Broadly defined, affirmative action encompasses any measure that allocates resources through a process that takes into account individual membership in underrepresented groups. The goal is to increase the proportion of individuals from those groups in positions from which they have been excluded as a result of state-sanctioned oppression in the past or societal discrimination in the present. A comparative overview of affirmative action regimes reveals that the most direct and controversial variety of affirmative action emerged as a strategy for conflict management in deeply divided societies; that the policy tends to expand in scope, either embracing additional groups, encompassing wider realms for the same groups, or both; and that in countries where the beneficiaries are numerical majorities, affirmative action programs are more extensive and their transformative purpose is unusually explicit.

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