Identity, Culture and Historicity: The Social Construction of Ethnicity in the Balkans

By Wilmer, Franke | World Affairs, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Identity, Culture and Historicity: The Social Construction of Ethnicity in the Balkans


Wilmer, Franke, World Affairs


The topic of ethnic conflict has moved to center stage in the field of international relations within the past five years or so (Ryan 1990; deSilva and May 1991; Midlarsky 1992; Slann and Schechterman 1993; Moynihan 1993; Gurr 1993; Gurr and Harff 1994; James and Carment, forthcoming).(1) It has given added relevance to interdisciplinary work, drawing sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists into a common enterprise. In spite of the widespread perception that ethnic conflict is on the increase, recent studies suggest that states are actually more inclined to negotiate with aggrieved ethnic groups. At the same time, many ethnic movements are increasingly inclined to seek nonviolent means of achieving their aims.

Along with the growing attention paid to ethnic conflict,(2) international relations theory has witnessed what Lapid and Kratochwil call The Return of Culture and Identity in M Theory (Lapid and Kratochwil 1996; Connolly 1991; Zalewski and Enloe 1995; Peterson 1993) in an effort to locate the problem of ethnic conflict within the theoretical domain of international relations. One consequence of this move is that the state as a unit of analysis no longer occupies a privileged position. The state appears to be more movable, malleable, and contestable than ever. The state consists of a set of institutions that are authoritative only because other sets of institutions recognize them; it has been socially constructed within historical and interpretive social processes and practices. The relationships among people and groups within the state, and the relationship between states and the people on whose behalf they claim to act authoritatively, remain problematic, conflictual, and unstable.

The most problematic tensions between governments and those over whom (or on whose behalf) they assert authority run the gamut from deprivation of the basic necessities of life to widespread and routine abuses of human rights and finally to brutality, including the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Burundi (Kuper 1981, 1992). Thus, there is a third current propelling international relations scholars in new directions--an inquiry into the construction, deconstruction, transformation, and adaptation of civil society (Colas 1996; Cohen and Arato 1992; Kumar 1993). The concept of civil society is applicable to both the conditions of civility within multiethnic states (which includes nearly all states) and the prospects for an emerging, multicultural, global civic society and culture (Colas 1996; Boulding 1988).

The boundaries of the state are not always coterminous with the boundaries of a civil society, and they are almost never coterminous with ethnically homogeneous populations. Michael Ignatieff has suggested that the problem is one of transferring the basis of loyalties from national forms of identity to a loyalty grounded in civic obligation (1993). This may be only part of the answer, since multiethnic states like the United States seem quite capable of mobilizing national passions for projection on external (the Soviet Union) as well as internal (during the "Red Scare" era) enemies. Questions about the conditions leading to uncivil society lurk in the shadows of discussions about civil society. Civil strife and overt brutality point to the breakdown or failure of civil society both in domestic and in global terms. It is in these instances that the broader framework of a global civil society becomes most salient, when foreign policies can be brought to bear on the conduct of human rights abuses and war crimes tribunals can attempt to hold individuals responsible for uncivilized transgressions, even if global civil society as yet seems unable to stop brutalities when doing so would save lives.

The questions most often asked regarding the Balkans war of 1990-95--How did it happen? and Why did it happen in Europe?--bear directly on these interrelated inquiries in contemporary international relations, leading us to ask: How do civil relations within a state (Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Burundi) descend into the furthest depths of brutality in the name of conflicts over identity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Identity, Culture and Historicity: The Social Construction of Ethnicity in the Balkans
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.