Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

External Elements in the Construction and Demise of Ethnicity and Identity

Academic journal article International Journal on World Peace

External Elements in the Construction and Demise of Ethnicity and Identity

Article excerpt


The construction of ethnic identity is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, including psychological, biological, social, cultural, and political interaction. Beginning with infant-mother-family relations, ethnicity evolves through group experiences, geographical constraints, biological imperatives, and political aspirations. Equally important in these explanations of ethnic identity are intercultural relations. Indeed, the clash of cultures can be a driving force behind ethnic identity construction as cultural minorities struggle to resist domination and achieve the basic human right of self-determination. Their resistance and quest for liberation can potentially affect the stability of the international system which has long ignored them. Researchers must better understand these cultural, ethnic, and linguistic minorities, and policy makers must accommodate their demands for the world to pass peacefully through the twenty-first century

International cooperation in pursuit of social, cultural, and economic development is a basic human necessity. This cooperation will be affected by major changes in the global environment rapidly being transformed from one of traditional borders to transnational bodies. Nation states are gradually giving up their power to a newly emerging global system. Borders themselves are no longer as rigid as travel, telecommunications, and technology penetrate the nation state. Multinational and non-government organizations are assuming greater authority as are international regional organizations. Sub-national groups are also emerging, more confident, more demanding in the pursuit of their basic human rights for self- determination.

Despite these fundamental changes, many foreign policymakers and researchers still treat the international community as a political-legal regime based on national sovereignty. This approach obscures many powerful forces in the world which statesmen must understand and accommodate. The purpose of this paper is to conceptualize one aspect of these forces, cultural interaction, to help analysts understand the demands of sub-national minorities as well as the role of external factors in the construction of ethnic identity.


Cultural interaction has been widely examined, particularly as an aspect of domination. Franz Fanon treated the concept as a vestige of colonialism, while Paulo Freire saw it additionally as a socio-psychological phenomenon. Others posit differing causes for minority domination and dependency within nation states ranging from economic development, technology, conflicting models of rationality, tourism, and information. Some argue that the right to be left alone, to preserve indigenous culture is a basic human right. They conclude that the cultural rights of minority groups are analogous to human rights for individuals and are protected under international law.

The continued domination of ethnic, linguistic, racial, and sub-national minorities by national states will either lead to their defiance and subsequent discord in world politics, or produce a dependency so debilitating that the subgroups will disappear, completely co-opted into the dominant culture. The ultimate result of this cooptation may become a cultural genocide in which the subgroups are completely destroyed.

Genocide evokes the ovens of Auschwitz, the mass graves of Kampuchea, the Battle of Wounded Knee. Defined as "acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group," the word genocide was first used by Raphael Lemkin to describe Nazi acts in occupied Europe. In its death camps, the German government murdered entire groups of its own nationals as well as those from conquered states. Such atrocities could no longer be regarded as domestic acts even when they occurred within a state's borders. Rather, they came to be treated as "crimes against humanity."

In response to the revulsion of these crimes in Nazi Europe, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously accepted in 1946 a resolution which condemned genocide as a crime under international law. …

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