Multiculturalism and Intergroup Relations

By James S. Frideres | Go to book overview

3.
CONTEMPORARY STATE POLICIES TOWARD SUBORDINATE ETHNICS Heribert Adam

Circumstantial Ethnicity

Ethnic consciousness always exists within a specific sociopolitical context. How ethnicity asserts itself--when it rises, declines, or disappears--depends primarily on the policies of the dominant group. Ethnic mobilization responds to grievances and to threats to status or security. It lays claims to rightful entitlement, aims at thwarting intrusion into autonomous realms, and inspires collective action in the name of cultural self-determination.

In this endeavour ethnicity can be manipulated. Ethnic symbols are used or created by elites to further their goals; situations are defined by the intellectual leaders of a group, and these portrayals and explanations then become a living reality for followers who, in turn, perceive and interpret their individual life experiences in terms of the dominant values of their reference group.

Such a political perspective on ethnicity differs from the emphasis on primordialism. The sociobiological focus on ethnicity as preferential kin selection can hardly shed light on the different state policies toward subordinate groups. Differential treatment depends on concrete historical circumstances. Reductionist, economistic generalizations of the neo-Marxist kind prove as unhelpful for the understanding of contemporary ethnic conflicts as the universalistic notions of genetic/evolutionary priorities espoused by sociobiologists such as Pierre van den Berghe ( 1981). Why governments chose particular

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