Drawing from the case of Tibetan-Muslim relations from seventh century contact to present Tibetan boycott campaigns against Muslims in Northeast Tibet (Amdo), this paper questions the relevance of the mainstream theoretical disputes on ethnic conflict, i.e. primordialism, instrumentalism, constructivism and so forth, all of which primarily seek to identify the primary causes or origins of conflict. Most ethnic conflicts, together with other forms of ethnic co-existence including cooperation, contain elements of all these theoretical perspectives, which is evident in the case of Tibetan-Muslim relations presented here. Therefore, a focus on issues of primary causes or origins is not particularly insightful, nor does it help to explain why a particular conflictive trajectory supersedes a more cooperative trajectory. As an alternative, this paper suggests a focus on processual factors, such as exclusion, inclusion and the impulse for social protection, which shape or guide the evolution of conflictive relationships, whether these be deemed of a primordial or other nature. Accordingly, the commonalities that tie together the trends of modern ethnic conflict are not found in the origins or primary causes of conflict, but rather, in the underlying forces of dislocation and relocation that are fundamental to modern transformations and capitalism, and which shape the patterns of exclusion and the possible channels for inclusion and social protection.