Ethnicity in the United States: A Preliminary Reconnaissance

Ethnicity in the United States: A Preliminary Reconnaissance

Ethnicity in the United States: A Preliminary Reconnaissance

Ethnicity in the United States: A Preliminary Reconnaissance

Excerpt

This book is devoted to a preliminary exploration of diversity in American society, a diversity that I call "ethnic." For two reasons, special emphasis will be placed on "ethnic" diversity in the narrow sense of the word, that is, diversity among the descendants of the white immigrant groups who came from western Europe in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. The reasons are that I am especially interested in the European- American ethnic groups, and that American social science either has ignored or written off as unimportant the existence of these European-American groups.

However, one cannot speak of the European-American ethnics and ignore the context of the total ethnic diversity in the United States. Hence the broader concern of this book is with that diversity in American society that most social researchers overlook -- that is, diversity not based on sex, age, or social class.

Although a preliminary effort that is a long way from being a definitive volume on American ethnic diversity, this book is far more advanced, I hope, than my Why Can't They Be Like Us? My colleagues and I at the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) have spent the last two years clearing the ground for further research on ethnic diversity. In this book I intend to report on that ground clearing. I am confident that five or more years of research are needed before any definitive work on American ethnic diversity can be written. I hope that this book raises more question than it answers, but I trust that it will be noted that some questions will be answered here, questions that heretofore have never been answered with the support of empirical evidence.

There ought to be no need to justify the study of ethnic diversity. As Fredrik Barth notes:

Practically all anthropological reasoning rests on the premise that cultural variation is discontinuous: that there are aggregates of people who essentially share a common culture, and interconnected differences that distinguish each such discrete culture from all others. Since culture is nothing but a way to describe human behaviour, it would follow that there are discrete groups of people, i.e. ethnic units, to correspond to each culture. . . .

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