privileged agent in the
consolidation of democracy power-sharing studies tend to keep their focus on small
groups of elites or national institutions with no major considerations for bottom-up
processes or tensions that exist among institutions, elites, political parties and
segments of society. The academic literature has been profuse in evaluating the
success or failure of power-sharing, but still pays little attention to the power-sharing
process, its dynamics and variations. For example, the transition to a dynamic
centrifuge in the first two years of power-sharing in Kenya (2008-2013) to the
centripetal dynamic of 2010 onwards is seemingly absent from academic literature that,
with all its conflicting conclusions, does not offer great insights to explain the mutations
that have been experienced by the Unity Government in Kenya. If there is something
that the proposed power-sharing theories suggest, it is that their discourse with all
its ability to empower and give visibility, selection and legitimation is not enough to
understand all the variables, dynamics and relevant actors15 to determine success or
failure.
Finally, the absence of more interdisciplinary analysis (even in sub-fields of Political
Science and International Relations where it comes from) of power-sharing has meant
that the debate on its merits and disadvantages for the promotion and consolidation of
democracy and peace remain inconclusive. Perhaps, however, there is a more relevant
matter that has been entirely absent from the debate: what kind of peace and
democracy has power-sharing promoted?
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14 Some exceptions must be mentioned: Reilly and Nordlund, 2008; Shah, 2009; Cheeseman and Tendi,
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