Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Census

Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Census

Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Census

Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Census

Synopsis

This study examines the ways that states have attempted to pigeon-hole the people within their boundaries into racial, ethnic, and language categories. These attempts, whether through American efforts to divide the U.S. population into mutually exclusive racial categories, or through the Soviet system of inscribing nationality categories on internal passports, have important implications not only for people's own identities and life chances, but for national political and social processes as well. The book reviews the history of these categorizing efforts by the state, offers a theoretical context for examining them, and illustrates the case with studies from a range of countries.

Excerpt

A surge of interest in how collective identities are produced and, in particular, in the role of political actors and governments in fostering such identities has been evident for a number of years now. Yet scholarly interest in the intersection of these identities with state-level politics has a long pedigree. In the nineteenth century, scholars were heavily involved in the efforts of various European empires (Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman) to categorize and hence better control their heterogeneous populations. Later, following World War II, attention shifted to the efforts of new postcolonial states to create national identities amidst a welter of competing “tribal” and racial identities.

Census and Identity arose from an interest in these questions of states and collective identities shared by a group of scholars based at the Watson Institute of International Studies at Brown University, under the aegis of the Institute's Research Program in Politics, Culture, and Identity. We became fascinated by the ways in which states entered into the struggle over collective identity formation, and saw the state-sponsored census as an especially promising vehicle for examining these processes. Academic interest in the role of censuses in the projection of state power is, of course, not new. A large number of country-specific studies of identity categorization in censuses have now been published, some with a historical focus and others with a more contemporary bent. Notable, too, is Benedict Anderson's decision to add a chapter to the second edition of his now classic book, Imagined Communities, devoted to the role of censuses (along with maps and museums) in the construction of national identity.

But to date no one has attempted a comparative study of the role of censuses in collective identity formation that has ranged across all types of states. This is what we have set out to do here, by bringing together scholars with diverse geographical specialties–from central Asia to central Africa, from Israel to North and South America–and different disciplinary backgrounds – from anthropology and sociology to political science and demography. Throughout we adopt a broad historical view.

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