"Ethnicity" redirects here.
For other uses, see Ethnicity (disambiguation).
"Ethnicities" redirects here.
For the academic journal, see Ethnicities (journal).
An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of humans based on people who identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups such as a common set of traditions, ancestry, language, history, society, culture, nation, religion, or social treatment within their residing area.
Ethnicity can be an inherited status or based on the society within which one lives.
Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art or physical appearance.
Whether through division or amalgamation, the formation of a separate ethnic identity is referred to as ethnogenesis.
Modern scholarship regards an ethnic group as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society.
The inherited English language term for this concept is , used alongside the latinate since the late Middle English period.
In Early Modern English and until the mid-19th century, ethnic was used to mean or (in the sense of disparate "nations" which did not yet participate in the Christian oikumene), as the Septuagint used ta ethne ("the nations") to translate the Hebrew goyim "the nations, non-Hebrews, non-Jews".
In Classical Greek, the term took on a meaning comparable to the concept now expressed by "ethnic group", mostly translated as ", people"; only in Hellenistic Greek did the term tend to become further narrowed to refer to "foreign" or "barbarous" nations in particular (whence the later meaning "heathen, pagan").
In the 19th century, the term came to be used in the sense of "peculiar to a race, people or nation", in a return to the original Greek meaning.
The sense of "different cultural groups", and in American English "racial, cultural or national minority group" arises in the 1930s to 1940s, serving as a replacement of the term race which had earlier taken this sense but was now becoming deprecated due to its association with ideological racism.
The abstract ethnicity had been used for "paganism" in the 18th century, but now came to express the meaning of an "ethnic character" (first recorded 1953).
The term ethnic group was first recorded in 1935 and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1972.
The term may also be used with the connotation of something exotic (cf.
"ethnic restaurant", etc.), generally related to cultures of more recent immigrants, who arrived after the dominant population of an area was established.
Depending on which source of group identity is emphasized to define membership, the following types of (often mutually overlapping) groups can be identified:
- Ethno-linguistic, emphasizing shared language, dialect (and possibly script) – example: French Canadians
- Ethno-national, emphasizing a shared polity or sense of national identity – example: Austrians
- Ethno-racial, emphasizing shared physical appearance based on genetic origins – example: African Americans
- Ethno-regional, emphasizing a distinct local sense of belonging stemming from relative geographic isolation – example: South Islanders of New Zealand
- Ethno-religious, emphasizing shared affiliation with a particular religion, denomination or sect – example: Jews
In many cases, more than one aspect determines membership: for instance, Armenian ethnicity can be defined by citizenship of Armenia, native use of the Armenian language, or membership of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Definitions and conceptual history
Ethnography begins in classical antiquity; after early authors like Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus in c. 480 BC laid the foundation of both historiography and ethnography of the ancient world.
The Greeks at this time did not describe foreign nations but had also developed a concept of their own "ethnicity", which they grouped under the name of Hellenes.
Herodotus (8.144.2) gave a famous account of what defined Greek (Hellenic) ethnic identity in his day, enumerating
- shared descent (ὅμαιμον – homaimon, "of the same blood"),
- shared language (ὁμόγλωσσον – homoglōsson, "speaking the same language")
- shared sanctuaries and sacrifices (Greek: θεῶν ἱδρύματά τε κοινὰ καὶ θυσίαι – theōn hidrumata te koina kai thusiai)
- shared customs (Greek: ἤθεα ὁμότροπα – ēthea homotropa, "customs of like fashion").
Whether ethnicity qualifies as a cultural universal is to some extent dependent on the exact definition used.
They regard ethnicity as a product of specific kinds of inter-group interactions, rather than an essential quality inherent to human groups.
According to Thomas Hylland Eriksen, the study of ethnicity was dominated by two distinct debates until recently.
- One is between "primordialism" and "instrumentalism". In the primordialist view, the participant perceives ethnic ties collectively, as an externally given, even coercive, social bond. The instrumentalist approach, on the other hand, treats ethnicity primarily as an ad-hoc element of a political strategy, used as a resource for interest groups for achieving secondary goals such as, for instance, an increase in wealth, power, or status. This debate is still an important point of reference in Political science, although most scholars' approaches fall between the two poles.
- The second debate is between "constructivism" and "essentialism". Constructivists view national and ethnic identities as the product of historical forces, often recent, even when the identities are presented as old. Essentialists view such identities as ontological categories defining social actors.
According to Eriksen, these debates have been superseded, especially in anthropology, by scholars' attempts to respond to increasingly politicized forms of self-representation by members of different ethnic groups and nations.
This is in the context of debates over multiculturalism in countries, such as the United States and Canada, which have large immigrant populations from many different cultures, and post-colonialism in the Caribbean and South Asia.
Secondly, this belief in shared Gemeinschaft did not create the group; the group created the belief.
Third, group formation resulted from the drive to monopolize power and status.
This was contrary to the prevailing naturalist belief of the time, which held that socio-cultural and behavioral differences between peoples stemmed from inherited traits and tendencies derived from common descent, then called "race".
Another influential theoretician of ethnicity was Fredrik Barth, whose "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries" from 1969 has been described as instrumental in spreading the usage of the term in social studies in the 1980s and 1990s.
Barth went further than Weber in stressing the constructed nature of ethnicity.
To Barth, ethnicity was perpetually negotiated and renegotiated by both external ascription and internal self-identification.
Barth's view is that ethnic groups are not discontinuous cultural isolates or logical a priority to which people naturally belong.
He wanted to part with anthropological notions of cultures as bounded entities, and ethnicity as primordialist bonds, replacing it with a focus on the interface between groups.
"Ethnic Groups and Boundaries", therefore, is a focus on the interconnectedness of ethnic identities.
Barth writes: "... categorical ethnic distinctions do not depend on an absence of mobility, contact, and information, but do entail social processes of exclusion and incorporation whereby discrete categories are maintained despite changing participation and membership in the course of individual life histories."
In 1978, anthropologist Ronald Cohen claimed that the identification of "ethnic groups" in the usage of social scientists often reflected inaccurate labels more than indigenous realities:
In this way, he pointed to the fact that identification of an ethnic group by outsiders, e.g. anthropologists, may not coincide with the self-identification of the members of that group.
He also described that in the first decades of usage, the term ethnicity had often been used in lieu of older terms such as "cultural" or "tribal" when referring to smaller groups with shared cultural systems and shared heritage, but that "ethnicity" had the added value of being able to describe the commonalities between systems of group identity in both tribal and modern societies.
Cohen also suggested that claims concerning "ethnic" identity (like earlier claims concerning "tribal" identity) are often colonialist practices and effects of the relations between colonized peoples and nation-states.
According to Paul James, formations of identity were often changed and distorted by colonization, but identities are not made out of nothing:
Social scientists have thus focused on how, when, and why different markers of ethnic identity become salient.
Thus, anthropologist Joan Vincent observed that ethnic boundaries often have a mercurial character.
Ronald Cohen concluded that ethnicity is "a series of nesting dichotomizations of inclusiveness and exclusiveness".
He agrees with Joan Vincent's observation that (in Cohen's paraphrase) "Ethnicity ... can be narrowed or broadened in boundary terms in relation to the specific needs of political mobilization.
This may be why descent is sometimes a marker of ethnicity, and sometimes not: which diacritic of ethnicity is salient depends on whether people are scaling ethnic boundaries up or down, and whether they are scaling them up or down depends generally on the political situation.
Kanchan Chandra rejects the expansive definitions of ethnic identity (such as those that include common culture, common language, common history and common territory), choosing instead to define ethnic identity narrowly as a subset of identity categories determined by the belief of common descent.
Approaches to understanding ethnicity
Different approaches to understanding ethnicity have been used by different social scientists when trying to understand the nature of ethnicity as a factor in human life and society.
As Jonathan M. Hall observes, World War II was a turning point in ethnic studies.
The consequences of Nazi racism discouraged essentialist interpretations of ethnic groups and race.
Ethnic groups came to be defined as social rather than biological entities.
Their coherence was attributed to shared myths, descent, kinship, a commonplace of origin, language, religion, customs, and national character.
So, ethnic groups are conceived as mutable rather than stable, constructed in discursive practices rather than written in the genes.
Examples of various approaches are primordialism, essentialism, perennialism, constructivism, modernism, and instrumentalism.
- "Primordialism", holds that ethnicity has existed at all times of human history and that modern ethnic groups have historical continuity into the far past. For them, the idea of ethnicity is closely linked to the idea of nations and is rooted in the pre-Weber understanding of humanity as being divided into primordially existing groups rooted by kinship and biological heritage.
- "Essentialist primordialism" further holds that ethnicity is an a priori fact of human existence, that ethnicity precedes any human social interaction and that it is unchanged by it. This theory sees ethnic groups as natural, not just as historical. It also has problems dealing with the consequences of intermarriage, migration and colonization for the composition of modern-day multi-ethnic societies.
- "Kinship primordialism" holds that ethnic communities are extensions of kinship units, basically being derived by kinship or clan ties where the choices of cultural signs (language, religion, traditions) are made exactly to show this biological affinity. In this way, the myths of common biological ancestry that are a defining feature of ethnic communities are to be understood as representing actual biological history. A problem with this view on ethnicity is that it is more often than not the case that mythic origins of specific ethnic groups directly contradict the known biological history of an ethnic community.
- "Geertz's primordialism", notably espoused by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, argues that humans in general attribute an overwhelming power to primordial human "givens" such as blood ties, language, territory, and cultural differences. In Geertz' opinion, ethnicity is not in itself primordial but humans perceive it as such because it is embedded in their experience of the world.
- "Perennialism", an approach that is primarily concerned with nationhood but tends to see nations and ethnic communities as basically the same phenomenon holds that the nation, as a type of social and political organization, is of an immemorial or "perennial" character. Smith (1999) distinguishes two variants: "continuous perennialism", which claims that particular nations have existed for very long periods, and "recurrent perennialism", which focuses on the emergence, dissolution and reappearance of nations as a recurring aspect of human history.
- "Perpetual perennialism" holds that specific ethnic groups have existed continuously throughout history.
- "Situational perennialism" holds that nations and ethnic groups emerge, change and vanish through the course of history. This view holds that the concept of ethnicity is a tool used by political groups to manipulate resources such as wealth, power, territory or status in their particular groups' interests. Accordingly, ethnicity emerges when it is relevant as a means of furthering emergent collective interests and changes according to political changes in society. Examples of a perennialist interpretation of ethnicity are also found in Barth and Seidner who see ethnicity as ever-changing boundaries between groups of people established through ongoing social negotiation and interaction.
- "Instrumentalist perennialism", while seeing ethnicity primarily as a versatile tool that identified different ethnics groups and limits through time, explains ethnicity as a mechanism of social stratification, meaning that ethnicity is the basis for a hierarchical arrangement of individuals. According to Donald Noel, a sociologist who developed a theory on the origin of ethnic stratification, ethnic stratification is a "system of stratification wherein some relatively fixed group membership (e.g., race, religion, or nationality) is utilized as a major criterion for assigning social positions". Ethnic stratification is one of many different types of social stratification, including stratification based on socio-economic status, race, or gender. According to Donald Noel, ethnic stratification will emerge only when specific ethnic groups are brought into contact with one another, and only when those groups are characterized by a high degree of ethnocentrism, competition, and differential power. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture, and to downgrade all other groups outside one's own culture. Some sociologists, such as Lawrence Bobo and Vincent Hutchings, say the origin of ethnic stratification lies in individual dispositions of ethnic prejudice, which relates to the theory of ethnocentrism. Continuing with Noel's theory, some degree of differential power must be present for the emergence of ethnic stratification. In other words, an inequality of power among ethnic groups means "they are of such unequal power that one is able to impose its will upon another". In addition to differential power, a degree of competition structured along ethnic lines is a prerequisite to ethnic stratification as well. The different ethnic groups must be competing for some common goal, such as power or influence, or a material interest, such as wealth or territory. Lawrence Bobo and Vincent Hutchings propose that competition is driven by self-interest and hostility, and results in inevitable stratification and conflict.
- "Constructivism" sees both primordialist and perennialist views as basically flawed, and rejects the notion of ethnicity as a basic human condition. It holds that ethnic groups are only products of human social interaction, maintained only in so far as they are maintained as valid social constructs in societies.
- "Modernist constructivism" correlates the emergence of ethnicity with the movement towards nation states beginning in the early modern period. Proponents of this theory, such as Eric Hobsbawm, argue that ethnicity and notions of ethnic pride, such as nationalism, are purely modern inventions, appearing only in the modern period of world history. They hold that prior to this, ethnic homogeneity was not considered an ideal or necessary factor in the forging of large-scale societies.
Ethnicity is an important means by which people may identify with a larger group.
They regard ethnicity as a product of specific kinds of inter-group interactions, rather than an essential quality inherent to human groups.
Processes that result in the emergence of such identification are called ethnogenesis.
Members of an ethnic group, on the whole, claim cultural continuities over time, although historians and cultural anthropologists have documented that many of the values, practices, and norms that imply continuity with the past are of relatively recent invention.
Ethnic groups can form a cultural mosaic in a society.
Ethnic groups differ from other social groups, such as subcultures, interest groups or social classes, because they emerge and change over historical periods (centuries) in a process known as ethnogenesis, a period of several generations of endogamy resulting in common ancestry (which is then sometimes cast in terms of a mythological narrative of a founding figure); ethnic identity is reinforced by reference to "boundary markers" – characteristics said to be unique to the group which set it apart from other groups.
Ethnicity theory in the United States
Ethnicity theory says that race is a social category and is but one of several factors in determining ethnicity.
Some other criteria include: "religion, language, 'customs,' nationality, and political identification".
This theory was put forth by sociologist Robert E. Park in the 1920s.
It is based on the notion of “culture”.
This theory was preceded by over a century where biological essentialism was the dominant paradigm on race.
Biological essentialism is the belief that white European races are biologically superior and other non-white races are inherently inferior.
This view arose as a way to justify slavery of Africans and genocide of the Native Americans in a society which was supposedly founded on freedom for all.
This was a notion that developed slowly and came to be a preoccupation with scientists, theologians, and the public.
Religious institutions asked questions about whether there had been multiple genesis's (polygenesis) and whether God had created lesser races of men.
Many of the foremost scientists of the time took up the idea of racial difference.
They would inadvertently find that white Europeans were superior.
One method that was used as the measurement of cranial capacity.
The ethnicity theory was based on the assimilation model.
Park outlined his four steps to assimilation: contact, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation.
Instead of explaining the marginalized status of people of color in the United States with an inherent biological inferiority, he instead said that it was a failure to assimilate into American culture that held people back.
They could be equal as long as they dropped their culture which was deficient compared to white culture.
They argue in Racial Formation in the United States that ethnicity theory was exclusively based on the immigration patterns of a white ethnic population and did not account for the unique experiences of non-whites in this country.
While this theory identities different stages in an immigration process – contact, conflict, struggle, and as the last and best response, assimilation – it did so only for white ethnic communities.
The ethnicity paradigm neglects the ways that race can complicate a community's interactions with basic social and political structures, especially upon contact.
And assimilation – shedding the particular qualities of a native culture for the purpose of blending in with a host culture – did not work for some groups as a response to racism and discrimination as it did for others.
Moreover, once the legal barriers to achieving equality had been dismantled, the problem of racism became the sole responsibility of already disadvantaged communities.
It was assumed that if a Black or Latino community was not 'making it' by the standards that had been set by white ethnics, it was because that community did not hold the right values or beliefs.
Or they must be stubbornly resisting dominant norms because they did not want to fit in.
Omi and Winant's critique of ethnicity theory explains how looking towards a cultural defect for the source of inequality ignores the "concrete sociopolitical dynamics within which racial phenomena operate in the U.S." In other words, buying into this approach effectively strips us of our ability to critically examine the more structural components of racism and encourages, instead, a “benign neglect” of social inequality.
Ethnicity and nationality
In some cases, especially involving transnational migration or colonial expansion, ethnicity is linked to nationality.
Anthropologists and historians, following the modernist understanding of ethnicity as proposed by Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson see nations and nationalism as developing with the rise of the modern state system in the 17th century.
They culminated in the rise of "nation-states" in which the presumptive boundaries of the nation coincided (or ideally coincided) with state boundaries.
Thus, in the West, the notion of ethnicity, like race and nation, developed in the context of European colonial expansion, when mercantilism and capitalism were promoting global movements of populations at the same time that state boundaries were being more clearly and rigidly defined.
In the 19th century, modern states generally sought legitimacy through their claim to represent "nations."
Nation-states, however, invariably include populations that have been excluded from national life for one reason or another.
Members of excluded groups, consequently, will either demand inclusion based on equality or seek autonomy, sometimes even to the extent of complete political separation in their nation-state.
Under these conditions – when people moved from one state to another, or one state conquered or colonized peoples beyond its national boundaries – ethnic groups were formed by people who identified with one nation, but lived in another state.
Multi-ethnic states can be the result of two opposite events, either the recent creation of state borders at variance with traditional tribal territories, or the recent immigration of ethnic minorities into a former nation-state.
Examples for the first case are found throughout Africa, where countries created during decolonization inherited arbitrary colonial borders, but also in European countries such as Belgium or United Kingdom.
Examples for the second case are countries such as Netherlands, which were relatively ethnically homogeneous when they attained statehood but have received significant immigration during the second half of the 20th century.
States such as the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland comprised distinct ethnic groups from their formation and have likewise experienced substantial immigration, resulting in what has been termed "multicultural" societies, especially in large cities.
The states of the New World were multi-ethnic from the onset, as they were formed as colonies imposed on existing indigenous populations.
In recent decades feminist scholars (most notably Nira Yuval-Davis) have drawn attention to the fundamental ways in which women participate in the creation and reproduction of ethnic and national categories.
Though these categories are usually discussed as belonging to the public, political sphere, they are upheld within the private, family sphere to a great extent.
It is here that women act not just as biological reproducers but also as 'cultural carriers', transmitting knowledge and enforcing behaviors that belong to a specific collectivity.
Women also often play a significant symbolic role in conceptions of nation or ethnicity, for example in the notion that 'women and children' constitute the kernel of a nation which must be defended in times of conflict, or in iconic figures such as Britannia or Marianne.
Ethnicity and race
Ethnicity is used as a matter of cultural identity of a group, often based on shared ancestry, language, and cultural traditions, while race is applied as a taxonomic grouping, based on physical or biological similarities within groups.
Race is a more controversial subject than ethnicity, due to common political use of the term.
Ramón Grosfoguel (University of California, Berkeley) argues that “racial/ethnic identity” is one concept and that concepts of race and ethnicity cannot be used as separate and autonomous categories.
Before Weber (1864-1920), race and ethnicity were primarily seen as two aspects of the same thing.
Around 1900 and before, the primordialist understanding of ethnicity predominated: cultural differences between peoples were seen as being the result of inherited traits and tendencies.
With Weber's introduction of the idea of ethnicity as a social construct, race and ethnicity became more divided from each other.
In 1950, the UNESCO statement "The Race Question", signed by some of the internationally renowned scholars of the time (including Ashley Montagu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gunnar Myrdal, Julian Huxley, etc.), stated:
In 1982, anthropologist David Craig Griffith summed up forty years of ethnographic research, arguing that racial and ethnic categories are symbolic markers for different ways that people from different parts of the world have been incorporated into a global economy:
In the U.S., the OMB states the definition of race as used for the purposes of the US Census is not "scientific or anthropological" and takes into account "social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry", using "appropriate scientific methodologies" that are not "primarily biological or genetic in reference".
Further information: Ethnic conflict
Sometimes ethnic groups are subject to prejudicial attitudes and actions by the state or its constituents.
In the 20th century, people began to argue that conflicts among ethnic groups or between members of an ethnic group and the state can and should be resolved in one of two ways.
Some, like Jürgen Habermas and Bruce Barry, have argued that the legitimacy of modern states must be based on a notion of political rights of autonomous individual subjects.
According to this view, the state should not acknowledge ethnic, national or racial identity but rather instead enforce political and legal equality of all individuals.
According to this view, states must recognize ethnic identity and develop processes through which the particular needs of ethnic groups can be accommodated within the boundaries of the nation-state.
The 19th century saw the development of the political ideology of ethnic nationalism, when the concept of race was tied to nationalism, first by German theorists including Johann Gottfried von Herder.
Instances of societies focusing on ethnic ties, arguably to the exclusion of history or historical context, have resulted in the justification of nationalist goals.
Each promoted the pan-ethnic idea that these governments were only acquiring lands that had always been inhabited by ethnic Germans.
The history of late-comers to the nation-state model, such as those arising in the Near East and south-eastern Europe out of the dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, as well as those arising out of the former USSR, is marked by inter-ethnic conflicts.
Such conflicts usually occur within multi-ethnic states, as opposed to between them, as in other regions of the world.
Thus, the conflicts are often misleadingly labeled and characterized as civil wars when they are inter-ethnic conflicts in a multi-ethnic state.
Ethnic groups by continent
Main article: Ethnic groups in Africa
Many ethnic groups and nations of Africa qualify, although some groups are of a size larger than a tribal society.
Main article: Ethnic groups in Asia
Main article: Ethnic groups in Europe
Europe has a large number of ethnic groups; Pan and Pfeil (2004) count 87 distinct "peoples of Europe", of which 33 form the majority population in at least one sovereign state, while the remaining 54 constitute ethnic minorities within every state they inhabit (although they may form local regional majorities within a sub-national entity).
The total number of national minority populations in Europe is estimated at 105 million people or 14% of 770 million Europeans.
The largest group is the Tatars 3.8%.
Many of the smaller groups are found in the Asian part of Russia (see Indigenous peoples of Siberia).
They originated from India and speak the Romani language.
There are some 26 ethnic groups in the province, and six languages are in official use by the provincial administration.
Main article: Ethnic groups in South America
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic group.