Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions

Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions

Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions

Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions


Ethnicity has been a key concept in anthropology and sociology for many years, yet many people still seem uncertain as to its meaning, its relevance, and its relationship to other concepts such as 'race' and nationalism. In Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions the major anthropological and sociological approaches to ethnicity, covering much of the significant literature and leading authors, are outlined clearly and concisely.The term ethnicity has been used to describe human social interaction, but particularly in relation to groups that would previously have been described as 'tribes', and to minority migrant groups and their 'host' societies. Certain classic works are discussed and particular attention is paid to the considerable literature on ethnic minorities in Britain and the United States. Two case studies - on 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia, and accusations of racism in a British school dispute - are presented to demonstrate how concepts of ethnicity, 'race' and nationalism have recently been used by the public and press.


Quite suddenly, with little comment or ceremony, ethnicity is an ubiquitous presence. Even a brief glance through titles of books and monographs over the past few years indicates a steadily accelerating acceptance and application of the terms 'ethnicity' and 'ethnic' to refer to what was before often subsumed under 'culture', 'cultural', or 'tribal'.

(Ronald Cohen 1978:379)

Despite Cohen's confident assertion it now seems clear, some fifteen years later, that he was describing a rather transient phenomenon. Certainly, books and monographs are still published that contain the key terms 'ethnicity' and 'ethnic' in their titles, but my impression is that they are less common than they were in the heyday of the 1970s. Anthropological interests have moved on since then and new topics and theoretical interests have seized the imagination. Ethnicity is not necessarily relevant to these new interests or, if it is, it has yet to be demonstrated.

Yet ethnicity continues to fascinate and perplex, particularly students of anthropology who sometimes feel bewildered by the vast and disjointed range of possible reading recommended to them. The purpose of this book is not to offer a startling or radical new interpretation of ethnicity, but to attempt to summarize and link much of the important work that has already been done. The linkage is not always easy. A number of disciplines have contributed to our understanding of ethnicity-anthropology, sociology and social geography are the major ones, but there have also been contributions from social psychology, sociobiology, social work and educational theory, and even literary studies. I could not possibly hope to cover all these disciplines and my major focus is therefore on anthropology and sociology.

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