An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of 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 is sometimes used interchangeably with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from, but related to the concept of races.
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. Ethnic groups may share a narrow or broad spectrum of genetic ancestry, depending on group identification, with many groups having mixed genetic ancestry. Ethnic groups often continue to speak related languages.
By way of language shift, acculturation, adoption and religious conversion, individuals or groups may over time shift from one ethnic group to another. Ethnic groups may be subdivided into subgroups or tribes, which over time may become separate ethnic groups themselves due to endogamy or physical isolation from the parent group. Conversely, formerly separate ethnicities can merge to form a pan-ethnicity and may eventually merge into one single ethnicity. Whether through division or amalgamation, the formation of a separate ethnic identity is referred to as ethnogenesis.
Although both organic and performative criteria characterise ethnic groups, debate in the past had dichotomised between primordialism and constructivism. Earlier twentieth century 'Primordialists' viewed ethnic groups as real phenomena whose distinct characteristics have endured since the distant past. Perspectives which developed after 1960s increasingly viewed ethnic groups as social constructs', with identity assigned by societal rules.
The term ethnic is derived from the Greek word ἔθνος ethnos (more precisely, from the adjective ἐθνικός ethnikos, which was loaned into Latin as ethnicus). The inherited English language term for this concept is folk, used alongside the latinate people since the late Middle English period.
In Early Modern English and until the mid-19th century, ethnic was used to mean heathen or pagan (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". The Greek term in early antiquity (Homeric Greek) could refer to any large group, a host of men, a band of comrades as well as a swarm or flock of animals. In Classical Greek, the term took on a meaning comparable to the concept now expressed by "ethnic group", mostly translated as "nation, 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. Depending on context, the term nationality may be used either synonymously with ethnicity or synonymously with citizenship (in a sovereign state). The process that results in emergence of an ethnicity is called ethnogenesis, a term in use in ethnological literature since about 1950. 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:
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.
Ethnography begins in classical antiquity; after early authors like Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus laid the foundation of both historiography and ethnography of the ancient world c. 480 BC. The Greeks had 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
Whether ethnicity qualifies as a cultural universal is to some extent dependent on the exact definition used. Many social scientists, such as anthropologists Fredrik Barth and Eric Wolf, do not consider ethnic identity to be universal. They regard ethnicity as a product of specific kinds of inter-group interactions, rather than an essential quality inherent to human groups.[irrelevant citation]
According to Thomas Hylland Eriksen, the study of ethnicity was dominated by two distinct debates until recently.
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.
Max Weber maintained that ethnic groups were künstlich (artificial, i.e. a social construct) because they were based on a subjective belief in shared Gemeinschaft (community). 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:
... the named ethnic identities we accept, often unthinkingly, as basic givens in the literature are often arbitrarily, or even worse inaccurately, imposed.
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:
Categorizations about identity, even when codified and hardened into clear typologies by processes of colonization, state formation or general modernizing processes, are always full of tensions and contradictions. Sometimes these contradictions are destructive, but they can also be creative and positive.
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.
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.
Ethnicity is an important means by which people may identify with a larger group. Many social scientists, such as anthropologists Fredrik Barth and Eric Wolf, do not consider ethnic identity to be universal. They regard ethnicity as a product of specific kinds of inter-group interactions, rather than an essential quality inherent to human groups. The process that results in emergence of such identification is 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. That could be in a city like New York City or Trieste, but also the fallen monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the USA. Current topics are in particular social and cultural differentiation, multilingualism, competing identity offers, multiple cultural identities and the formation of Salad bowl and melting pot. 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 argues that race is a social category and is only one of several factors in determining ethnicity. Other criteria include "religion, language, 'customs', nationality, and political identification". This theory was put forward by sociologist Robert E. Park in the 1920s. It is based on the notion of "culture".
This theory was preceded by more than 100 years during which biological essentialism was the dominant paradigm on race. Biological essentialism is the belief that some races, specifically white Europeans in western versions of the paradigm, are biologically superior and other races, specifically non-white races in western debates, are inherently inferior. This view arose as a way to justify enslavement of African Americans and genocide of Native Americans in a society that was officially 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 creations of races (polygenesis) and whether God had created lesser races. Many of the foremost scientists of the time took up the idea of racial difference and found that white Europeans were superior.
The ethnicity theory was based on the assimilation model. Park outlined four steps to assimilation: contact, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation. Instead of attributing the marginalized status of people of color in the United States to their inherent biological inferiority, he attributed it to their failure to assimilate into American culture. They could become equal if they abandoned their inferior cultures.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant's theory of racial formation directly confronts both the premises and the practices of ethnicity theory. They argue in Racial Formation in the United States that the ethnicity theory was exclusively based on the immigration patterns of the white population and did take into account the unique experiences of non-whites in the United States. While Park's theory identified different stages in the immigration process – contact, conflict, struggle, and as the last and best response, assimilation – it did so only for white communities. The ethnicity paradigm neglected the ways in which race can complicate a community's interactions with social and political structures, especially upon contact.
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, though it did for others. 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 whites, it was because that community did not hold the right values or beliefs, or were stubbornly resisting dominant norms because they did not want to fit in. Omi and Winant's critique of ethnicity theory explains how looking to cultural defect as the source of inequality ignores the "concrete sociopolitical dynamics within which racial phenomena operate in the U.S." It prevents critical examination of the structural components of racism and encourages a "benign neglect" of social inequality.
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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 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 who 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 in the 17th century and even more so in 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 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 similarities among 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 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.), said:
National, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural groups do not necessarily coincide with racial groups: and the cultural traits of such groups have no demonstrated genetic connection with racial traits. Because serious errors of this kind are habitually committed when the term "race" is used in popular parlance, it would be better when speaking of human races to drop the term "race" altogether and speak of "ethnic groups".
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 people from different parts of the world have been incorporated into a global economy:
The opposing interests that divide the working classes are further reinforced through appeals to "racial" and "ethnic" distinctions. Such appeals serve to allocate different categories of workers to rungs on the scale of labor markets, relegating stigmatized populations to the lower levels and insulating the higher echelons from competition from below. Capitalism did not create all the distinctions of ethnicity and race that function to set off categories of workers from one another. It is, nevertheless, the process of labor mobilization under capitalism that imparts to these distinctions their effective values.
The term "ethnic" popularly connotes "[race]" in Britain, only less precisely, and with a lighter value load. In North America, by contrast, "[race]" most commonly means color, and "ethnics" are the descendants of relatively recent immigrants from non-English-speaking countries. "[Ethnic]" is not a noun in Britain. In effect there are no "ethnics"; there are only "ethnic relations".
In the U.S., the OMB says 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".
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. Others, like Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, argue that the notion of the autonomous individual is itself a cultural construct. 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. Two periods frequently cited as examples of this are the 19th-century consolidation and expansion of the German Empire and the 20th century Nazi Germany. Each promoted the pan-ethnic idea that these governments were acquiring only 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.
Many ethnic groups and nations of Africa qualify,[clarification needed] although some groups are of a size larger than a tribal society. These mostly originate with the Sahelian kingdoms of the medieval period, such as that of the Akan, deriving from Bonoman (11th century) then the Hobyo Sultanate (17th century).
Ethnic groups are abundant throughout Asia, with adaptations to the climate zones of Asia, which can be the Arctic, subarctic, temperate, subtropical or tropical. The ethnic groups have adapted to mountains, deserts, grasslands, and forests.
On the coasts of Asia, the ethnic groups have adopted various methods of harvest and transport. Some groups are primarily hunter-gatherers, some practice transhumance (nomadic lifestyle), others have been agrarian/rural for millennia and others becoming industrial/urban. Some groups/countries of Asia are completely urban, such as those in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Singapore. The colonization of Asia was largely ended in the 20th century, with national drives for independence and self-determination across the continent.
Russia has more than 185 recognized ethnic groups besides the eighty percent ethnic Russian majority. The largest group is the Tatars, 3.8 percent. Many of the smaller groups are found in the Asian part of Russia (see Indigenous peoples of Siberia).
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 Serbian province of Vojvodina is recognizable for its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural identity. There are some 26 ethnic groups in the province, and six languages are in official use by the provincial administration.
The indigenous people in North America are Native Americans. During European colonization, Europeans arrived in North America. Native Americans died due to Spanish diseases and other European diseases such as smallpox during the European colonization of the Americas. The largest ethnic group in the United States is White Americans. Hispanic and Latino Americans (Mexican Americans in particular) and Asian Americans have immigrated to the United States recently. In Mexico, most Mexicans are mestizo, a mixture of Spanish and Native American ancestry.
African slaves were brought to North America from the 16th to 19th centuries. In the United States, their descendants are called African Americans.
In South America, most people are mixed-race, mulatto, indigenous, European especially Spanish or Portuguese and mestizo.
The first evident ethnic group to live in Australia were the Australian Aboriginals, a group considered related to the Torres Strait Islander people. Europeans, primarily from England arrived first in 1770.
The 2016 Census shows England and New Zealand are the next most common countries of birth after Australia, the proportion of people born in China and India has increased since 2011 (from 6.0 per cent to 8.3 per cent, and 5.6 per cent to 7.4 per cent, respectively).
The number of people identifying as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin increased from 2.5 per cent of the Australian population in 2011 to 2.8 per cent in 2016.
In essence, an ethnic group is a named social category of people based on perceptions of shared social experience or one's ancestors' experiences. Members of the ethnic group see themselves as sharing cultural traditions and history that distinguish them from other groups. Ethnic group identity has a strong psychological or emotional component that divides the people of the world into opposing categories of 'us' and 'them'. In contrast to social stratification, which divides and unifies people along a series of horizontal axes based on socioeconomic factors, ethnic identities divide and unify people along a series of vertical axes. Thus, ethnic groups, at least theoretically, cut across socioeconomic class differences, drawing members from all strata of the population.
- 2.a. About race; peculiar to a race or nation; ethnological. Also, about or having common racial, cultural, religious, or linguistic characteristics, esp. designating a racial or other group within a larger system; hence (U.S. colloq.), foreign, exotic.
- b ethnic minority (group), a group of people differentiated from the rest of the community by racial origins or cultural background, and usu. claiming or enjoying official recognition of their group identity. Also attrib.
- 3 A member of an ethnic group or minority. Equatorians
(Oxford English Dictionary Second edition, online version as of 2008-01-12, s.v. "ethnic, a. and n.")
Ethnicity is a fundamental factor in human life: it is a phenomenon inherent in human experience.
Akan migration.Wickens, Gerald E; Lowe, Pat (2008). The Baobabs: Pachycauls of Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Springer Science+Business Media. 2008. p. 360. ISBN 978-1-4020-6431-9.
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