MC History Constructionist Approach Discussion


2 attachmentsSlide 1 of 2attachment_1attachment_1attachment_2attachment_2

Unformatted Attachment Preview

Ethnicity and Race
Titles of Related Interest
From Pine Forge Press
Gods in the Global Village, Second Edition, by Lester R. Kurtz
Cities in a World Economy, Third Edition, by Saskia Sassen
The Sociology of Childhood, Second Edition, by William A. Corsaro
Cultures in a Changing World, Second Edition, by Wendy Griswold
Development and Social Change, Third Edition, by Philip McMichael
Women and Men at Work, Second Edition, by Irene Padavic
Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and
Change, Fourth Edition, by Joseph F. Healey
Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, Second Edition, by
Joseph F. Healey
Race, Ethnicity, and Gender: Selected Readings, Second Edition, edited by
Joseph F. Healey and Eileen O’Brien
Diversity in America, Second Edition, by Vincent Parrillo
Making Societies, by William G. Roy
Aging, Social Inequality, and Public Policy, by Fred C. Pampel
Schools and Societies, by Steven Brint
Gender, Family, and Social Movements, by Suzanne Staggenborg
Global Inequalities, by York W. Bradshaw
Waves of Democracy, by John Markoff
Constructing Social Research, by Charles C. Ragin
Crimes and Disrepute, by John Hagan
How Societies Change, by Daniel Chirot
Women, Politics, and Power, by Pamela Paxton
Ethnicity and Race
Making Identities in a Changing World
University of Arizona
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Copyright © 2007 by Pine Forge Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or
by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.
For information:
Pine Forge Press
A Sage Publications Company
2455 Teller Road
Thousand Oaks, California 91320
Sage Publications Ltd.
1 Oliver’s Yard
55 City Road
London EC1Y 1SP
United Kingdom
Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd.
B-42, Panchsheel Enclave
Post Box 4109
New Delhi 110 017 India
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cornell, Stephen E. (Stephen Ellicott), 1948- Ethnicity and race: Making identities
in a changing world / Stephen Cornell, Douglas Hartmann.—2nd ed.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-4129-4110-5 or 978-1-4129-4110-5 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Race. 2. Ethnicity. 3. Minorities. 4. Group identity. I. Hartmann, Douglas. II.
HT1521.C64 2007
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
06 07 08 09 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Acquisitions Editor:
Editorial Assistant:
Production Editor:
Copy Editor:
Benjamin Penner
Camille Herrera
Denise Santoyo
Carla Freeman
C&M Digitals (P) Ltd.
Rick Hurd
About the Authors
Stephen Cornell is Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona,
where he also directs the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. His
PhD is from the University of Chicago. He taught at Harvard University
for nine years and at the University of California, San Diego, for nine
more before joining the Arizona faculty in 1998. He has written widely on
ethnicity and race and on issues involving indigenous peoples in the
United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Douglas Hartmann is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University
of Minnesota, where he teaches and writes on social theory,
multiculturalism, popular culture, and race relations. He received his PhD
from the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Race,
Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete: The 1968 African American
Olympic Protests and Their Aftermath (2003).
Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition
1. The Puzzles of Ethnicity and Race
An Unexpected Persistence and Power
A Puzzling Diversity of Forms
Ethnicity and Race as Sociological Topics
An Outline of What Follows
2. Mapping the Terrain: Definitions
The Definition of Ethnicity
The Definition of Race
Ethnicity and Race
Nationalism and Belonging
3. Fixed or Fluid? Alternative Views of Ethnicity and Race
The Assimilationist Assumption
Primordialism and Circumstantialism Compared
4. A Constructionist Approach
The Construction of Ethnic and Racial Identities
The Nature of Ethnic and Racial Bonds
The Problem of Authenticity
The Reconstruction of Circumstances
The Logic of Ethnic and Racial Construction
Reframing Intergroup Relations
5. Case Studies in Identity Construction
Case 1. The Power of Circumstances: Blacks and Indians in the
United States
Case 2. Between Assertion and Assignment: Chinese Americans
in Mississippi
Case 3. From Thick Ethnicity to Thin: German Americans
Case 4. Constructed Primordiality and Ethnic Power: Afrikaners in
South Africa
Case 5. From Thin Ethnicity to Thick: Basketball and War in the
Former Yugoslavia
Case 6. Race, Culture, and Belonging: Who Is France?
A Comparison of Cases
6. Construction Sites: Contextual Factors in the Making of Identities
Critical Sites
Labor Markets
Residential Space
Social Institutions
Daily Experience
Summarizing Contextual Factors
7. What They Bring: Group Factors in the Making of Identities
Preexisting Identities
Population Size
Internal Differentiation
Social Capital
Human Capital
Symbolic Repertoires
Groups, Contexts, and Agendas
8. Making Sense and Making Selves in a Changing World
The Impact of Modernity
Mixing and Multiplicity
Separation and Consolidation
Making Sense, Making Selves, Making Others
ociology for a New Century offers the best of current sociological
thinking to today’s students. The goal of the series is to prepare
students, and—in the long run—the informed public, for a world that
has changed dramatically in the last three decades and one that continues
to astonish.
This goal reflects important changes that have taken place in sociology.
The discipline has become broader in orientation, with an ever-growing
interest in research that is comparative, historical, or transnational in
orientation. Sociologists are less focused on “American” society as the
pinnacle of human achievement and more sensitive to global processes and
trends. They have also become less insulated from surrounding social
forces. In the 1970s and 1980s, sociologists were so obsessed with
constructing a science of society that they saw impenetrability as a sign of
success. Today, there is a greater effort to connect sociology to the
ongoing concern and experiences of the informed public.
Each book in this series offers a comparative, historical, transnational,
or global perspective in some way, to help broaden students’ vision.
Students need to be sensitized to diversity in today’s world and to the
sources of diversity. Knowledge of diversity challenges the limitations of
conventional ways of thinking about social life. At the same time, students
need to be sensitized to the fact that issues that may seem specifically
“American” (for example, the women’s movement, an aging population
bringing a strained social security and health care system, racial conflict,
national chauvinism, and so on) are shared by many other countries.
Awareness of commonalities undercuts the tendency to view social issues
and questions in narrowly American terms and encourages students to seek
out the experiences of others for the lessons they offer. Finally, students
also need to be sensitized to phenomena that transcend national
boundaries, economics, and politics.
One such phenomenon that is both common, in that it occurs
everywhere, and global, in that it crosses and often denies national
boundaries, is the construction of identity. While there are many such
constructions— gender, religion, class—this book deals with two of the
most significant and vexing in the contemporary world: ethnicity and race.
Cornell and Hartmann clearly demonstrate that ethnicity and race are
social constructions. Political opportunities, economic constraints, and
cultural assumptions all draw and redraw ethnic and racial boundaries and
infuse them with meaning. Globalization, moreover, picks up the pace of
such reformations of personhood and peoplehood.
At the same time, the fact that ethnicity and race are social constructions
does not render them insignificant or epiphenomenal. Far from it. Ethnic
and racial categorizations are powerful in their consequences for objective
hierarchies of advantage and for subjective feelings of membership or
exclusion. Cornell and Hartmann have written an evenhanded and
provocative exploration that shows how these characterizations can both
be imagined and at the same time be absolutely fundamental to social life
and to one’s deepest sense of self. Readers of their book will see
everything from ethnic conflict in Eastern European cities to
multiculturalism in American schools with a fresh understanding and a
sociological eye.
Preface to the Second Edition
hen Pine Forge Press first approached us about doing a second
edition of Ethnicity and Race, we were hesitant. The first edition
wasn’t perfect (what book ever is?), but we felt it had served both
its purposes and ours fairly well. We knew that our students and
colleagues found the ways we had distinguished and combined race and
ethnicity useful. We were also satisfied that the mix of examples from the
United States and elsewhere as well as our broader world-historical
orientation remained valuable. As for the book’s underlying emphases on
group formation and collective identification or our more general
constructionist approach, these seemed to us to remain important. Changes
in these areas would have been so fundamental as to require an altogether
new volume.
At the same time, we knew that a book like this one could not stay
relevant forever. Things happen, new identities take shape, and old ones
wither away or are transformed. Scholars, for their part, produce articles
and books addressing these new developments and continue to come up
with fresh perspectives on the old ones as well. Even as the first edition
went to press, we fretted about how the appearance of new identities and
events (or publications) could undermine or strengthen core elements of
our analysis. And, of course, our own ideas changed over time: We learned
more. At a certain point, then, we decided that if we were to reach a new
generation of scholars, revisions would be necessary. As a consequence,
new material—some of it minor, some of it extensive—appears throughout
this new edition.
In the process of researching and incorporating these revisions, we
learned that second editions are a lot like remodeling projects: Once you
start making a few modest improvements, they set in motion other
changes, and then you start to see other things that can be tweaked and
tinkered with and supplemented and expanded upon, and before you know
it you have a major project on your hands. It is a project we are grateful to
have undertaken. Not only have we brought our coverage of ethnic and
racial formations and the ever-expanding scholarly literature on them up13
to-date, but we have also been able to sharpen and expand some key
analytic points. Many of the changes in this edition are minor, such as
improvements in phrasing, new illustrative or empirical materials, updated
references, and a few corrections. Some, however, are more substantial
and significant. They include the following:
In Chapter 3, we have added a new subsection, “assimilation
revisited,” on assimilation and segmented assimilation. This section
not only reflects the thinking on these topics that has appeared since
we wrote the first edition; it has also helped us to clarify our own
thoughts about the contributions of circumstantialist approaches.
A new subsection on “the invisibility of racial dominance” appears in
Chapter 4. It was inspired by recent work in Whiteness studies and
critical race theory, as well as emerging ideas about the relationships
between race and nation in liberal democratic contexts.
We have also incorporated, in a section on “reframing intergroup
relations” in Chapter 4, some of our own more recent thinking about
the ethnicity and race paradigms or analytical frames that have
sometimes talked past each other in American sociology.
We have added a sixth case study to Chapter 5 on race, culture, and
belonging in contemporary France, motivated by the urban uprisings
in the fall of 2005. This case allows us to explore the often-hidden
cultural and structural factors that produce and perpetuate racial and
ethnic identities in ostensibly universalist, antiracist, democratic
Finally, throughout the text, we have tried to clarify the theoretical
underpinnings of our constructionist framework and our particular
synthesis of work on both ethnicity and race.
Although we were unable—or sometimes unwilling—to incorporate all
of their suggestions, we continued to learn from our colleagues and our
students, and we thank them for their sometimes critical engagement with
our ideas. We benefited particularly from two workshops on immigration,
race, and ethnicity organized by the Social Science Research Council’s
Committee on International Migration in 2001 and 2002. We are grateful
to Nancy Foner and George M. Fredrickson for inviting us to participate in
the workshops and to contribute a chapter to the resulting volume (Foner
and Fredrickson 2004), to Josh DeWind for substantive comments and for
facilitating these exchanges, and to the other participants for their generous
response to our work. Some of the ideas from that chapter appear, in
modified form, in the revised Chapter 4.
In preparation for this second edition, Pine Forge Press invited a number
of anonymous reviewers to respond to our proposal for revisions. Their
comments were instructive and helpful. We also received useful feedback
and suggestions from Ron Aminzade, Monte Bute, Ashley Doane, Nancy
Foner, George Fredrickson, Chip Gallagher, Ann Hironaka, Trica Keaton,
Joya Misra, Ann Morning, Joane Nagel, Rubén Rumbaut, and Paul
Spickard. Even those ideas that didn’t make their way into the book have
helped to make it better.
When we got to work in earnest, we received able research assistance
from Karen Gordon, Xuefeng Zhang, Paola Molina, Kimberly Abraham,
and Pamela Dixon. They deserve our thanks, as do Ben Penner of Pine
Forge Press, for his encouragement and patience, and Carla Freeman, for
her thorough, instructive, and enjoyable copyediting. We also want to
correct an oversight in our acknowledgments in the first edition of this
book. In that first edition, we somehow neglected to thank Mary Waters
for sharing not only her insights and comments but also some of her
unpublished papers with us. We are glad to seize the opportunity to thank
her now.
Finally, we have benefited once again from the forbearance of our
spouses, Maura Grogan and Teresa Swartz, both of whom are
professionals with careers of their own. Books are relentlessly imperial
projects; even revisions eventually take over your life. At such times, you
come to appreciate elasticity in relationships, a capacity to bend without
breaking. We have been fortunate in our partners, and we are grateful.
Preface to the First Edition
eeks after this book was substantially out of our hands, making its
way from editor to editor and then to press, we found ourselves
still combing the newspapers, the magazines, and the Internet, to
say nothing of the social scientific literature, for news from the ethnic and
racial frontiers of the world. This impulse to keep gathering material
reflects in part a continuing search for ammunition for argument, for new
mysteries or old puzzles, for information or ideas that might help in the
quest for understanding, a quest that seldom ends with the completion of
such a project. But part of it is simply habit. When you begin to pay
focused attention to a topic, trying to think it through, your radar tends to
expand in both sensitivity and reach. You become a compulsive reader,
and it takes a while to wind back down again, to return the system to the
less focused and more casual sweeping of the horizon that constitutes the
everyday observational life of most members of society.
Among the gleanings we found in the first few months of 1997 [when
the first edition of this book went to press]: reports of ethnic insurgency in
western China; a piece on the likelihood that Whites will become a
minority in California; an item on army efforts to subdue ethnic rebellion
in urban areas of Indonesia; a report on the outrage expressed by Russian
Americans over ethnic slurs in the wake of the arrest of a Russian
immigrant for the murder of entertainer Bill Cosby’s son; an item on the
successful effort of an Australian of English descent to pass off her own
art as the work of an Aborigine, one of Australia’s indigenous people,
angrily described as “culture theft”; news of recurrent ethnic violence in
northeastern India; a passionate, at times furious discussion of the pros and
cons of interracial adoption; a piece on the disputed ethnicity of Russia’s
Cossacks and their efforts to gain recognition as a distinct people;
numerous reports on the near-fatal beating of a Black boy by three White
teenagers in Chicago; and so on.
It is sobering to undertake a book about topics that arouse as much
passion as is evident in these stories and others like them. Ethnicity and
race touch deep feelings in many people around the globe and occupy
much of the world’s attention. One of our purposes is to understand why,
but we would be the first to admit that in the process of writing this book,
we have sometimes found ourselves with questions for which we have no
Be that as it may, we want to point out four features of what we offer
here. First, the book is global in scope. As the gleanings from our media
radar suggest, ethnic and racial frontiers—by which we mean the places
where ethnicity and race are making waves and, in turn, are themselves
being made and remade—today can be found virtually everywhere. This
book consciously acknowledges that fact. One of the goals of the
Sociology for a New Century series is to present sociological thinking
that is focused less exclusively on the United States and is more attentive
to the diversities and continuities in social life around the world. In the
field of ethnicity and race, we believe such a perspective is particularly
important. Despite the global distribution of ethnic and racial phenomena,
much theorizing about ethnicity and race has been based on the U.S.
experience. This is understandable. One reviewer of some of our work
even argued that ethnicity is a useless concept outside the United States
and that the only ethnic groups in the United States are those of European
descent. Our disagreement with this view should be amply apparent
throughout this book—see Chapter 2 in particular—but it remains the case
that the concept of ethnicity was taken up by social science in an attempt
to understand American situations and gained much of its currency in an
American context. Furthermore, the legacy of conquest, slavery, and largescale immigration has required Americans of all backgrounds to confront
race, racism, and intergroup relations in forms and with an urgency that
many Western nations, whose racial “others” for a long time were largely
in colonies thousands of miles away, have only recently experienced.
But the making of ethnic and racial identities is a process apparent
around the globe. This invites social science to adopt a broad perspective
on these topics and to do the kind of comparative work that will help us to
distinguish among localized patterns and the factors that produce them.
This book is not systematically comparative, but it does attempt that broad
perspective. Although the experience of the United States looms large here
—each of us has done research largely on American topics—our intention
has been to bring in as much of the rest of the world as possible, and
thereby, through cases and illustration, to enrich our understanding of
ethnicity and race everywhere. Indeed, we believe that the study of U.S.
cases can be advanced partly by looking elsewhere, avoiding the
parochialism that often limits the American vision of these phenomena.
Our approach is global in another way as well. It pays particular
attention to the fact that the dynamics of ethnicity and race are inextricably
linked with macrohistorical forces that are global in their reach. These
forces of rationalization, industrialization, urbanization, and other
developments—in short, the project of modernity—have shaped the
context in which contemporary ethnic and racial identities are made and
remade and have provided much of the social and cultural foundations on
which those identities are formed.
Second, we have a particular understanding of the relationship between
ethnicity and race. Some scholars have seen these as referring to very
different phenomena. Some have seen race as a subset of ethnicity. Some
have seen them as virtually the same. Our own approach, detailed in
Chapter 2, sees ethnicity and race as referring to distinct but often
overlapping bases of identification. They also potentially involve two
different processes of identity construction. Either one may be rooted in
assignment of others, but when groups assert their own identities, filling
them with their own content, they are acting in classically ethnic ways.
Thus, a race may be, but is not necessarily, at the same time an ethnic
group; and an ethnic group may be, but is not necessarily, at the same time
a race.
This approach departs from some that distinguish between ethnicity and
race in terms of power. Such approaches generally argue that race typically
is a product of differential power relations and that most ethnic identities
are more likely to be matters of choice and convenience. One of the
drawbacks of focusing on the American experience is that it can be seen to
support this distinction, which fails to hold up in much of the rest of the
world. The contrast between ethnicity and race, which sometimes seems
unambiguous in the American context, begins to break down or become
inverted elsewhere. In Rwanda, for example, a case we discuss in more
detail in Chapter 3, ethnic rather than racial ties were directly linked with
privilege and power and became lethally consequential in people’s lives.
The qualities and consequences associated with race in one context may be
associated with ethnicity in another.
Third, our focus is on ethnic and racial identities. Although we discuss
the dynamics of intergroup relations and ethnic and racial stratification in
various parts of the book, our primary concern is with processes of group
formation and identity construction: the ways that people come to
conceptualize themselves and others—and to act—in ethnic and racial
terms. By adopting this focus, we do not mean to minimize or dismiss the
important role that these phenomena play in organizing intergroup social
life. The concrete consequences of ethnicity and race, the purposes they
serve, and their implications in systems of power are crucial elements in
much of our discussion. What is more, our own explanation of why these
phenomena are powerful features of the contemporary global landscape is
predicated directly on our understanding of the crucial functions that they
serve. But our emphasis is not so much on what ethnicity and race do in
societies as on how ethnic and racial identities come into being in the first
place, and the social process by which they are reproduced and
transformed. Our purpose is to bring out the bases on which ethnic and
racial groups form and act as groups.
This directs our attention to the collective forms of these identities.
Although the acquisition of an ethnic or racial identity by individuals is a
critical part of collective identity, we pay little attention here to the social
psychology of individual identity formation. Our concern is with the
processes by which ethnic and racial designations come to be asserted by
or assigned to particular groups: the construction of “we” and “they.”
Of course, individual and collective aspects of identity and identity
construction are often closely linked and mutually supporting. Much of
what we have to say in this book about collective identity may resonate
with many readers’ individual experiences; certainly we hope so.
However, in some circumstances, the two levels may not fit together at all
or may even be in conflict. For example, in a rapidly changing,
multiethnic, multiracial society such as the United States, many
individuals are not automatically channeled into one ethnic or racial
identity. Some may be assigned to different identities at different times;
others may have choices to make or options to exercise. But again,
although these processes of individual assertion or assignment are
interesting and important, our focus is on the making of the larger
identities that are asserted or assigned.
Finally, our approach is constructionist. It treats ethnicity and race—
both as general categories and as specific identities—not as natural
phenomena, but as human creations, as produced by groups of human
beings trying to solve problems, defend or enhance their positions, justify
their actions, establish meanings, achieve understanding, or otherwise
negotiate their way through the world in which they live. This
constructionist view of ethnicity and race is one of the chief advances in
the social scientific understanding of these phenomena in recent years, and
we consciously adopt and build on it. But we also depart from it in certain
ways. Many constructionist accounts end up being reductionist, seeing
ethnicity and race as by-products of more fundamental economic, political,
or social forces. As those forces change, so do their ethnic and racial
products. Ethnicity and race thus become epiphenomenal, with little
independent influence on social life. We see this view as incomplete.
Ethnic and racial identities, once established, have impacts of their own;
furthermore, for many people they carry an emotional charge that cannot
be accounted for by appeals to interests alone. Our effort in what follows is
to show how ethnicity and race are not only products but also producers of
social relations and collective action.
This book has been a genuinely joint effort. The original conception was
Cornell’s, but that conception changed significantly once Hartmann came
onboard, well before the writing began. Together, we extensively
rethought both the argument and how to present it. In the process, the
scope of the project grew substantially. We then divided up first-draft
duties, largely by chapter. In every case, each of us revised the other’s
work in a back-and-forth process that continued right down to the wire.
Cornell took responsibility for giving the final version a single voice.
We have been the beneficiaries of generous and intelligent assistance at
several stages. Pine Forge Press sent an incomplete first draft of the
manuscript to several anonymous reviewers. Their early feedback showed
us some major gaps and sent us back to the drawing board on several
chapters and some central ideas. Joane Nagel read most of the manuscript
twice. Her often critical comments were not only helpful, detailed, and
right, but were leavened with enthusiasm and encouragement, and we are
deeply grateful to her. We should all have such friends. There are others
we need to thank as well. Ana Devic, Ivan Evans, Rod Ferguson, and
Jeanne Powers each cast a critical eye over portions of the manuscript,
with beneficial results. Students in Cornell’s graduate seminar on Ethnicity
in the spring of 1996 provided a valuable testing site for some of our ideas
and improved a number of them. Michael Gonzalez gave us some early
research assistance. Teresa Swartz tracked down a lot of facts and
references and put up with a lot of tense times, while Patricia Stewart did
far more than duty required and was there just when we needed her. Maura
Grogan repeatedly cracked the whip, which helped. Rebecca Smith raised
important questions, rearranged some things, streamlined some of the
prose, and made all of it better. We are grateful to Wendy Griswold,
Charles Ragin, and Larry Griffin for proposing the book and then being
more patient than we had any right to expect, and to Wendy for her
substantive comments and her encouragement. Finally, Steve Rutter, lately
of Pine Forge Press, did it all, from making crucial suggestions on content,
to keeping the door open up to the last possible moment, to being
encouraging when the chips were down. We should all have such editors.
Despite all this help, we know gaps remain—and surely errors, too. We
accept responsibility for them. If only there were world enough, and
The Puzzles of Ethnicity and Race
espite predictions to the contrary, the 20th century turned out to be
an ethnic century. The conflicts and claims organized at least partly
in ethnic or racial terms were legion, but consider a few examples:
• During World War II, Germany’s Nazi regime undertook the
systematic extermination of Europe’s Jewish population, along with
Gypsies and other “undesirables.” Six million people died as a direct result
of this “holocaust,” which gave to the world indelible images of brutality
and evil and became one of the defining events of the modern era.
• In 1960, the African state of Nigeria won its independence from Great
Britain, but conflicts over the distribution of power among ethnic groups
and regions erupted soon afterward. In 1967, in the most dramatic and
costly of these, the Igbo people of the southeastern part of the country
declared their area the independent Republic of Biafra, precipitating nearly
3 years of open warfare with the Nigerian government. Biafra eventually
lost the war, but not before hundreds of thousands of Igbos and other
Nigerians had been killed.
• In the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, ethnic political
mobilization seemed to be happening everywhere as an array of ethnic and
racial groups not only loudly proclaimed their distinctive identities but also
struggled for recognition, rights, and resources. Ethnic and racial
boundaries surfaced both as primary sources of identity and as major fault
lines within U.S. society, from the civil rights sit-ins and riots in Black
ghettos to the legal efforts of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund
to the confrontations led by the American Indian Movement to the angry
protests of an assortment of groups of European ancestry. At century’s
end, those fault lines remained.
• In 1971, the government of Malaysia amended that country’s
constitution, adopted at independence from Great Britain in 1957, to
secure the preferential treatment of Malays in education, business, and
government, against the objections of the sizable Chinese and other ethnic
populations. Among other things, the changes made it an act of sedition to
even question such entitlements.
• In the late 1970s, on the Gulf Coast of Texas, competition over scarce
fishing resources led to violence between Euro-Americans and immigrant
Vietnamese. A White fisherman was killed; Vietnamese fishing boats were
burned; and eventually the Ku Klux Klan joined the fray. Many
Vietnamese immigrants finally fled the region.
• In the 1980s and 1990s, minority Tamils launched a violent insurgency
against the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the
southeastern coast of India, crippling its economy and killing thousands. In
the first decade of the 21st century, Sri Lanka’s seemingly insoluble
“ethnic fratricide” (Tambiah 1986) continues.
• The 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union—one of the world’s most
ethnically diverse states—pried open the lid on what was supposedly a
socialist melting pot, to reveal a boiling stew of ethnic sentiments and
political movements. Ethnic conflicts followed in several regions of the
former Soviet Union. Among them, Ukrainian and Russian minorities in
Moldova battled against majority Romanians; Abkhazians and southern
Ossetians struggled for their own independence in newly independent
Georgia; Armenians and Azerbaijanis fought over territorial rights and
occupancy; and Chechens envisioned independence from Russian and
entered a devastating war in an effort to achieve it.
• The 1990s witnessed a flurry of attacks by German skinheads and
other right-wing groups directed against Turks, Greeks, Spaniards, North
Africans of various ethnicities, and other immigrant groups who came to
Germany over the preceding three decades in search of jobs. Arsonists
torched immigrant-occupied apartment houses; men, women, and children
were beaten on the street; and dozens of foreigners were killed.
• In 1993, in a special issue devoted to multiculturalism in America,
Time magazine published a story titled “The Politics of Separation.” The
subject was the impact of growing ethnic diversity on U.S. campuses. The
magazine reported a perception among some students that “to study
anyone’s culture but one’s own … is to commit an act of identity suicide”
(W. Henry 1993:75).
• In 1995, French Canadians in the province of Quebec came within a
few votes of deciding that the province should separate from the rest of
Canada, in all likelihood eventually becoming an independent country.
“We were defeated by money and the ethnic vote,” said the province’s
premier, a leading separatist, referring to non-French-speaking voters of
various ethnicities who narrowly defeated the separatist effort (Farnsworth
1995:1). Before the vote, the Crees, indigenous people living within the
province, took out a full-page advertisement in Canadian newspapers
announcing their own overwhelming vote against Quebec’s separation.
The Crees promised that if Quebec were to separate, they and the vast
lands under their control, in turn, would separate from Quebec, remaining
part of Canada.
• Also in the 1990s, the term ethnic cleansing emerged from the chaos
that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslav federation in southern
Europe and engulfed the nascent country of Bosnia. The term, coined by
Serbian nationalists, referred to the forced removal of non-Serbs from
territory claimed or sought by Serbs. It was accompanied in the Bosnian
case by wholesale human slaughter, starvation, and rampages of sexual
violence directed against Bosnian Muslims by Serbian and Croatian
soldiers and civilians. As one commentator pointed out, “ethnic cleansing”
had now joined “the euphemistic lexicon of zealotry,” along with Nazi
descriptions of the Jewish Holocaust as “the final solution” (Williams
These examples admittedly focus on conflict and division, which were
not the whole of the ethnic story in the 20th century. Ethnic and racial
diversity and identity were also sources of pride, unity, and achievement.
The United States often paid tribute to its immigrant origins and the
cultural pluralism that resulted (for example, Kallen 1924). Various groups
—from Mexican Americans to Haitians to Arab populations from the
Middle East—proudly celebrated their own cultures and identities even as
they struggled for entry into American prosperity. The Kwanzaa festival,
for example, became an annual African American celebration, a time for
family, reflection, and commitment. On U.S. college campuses, in
corporations, and in major cities, leaders dealing with ethnic and racial
issues argued that diversity should be a strength, not a weakness. When the
U.S. women’s gymnastics team won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic
Games in Atlanta, the ethnic composition of the team—“an Asian
American, an African American, and white girls with names like Miller
and Moceanu” (Lexington 1996)—was itself viewed as an American
accomplishment, something the entire nation should look upon with pride.
Debates about affirmative action, the content of school curriculum, and
immigration policy led at least one American analyst to suggest, at
century’s end, that “we are all multiculturalists now” (Glazer 1997).
The rise of multiculturalism and its insistence on recognizing and
valuing the differences associated with ethnicity and race were not unique
to the United States. Since its founding, Mexico has proudly proclaimed its
multiracial heritage, which mixes Indian and Spanish blood and cultures.
Ethnic bonds brought Germans together in a reunified country in 1990,
after decades of division into East and West. In the early 1990s, Australia
finally recognized, after a century and a half of systematic denial, that its
Aboriginal peoples had some claim to the continent European settlers had
taken from them. In Nigeria, long troubled by ethnic tensions and conflict,
novelist and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (1996) argued that Nigeria’s
viability as a state depended on learning to reconcile and even celebrate its
ethnic diversity. With massive global migration, ethnic festivals, foods,
and customs enriched cultural life in cities across the world, while the
advance of technology and mass communications made it easier than ever
before for peoples of common origins to maintain ties and identities even
as they moved. Whether one views ethnicity and race as sources of conflict
or causes for celebration—or both at once—the point is the same: The 20th
century demonstrated that they were among the most potent forces in
contemporary societies.
As the 21st century began, these forces showed little sign of abating. At
the very start of the new millennium, the horror of 9/11 threw the Arab
population of the United States on the defensive. Arab Americans, many
of them born and raised in cities like Detroit and with no direct experience
of the Middle East, suddenly became the collective object of suspicion.
Four years later, Hurricane Katrina exposed a stark racial divide in New
Orleans, reminding many Americans of the high cost that some people pay
for being Black. Nor was America alone. The first years of the new
century saw enraged young North African Muslims torching
neighborhoods in Paris, the City of Light, and Kurds struggling for
autonomy in Iraq. Violence erupted between White Australians—some
wearing T-shirts saying “ethnic cleansing unit” (Sallis 2005)—and Middle
Eastern immigrants in the city of Sydney. Warfare with ethnic overtones
drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the Darfur
province in western Sudan, while ethnic tensions slowed economic growth
in the Ivory Coast of West Africa. Anti-Semitism appeared resurgent in
much of Europe, and opposition to Korean and other minority populations
simmered in Japan. As these and a hundred other examples from around
the world illustrate, race and ethnicity continue to serve as vehicles of
political assertion, tools for exclusion and exploitation, sources of unity,
and reservoirs of destructive power. (The map in Figure 1.1 shows the
locations of countries mentioned in this book.)
An Unexpected Persistence and Power
It was not supposed to be this way. Ethnicity and race had been expected
to disappear as forces to be reckoned with in the modern world. The latter
half of the 20th century, by numerous accounts, was supposed to see a
dramatic attenuation of ethnic and racial ties. These and other seemingly
parochial, even premodern attachments were expected to decline as bases
of human consciousness and action, being replaced by other, more
comprehensive identities linked to the vast changes shaping the modern
Certainly a good many sociologists expected as much. As early as 1926,
Robert Park, a professor at the University of Chicago and perhaps the most
influential American sociologist of his day, observed that certain forces at
work in the world were bound to dismantle the prejudices and boundaries
that separated races and peoples. Powerful global factors, argued Park—
trade, migration, new communication technologies, even the cinema—
were bringing about a vast “interpenetration of peoples.” These factors,
Park (1926/1950) claimed, “enforce new contacts and result in new forms
of competition and of conflict. But out of this confusion and ferment, new
and more intimate forms of association arise” (p. 150). Indeed, wrote Park,
In the relations of races there is a cycle of events which tends everywhere to
repeat itself…. The race relations cycle which takes the form, to state it
abstractly, of contacts, competition, accommodation and eventual
assimilation, is apparently progressive and irreversible. (P. 150)
Park wrote at a time when the term race had a broader meaning than it
does now. His conception of “races” treated separately, for example, the
Slavic peoples, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese, and
others (Park 1934, 1939; see also Banton 1983, chap. 3). Today, if we
were to encounter these peoples in communities outside their countries of
origin, we would consider them ethnic groups or would combine them into
more inclusive racial categories: Japanese and Chinese as Asians, for
example, and Slavic peoples and Portuguese as Whites.
Figure 1.1
Approximate Locations of Countries or Regions
Mentioned in the Book
Embedded in Park’s ideas is a clear sense of transformation. The forces
of history were already transforming the world’s peoples, and the rest of
the 20th century would only accelerate the process. The impact would
integrate peoples with one another, leading ultimately to universal
participation in a common life and culture. “If America was once in any
exclusive sense the melting pot of races,” wrote Park (1926/1950), “it is no
longer. The melting pot is the world” (p. 149).
Not everyone saw things this way. More skeptical voices could be heard
in the sociological chorus in the early decades of the 20th century, perhaps
none more so than W. E. B. DuBois, who in 1905 claimed that the color
line would be the paramount problem of humankind in the 20th century
(DuBois 1903/1986; see also Berry 1965:129–35). But most sociologists
subscribed to Park’s view of the future, at least for industrial, multiethnic
societies such as the United States. The melting pot—both global and local
—would work its magic; ethnic and racial bonds would be forgotten; and
the peoples of the world would be integrated into a broad stream of shared
cultures and social relations. “Everywhere there is competition and
conflict; but everywhere the intimacies which participation in a common
life enforces have created new accommodation, and relations which once
were merely formal or utilitarian have become personal and human” (Park
Park was much influenced in his thinking by studies of the immigrant
experience in North America. He and his fellow social scientists at the
University of Chicago paid close attention to the stream of migrants from
the various countries of Europe who, late in the 19th and early in the 20th
centuries, poured into the growing cities and insatiable labor markets of
the industrializing United States. They found that over time and through
generations, these migrants learned English, sent their children to school,
struggled for economic and political success, spread across the continent,
replaced customs from the old country with customs from the new, and
even began to marry across the ethnic boundaries that originally separated
them. These early students of European immigration frequently found
evidence of Park’s proposed sequence: contact with other groups;
competition and conflict among them over territory and opportunities;
eventual accommodation to one another’s presence, character, and
interests; and gradual assimilation as newcomers began to participate more
and more in the dominant society and its institutions and came to share in
“a common culture and a common historical life” (Park 1926/1950:149).
The idea that ethnic or racial attachments and identities would decline in
significance emerged from other contexts as well. In the aftermath of
World War II, a good deal of scholarly attention turned to the less
developed countries of the so-called Third World, many of them struggling
for independence from colonial powers and most of them experiencing
rapid industrialization and urbanization (see, for example, Deutsch 1961).
Many of these states were products of negotiation and conflict among the
European colonial powers. Often they were composites of diverse peoples,
carriers of distinct cultures and political histories who were brought
together by the circumstances of forced colonial appropriation and
administrative convenience. Nigeria, for example, which was consolidated
as a British colony in 1914, drew under a single administrative umbrella a
broad collection of peoples and previously independent kingdoms: Fulani,
Igbo, Tiv, Ijaw, Oyo, and many others (Young 1976).
A common assumption from the late 1940s to at least the early 1960s
was that the diverse identities carried by peoples such as these would
disappear as the colonies or newly independent countries they were now
part of continued to develop. Urbanization would bring groups together in
cities, where they would mingle, intermarry, and exchange ideas, losing
touch with their regions of origin. Growing markets for industrial labor
would be indifferent to the origins of the workers they attracted, treating
group members indiscriminately as individuals and mixing them in the
workplace, leveling their differences. New technologies of mass
communication would bridge diverse tribal connections and local
experiences, linking people to people and idea to idea on an unprecedented
scale. Modernized educational systems would teach citizens a common
language, a common body of knowledge, and a common culture, fostering
a shared and broadened consciousness of self and society. Nation-building
processes would bind citizen loyalties to rising new states, undermining
older ties to kinship, local community, and tradition (for example, see
Black 1966; Deutsch 1966; McCall 1955; Pye 1966). All of this might take
time, and some surely would resist these changes (Eisenstadt and Rokkan
1973), but the modernizing dynamic would prevail. In Nigeria, for
example, the Tiv and the Ijaw and all the others would become Nigerians
before long, not only by virtue of the formalities of independence and
citizenship but also through a newly comprehensive political and cultural
consciousness. In this view, ethnicity was merely part of “the unfinished
business for political modernizers” (Burgess 1978:272), certain to be
finished before long.
Finally, the expectation that ethnic and racial attachments would decline
found support in some of the classical sources of sociological thought.
Karl Marx’s radical historical vision saw capitalism as the hammer that
eventually would pulverize ties of nationality or tribe, fashioning in their
stead the iron bonds of class, linking people to each other on the basis of
their positions in the process of economic production. By the 1960s, a
growing body of work in the social sciences, influenced in part by Marxist
analyses, was displaying this “radical expectancy” (Glazer and Moynihan
1975:7), the belief that class interests would emerge as the bedrock of
collective identity and political consciousness, displacing alternative bases
of action. As capitalism developed around the world, other sources of
group ties—language, religion, national origin, and the like—would
become insignificant. Persons and groups would discover that their “true”
interests were defined by their positions in productive processes or markets
and would reconceptualize and reorganize themselves along class lines.1
Another European social thinker, Max Weber, agreed that ethnicity
would decline in importance but envisioned a different mechanism at
work. For Weber, the rationalization of human action and organization was
the hallmark of modernity. Ethnicity, in contrast, was a communal
relationship. It was based not on the rational calculation of interest, but on
subjective feelings among group members “that they belong together”
(Weber 1968:40). As modernity and hence rationalization progressed,
thought Weber, communal relationships would be displaced. Only where
“rationally-regulated action is not widespread”—that is, where
modernization had yet to take root—would such relationships remain
compelling (p. 389). In the Weberian scheme, “ethnicity could hardly be
expected to survive the great tidal wave of bureaucratic rationality
sweeping over the western world” (Parkin 1979:32). Weber’s and Marx’s
ideas, although very different, had similar implications: Over time,
ethnicity and race would decline as significant social forces in the modern
This line of thinking was by no means entirely wrong. Immigrants often
did adopt the practices and ideas of the societies they entered; political and
economic development did transform social relations, daily experience,
and even identities; and as capitalism developed, class-based interests,
cutting across ethnic, racial, and other boundaries, often did get mobilized
into political conflict. Somehow, however, the decline of ethnic and racial
attachments failed to follow, at least on a large scale. The last third of the
20th century made a shambles of these projections. In recent decades, far
from disappearing, ethnicity and race have been resurgent around the
world, often with lethal consequences. As Donald Horowitz wrote in 1985,
Ethnicity is at the center of politics in country after country, a potent source of
challenges to the cohesion of states and of international tension…. [It] has
fought and bled and burned its way into public and scholarly consciousness.
(P. xi)
In short, modernity—that gradual and eventually global process by
which industrialization, urbanization, mass communications, and other
institutional changes transformed human life and society—was supposed
to bring an end to ethnicity and race. They were supposed to go away. But
it didn’t happen, and now, in a new century, they seem as potent as ever.
This book is an attempt to understand why. Why have ethnicity and
race, defying predictions, remained such persistent and powerful forces in
the modern world?
A Puzzling Diversity of Forms
The unexpected persistence of ethnicity and race is not the only puzzle
here. Equally as puzzling and intellectually challenging are the diversity of
the forms ethnicity and race seem to take, the variety of functions they
apparently serve, and the quite different kinds of attachments that claim
the ethnic or racial label.
Consider, for example, the route Armenian identity has taken. In 1894,
the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abd al-Hamid, caught up in the chaos
of a crumbling empire, launched a massacre of the Armenian population in
the eastern part of what is now Turkey. The extermination effort continued
for more than two decades. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died, and
thousands more fled the country (Arlen 1975; Weitz 2003).
A significant number of those who fled ended up in the United States.
By 1900, 12,000 Armenians had taken refuge on American soil; by World
War I, there were 60,000. They have continued to come, for a variety of
reasons and from various parts of the Middle East, up to the present time.
Somewhere between half a million and a million Armenian Americans live
in the United States today, most of them descendants of these immigrants.
Many of them are now members of the third or fourth generation on
American soil. Anny Bakalian (1993), in her study of Armenian
Americans, traces the reconstruction of Armenian identity in these later
generations. She describes it as passage from “being” to “feeling”
Armenian. “Being” Armenian referred to sharing a distinct language,
living a similar and distinct style of life, carrying a common and
identifiably Armenian culture, and living one’s life within predominantly
Armenian sets of social relations, from marriage to friendship. “Feeling”
Armenian is quite different. For American-born generations of Armenians,
The Armenian language is no longer used as a means of everyday
communication. The secular culture, even cuisine, is relegated to special
occasions and acquires symbolic connotations. Frequency of attendance at
Armenian religious services is gradually reduced, as is participation in
communal life and activities sponsored by Armenian voluntary associations.
Social ties, even intimate relations and conjugal bonds, with non-Armenians
become increasingly the norm. (Bakalian 1993:5–6)
Despite this change, however, Bakalian (1993) argues that “the majority
of Armenian-Americans, even the great-grandchildren of the immigrant
generation, continue to maintain high levels of Armenian identity, fierce
pride in their ancestral heritage, and a strong sense of we-ness or
peoplehood” (p. 6). They have not lost their identity. They have held on to
it, but they also have transformed it.
Joane Nagel (1996) invites us to compare this experience of
Armenianness with the experience of Armenianness “in Turkey during
World War I when Armenians were the targets of pogroms, or in postSoviet Azerbaijan, where Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis
fight for control of borders and minority enclaves” (p. 25). Obviously,
what it means to be Armenian in each of these times and places is very
different, yet all these persons lay claim to an Armenian identity. Do they
actually have much in common other than the label they attach to their
identity? What is the ultimate meaning of Armenianness, embracing as it
does such a diverse set of experiences and persons?
So it is with ethnicity and race more generally. The examples with
which we opened this chapter capture ethnic and racial identities at their
most dramatic and compelling. The identities in those examples, for the
most part, are surrounded by passion and conflict, often with a great deal
at stake. But not all ethnic and racial identities are experienced this way.
Some are quietly assumed or unconsciously left behind. Some are used to
mobilize people or register claims; others seem to have no use at all. For
some groups, ethnic or racial background reliably predicts life chances,
organizes social relations and daily experience, and plays a prominent role
in individual self-concepts. For others, ethnic or racial background may do
only one or two of these things, or none at all. Some people are reminded
of their ethnic or racial identities—proudly, angrily, sadly, or indifferently
—every day. Others for the most part ignore them or trot them out on
holidays or at family reunions where the old stories are told for the
umpteenth time and the traditional foods get their once-yearly tasting.
What is more, all these different manifestations of ethnic or racial identity
may be apparent at once within a single group, as some group members
build their lives around such an identity and others turn away. Nor is
identity—particularly in the case of race—always a matter of choice.
Some can pay their ethnic or racial identities little mind, while others are
never allowed to forget them.
Such diversity begs explanation. Why is ethnicity one thing here,
another there, and both things somewhere else? If ethnicity can be so many
things, has it any distinctive core at all? As John Comaroff (1991) put it,
If the Gods—or social scientists, it makes little difference—do know the
answer, maybe they could explain: Why is ethnicity sometimes the basis of
bitter conflict, even genocide, while, at other times, it is no more than the stuff
of gastronomic totemism? (P. 663)
Adding race to the picture only adds to the complications.
The puzzle of power and persistence is thus accompanied by the puzzle
of variation and change. That second puzzle, too, drives the argument in
this book. How are we to account for the rise and fall of ethnic and racial
identities and conflicts and for their myriad variations? And what about the
future? Will ethnicity and race continue to wield their peculiar power in
the 21st century? What forms will they take, and what consequences will
they have for human beings and for society?
Ethnicity and Race as Sociological Topics
In recent decades, it has become apparent that ethnicity and race are
among the most common categories that contemporary human beings use
to organize their ideas about who they are, to evaluate their experiences
and behavior, and to understand the world around them. In some societies,
of course, ethnic and racial categories and ties are more salient than in
others. It is increasingly evident, nevertheless, that ethnicity and race are
among the fundamental organizing concepts of the contemporary world.
That fact alone would make them central topics within sociology.
They also appear to have striking potency as bases of collective identity
and action. The unanticipated and often dramatic staying power of ethnic
and racial identities demonstrates as much. Groups organized around
ethnicity and race are reshaping societies, upsetting old assumptions, and
challenging established systems of power. In essence, they are remaking
significant parts of the modern world.
The distinctive contribution of sociology as a discipline has been the
study of just such processes: of variously defined groups within society, of
intergroup relations, of collective action, and of the multitudinous forces
and factors that impinge on these. The study of ethnicity and race, in other
words, is a fundamentally sociological enterprise.
Another of the great strengths of sociology has been its insistence on
placing social phenomena within broad social and historical contexts.
From its beginnings in the classical works of 19th- and early-20th-century
thinkers, sociology has been preoccupied with social change on a grand
scale, in particular with the onset of modernity and industrialism and with
their diverse effects on human relationships and on the human search for
meaning, community, order, and understanding.
Ethnicity and race are arenas in which those relationships and that
search are continually in flux. They have to do with fundamental group
processes: how human beings come to see themselves and others in
particular ways, how they come to act on those perceptions, and how their
understandings and actions are shaped by social and historical forces. Two
very different—if typically related—sets of factors are at work in those
processes. One set consists of the attributes, resources, and ideas of groups
themselves; the other consists of the environments that those groups
encounter. To understand ethnicity and race, therefore, we have to study
both composition and context. We have to look both at what groups bring
with them to their encounters with other people and with the world around
them and at what the world that they encounter consists of. We need to
understand both how people interpret and negotiate their lives in ethnic or
racial ways and how larger historical and social forces organize the arenas
and terms in which those people act, encouraging or discouraging the
interpretations they make, facilitating some forms of organization and
action and hindering others.
These issues and concerns also shape the inquiry in this book, most of
which has do in one way or another with the following questions:
What is it that makes ethnicity and race such powerful bases of
identity and action, and how do we explain their striking diversity?
How are ethnic and racial identities constructed, maintained, and
Under what conditions are ethnic or racial forms of identification and
action likely to arise?
What will happen to ethnicity and race in the future? Will they
survive as prominent organizational themes in the modern world? Or
will the 21st century finally realize the misplaced predictions of the
20th and see the demise of ethnicity and race as bases of identity and
An Outline of What Follows
We begin our approach to these questions with definitions. Chapter 2 maps
the confusing terrain of ethnicity, race, and nationalism; discusses the
ways these terms are commonly used (and confused); and provides the
definitions that are used in this book.
Chapter 3 then examines the two broad models of ethnic and racial
identities that have organized a great deal of social scientific thinking in
recent years, commonly known as the primordialist and circumstantialist
accounts. We situate these schools of thought in the context of global
change, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and suggest that they may
be less diametrically opposed to each other than is generally assumed.
Chapter 4 lays out the key elements of a constructionist conception of
ethnicity and race. It uses pieces of both primordialist and circumstantialist
perspectives to account for ethnic and racial power, persistence, and
variation but adds to those perspectives a central concern with the ways
that groups participate in the construction of their own (and others’)
In Chapter 5, we illustrate some constructions of ethnic and racial
identities through a series of case studies, both historical and
contemporary. The emphasis in these narratives is on the interplay
between group characteristics and ideas, on one hand, and contextual
factors, on the other, in the making and remaking of identity.
Chapters 6 and 7 take up the elements involved in the construction of
ethnicity and race more systematically and in more detail. Chapter 6
examines some of the arenas of social life—the construction sites—where
ethnic and racial identities are built and transformed and the ways that
contextual factors shape those constructions. Chapter 7 examines the
materials that groups bring to those sites and the ways group factors are
used in the construction process.
Finally, Chapter 8 looks ahead, considering two apparently
contradictory trends—mixing and multiplicity versus separation and
consolidation— that give to ethnicity and race two very different faces as
the 21st century progresses.
1. Robert Park, although hardly a Marxist, shared the general view that
economic relations were the ones that would endure. “Race conflicts in the modern
world,” he wrote, “will be more and more in the future confused with, and
eventually superseded by, the conflicts of classes” (Park 1939:45).
Mapping the Terrain
efore exploring ethnicity and race in detail, we need to clarify what
it is we are talking about. We have made no attempt thus far to
distinguish between ethnicity and race and have written as if the two
were more or less interchangeable terms. They are not. They refer to
distinct sets of phenomena that at times overlap. Some of the groups we
think of as races are at the same time ethnic groups, and some of those we
think of as ethnic groups may be or may at some point have been races, but
the two are not the same.
Distinguishing between race and ethnicity, on the other hand, is not
easy, but the task is worth spending some time on—not only to be clear
about what we are analyzing but also because these definitional
distinctions are linked to analytical distinctions that are keys to thinking
sociologically about the range of racial and ethnic forms in the modern
world. We also need to map the sometimes confusing terrain that includes
both ethnicity and nationalism, which again sometimes overlap but are not
the same thing.
We take up ethnicity in the first section of this chapter and race in the
following section. The next section explores both the differences between
ethnicity and race and their commonalities. Finally, we consider
nationalism and its relationship to ethnicity.1
The Definition of Ethnicity
Beginning in the 1960s, words such as ethnic group, ethnic identity, and
ethnicity became increasingly commonplace both in academic analyses of
social phenomena and in the mass media. By the last decade of the
century, the terms were firmly entrenched in the popular vocabulary. The
Los Angeles Times, for example, published a story in 1992 on tribal
conflict in Ethiopia, under the headline “Ethnic Pride Gets a Test in
Africa” (Hiltzik 1992). A 1995 New York Times article on disputes among
groups within some Middle Eastern states was headlined “Arabs, Too,
Play the Ethnic Card” (Hedges 1995). Another story a week later in the
same paper, discussing recent Irish immigrants’ dissatisfaction with St.
Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States, announced that “Ethnic
Clichés Put Anger in Irish Eyes” (Clines 1995). Today, any Internet search
will quickly yield literally millions of ethnically framed stories, events,
and references from around the world; our last such search on “ethnicity”
offered 136 million results.
Although most people who encounter such terms probably believe that
they know, at least approximately, what they mean, words such as ethnic,
ethnic group, and ethnicity are, in fact, slippery and difficult to define. The
confusion has not been limited to readers of mass media; they are slippery
terms in the academic lexicon as well.
The word ethnic has a long history. It is a derivative of the Greek word
ethnos, meaning “nation.” The reference, however, is not to a political
unity, but to the unity of persons of common blood or descent: a people.
The adjectival form, ethnikos, eventually entered Latin as ethnicus,
referring to “heathens,” those “others” who did not share the dominant
faith. This is more or less the meaning that the word carried when it first
found English usage around the 15th century. In English, ethnic referred to
someone who was neither Christian nor Jew—in other words, a pagan or
heathen. The matter of belief is less important in this usage than the
drawing of a boundary. “Ethnic” clearly referred to others, to those who
were not “us” (Just 1989; Oxford University Press 1993; Petersen 1981).
By the 20th century, the meaning of the word had changed again but had
reasserted some of the original Greek conception. Gone, for the most part,
was the specific reference to religion and with it the idea that only
“others”—certainly not “us”—could be ethnics. Increasingly, ethnicity
referred to a particular way of defining not only others but also ourselves,
and this is how it entered sociology.
Sociological Definitions
The shift toward the subjective in the meaning of ethnicity is most
readily apparent in a discussion of ethnic groups by the German
sociologist Max Weber, the only one of the classical sociological theorists
to offer an explicit definition. Weber (1968) devoted a chapter to the topic
in his great work Economy and Society, written early in the 20th century,
in which he says, “We shall call ‘ethnic groups’ those human groups that
entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of
similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories
of colonization and migration” (p. 389). He goes on to say, “It does not
matter whether or not an objective blood relationship exists.” Several
things are worth noting about Weber’s definition:
At the foundation of ethnic attachments lies real or assumed common
descent. Ethnic ties are blood ties.
The fact of common descent is less important than belief in common
descent. What matters is not whether a blood relationship actually
exists, but whether it is believed to exist, “not what is but what people
perceive” (Connor 1993:377). Ethnicity is a subjective matter; the
crucial issue is how we see ourselves.
The potential bases of this belief in common descent are multiple,
varying from physical resemblance to shared cultural practices to a
shared historical experience of intergroup interaction. Any of these,
or some combination, might be the basis or justification of our
assumption of common descent.
An ethnic group exists wherever this distinctive connection—this
belief in common descent—is part of the foundation of community,
wherever it binds us to one another to some degree.
Weber’s emphasis on common descent is central to a number of
subsequent definitions of ethnicity (for example, Alba 1990; Connor 1978,
1993; Horowitz 1985; Schermerhorn 1978; Shibutani and Kwan 1965).
Much of sociology, however, particularly in the classroom, eventually
abandoned Weber’s definition and came to equate ethnicity with shared
culture. The core of the definition shifted from Weber’s concern with
putative origins and shared history—for the most part, that is, with how the
past shapes present self-concepts—to currently shared culture, to what
group members now do. An ethnic group became a group of persons
distinguished largely by common culture, typically including language,
religion, or other patterns of behavior and belief. For example, one recent
edition of a widely used textbook defines an ethnic group as “a group of
people who are generally recognized by themselves and/or by others as a
distinct group, with such recognition based on social or cultural
characteristics” (Farley 2000:8). Another definition accepts either culture
or national origin as the basis of ethnicity, defining an ethnic group as “a
group socially distinguished or set apart, by others or by itself, primarily
on the basis of cultural or national-origin characteristics” (Feagin and
Feagin 2003:8). Combining shared history and shared present practices, a
third definition argues that “when a subpopulation of individuals reveals,
or is perceived to reveal, shared historical experiences as well as unique
organizational, behavioral, and cultural characteristics, it exhibits its
ethnicity” (Aguirre and Turner 1995:2-3).
A moment’s reflection will reveal the ambiguities that such
specifications of ethnicity create. If all that is required to distinguish an
ethnic group is some level of shared “social or cultural characteristics” or
“historical experiences,” then lawyers, military families, university
students, hip-hop enthusiasts, the citizens of Switzerland, prison inmates,
physicists, and numerous other groups potentially join Polish Americans,
the Chinese minority in Malaysia, and the Kurds of Iraq, among others, in
the pantheon of ethnic groups. Analytical precision and utility suffer as the
concept of ethnicity slips away into the enormously diverse mosaic of selfconscious collectivities— sharing varying degrees of history and culture—
that any society generates. This definition nevertheless has become
common. Even the massive and hugely informative Harvard Encyclopedia
of American Ethnic Groups (Thernstrom, Orlov, and Handlin 1981:vi)
defines an ethnic group in effect as a group sharing cultural attributes. It
then leaves out of its survey all sorts of groups that, if it takes its own
definition seriously, ought to qualify.
Our concern about such definitions goes beyond their imprecision. One
of the striking things about ethnicity in recent decades has been its
survival, in some cases, despite rapidly declining cultural distinctions. This
development is widely apparent in the United States. In Chapter 1, we
mentioned Anny Bakalian’s (1993) discussion of the path Armenian
Americans have followed, “from being to feeling Armenian.” Distinctive
cultural practices have declined over time, but the identity—that sense of
ethnic distinctiveness—has not. Similar processes can be found among
other Americans of European descent as well, many of whom display few
culturally distinct practices but proudly proclaim their ethnic identities
(see, for example, Alba 1990; Gans 1979; Waters 1990). Much the same is
happening elsewhere in the world. Thomas Fitzgerald (1998) wrote, for
example, of some offspring of Cook Islander migrants to New Zealand
who adhere to a Cook Islander identity but have dropped most of the
culture of their parents. It also seems reasonable to wonder what role
culture conceivably plays in the supposedly ethnic category Asian
American, embracing immigrants from such culturally diverse places as
India, Japan, Laos, and the Philippines. In what way is such a composite
group ethnic? Once the supposedly primary definitional element—shared
cultural characteristics—disappears, of what does its ethnicity consist?
The colloquial American understanding seems closer in some ways to
the Weberian one than to some of the more recent academic usages.
Although most Americans may consider various ethnic groups culturally
distinct to one degree or another, they generally seem to view the origins
of these groups as what sets them most clearly apart and accounts for
whatever distinctive cultural characteristics remain (cf. Hirschman, Alba,
and Farley 2000). The classic case is immigrant groups. To say that you
are Irish or Italian in the United States is to say that most importantly, your
people came originally from Ireland or Italy. To many Americans, the fact
that group members came originally from “there, not here,” or at least not
from where “we” came from, is ultimately the source of their
distinctiveness, with homeland approximating Weber’s concept of shared
Ethnicity as a Distinctive Set of Claims
It is most unlikely that any one definition of ethnic group or ethnicity
will satisfy all the specialists or fully escape the ambiguities that seem an
inevitable part of the study of ethnicity. We nevertheless join those
sociologists who have remained close to the Weberian tradition, and we
follow Richard A. Schermerhorn’s (1978) definition, which describes an
ethnic group as “a collectivity within a larger society having real or
putative common ancestry, memories of a shared historical past, and a
cultural focus on one or more symbolic elements defined as the epitome of
their peoplehood” (p. 12). Among the examples Schermerhorn offers of
such symbolic elements that may be viewed as emblematic of peoplehood
are kinship patterns, geographical concentration, religious affiliation,
language, and physical differences. The common history a group claims
may be viewed the same way. For example, the historical experience of
slavery plays a powerful symbolic role in many African Americans’
conceptions of themselves.
Schermerhorn (1978) adds to this definition the criterion of
selfconsciousness. Ethnic groups are self-conscious populations; they see
themselves as distinct.
Again, there are several points to be made about this definition:
It involves three kinds of claims: a claim to kinship, broadly defined;
a claim to a common history of some sort; and a claim that certain
symbols capture the core of the group’s identity.
As in Weber’s conception, these claims need not be founded in fact.
The kinship claim, for example, has to do with either “real or
putative” common ancestry.
The extent of actual cultural distinctiveness is irrelevant. Contrary to
many common definitions, not all ethnic groups are culture groups
(and not all culture groups are ethnic groups). Although group
members may draw attention to certain cultural features as “the
epitome of their peoplehood,” they are not necessarily practitioners of
distinct cultures, and such features frequently have more symbolic
power than practical effect on group behavior. In fact, the cultural
practices of an ethnic group may vary little from those prevalent in
the society of which it is a part.
An ethnic group is a subpopulation within a larger society.
An ethnic identity is self-conscious.
We should point out that in practice, descent from a common homeland
often serves as a broad assertion of common ancestry. It is doubtful, for
example, that all those who came to the United States from Cuba actually
claim to be descended from a common ancestor, but they do claim descent
from a common homeland, which serves as a metaphor for kinship. Such
metaphors are often explicit: People may speak, for example, of the
fatherland, or of Mother Russia, or of the “children” of Africa. The idioms
of kinship and homeland are often intertwined. In a sense, ethnicity is
family writ very large, indeed. It typically involves the assertion of some
ineffable bond among group members, a bond we think of as rooted
ultimately in shared, distinctive origins (see Horowitz 1985, chap. 2).
This definition still casts the net fairly widely—variation in claim and
assertion can be substantial—but it gives us a more distinctive universe of
groups, and it classifies those groups according to the particular kinds of
claims they make or the particular claims made about them. This last point
is crucial. Although an ethnic identity is self-conscious, its selfconsciousness often has its source in the labels used by outsiders. The
identity that others assign to us can be a powerful force in shaping our own
self-concepts. To say that ethnicity is subjective is not to say that it is
unaffected by what others say or do. Others may assign an ethnic identity
to us, but what they establish by doing so is an ethnic category. It is our
own claim to that identity that makes us an ethnic group. The ethnic
category may be externally defined, but the ethnic identity is internally
asserted (Jenkins 1994). It should also be apparent from this definition that
what is ethnic about an ethnic group is the fact that it identifies itself in a
particular way. Members of some ethnic groups may share a great deal
more than that particular way of identifying themselves, including
extensive cultural practices; others may share little more than the identity
claim that they make. Groups that share a great deal and groups that share
very little clearly are different, but their claims make them equally ethnic.
What matters is the mode or idiom of identification.
Finally, ethnicity is a matter of contrast, an inherently relational
construct (Eder et al. 2002). To claim an ethnic identity (or to attempt to
assign one to someone else) is to distinguish ourselves from others; it is to
draw a boundary between “us” and “them” on the basis of the claim we
make that “we” share something that “they” do not. An ethnic group
cannot exist in isolation. It has meaning only in a context that involves
others—ultimately, in a collection of peoples of which it is only a part. An
ethnic population, however, is not necessarily a minority population. An
ethnic group may be politically or numerically dominant within a single
state; it may dominate one state and at the same time be a minority in
others. It is never conceptually an isolate.
Ethnicity, then, is identification in ethnic terms—that is, in the terms
outlined above. An ethnic identity is an identity conceived in such terms. A
population or social collectivity may be simply an ethnic category,
assigned an ethnic identity by outsiders. But once that identity becomes
subjective— that is, once that population sees itself in ethnic terms,
perhaps in response to the identity outsiders assign to it—it becomes an
ethnic group.
The Definition of Race
What about race? Are races ethnic groups? Consider African Americans.
Certainly many people consider them a race or at least a part of one. How
so? If they are a race, are they not an ethnic group? Could they be both?
Before we can answer these questions, we have to wrestle with the
definition of a race. As with ethnicity, it is common in contemporary
society to talk about races, race relations, and racial conflict as if we had a
clear idea about what constitutes a race and where the boundary falls
between one race and another. Race, however, is as slippery a concept as
ethnic group, and its slipperiness has an even longer and more
consequential history.
Race as Biology
In technical terms, a race can be thought of as a genetically distinct
subpopulation of a given species. This statement is of little use in thinking
about human races, however, for the genetic differences among human
groups that we commonly view as races are inconsistent and typically
insignificant. This has made it difficult to figure out what a race, conceived
in terms of human biology, actually is. In fact, biologists, physical
anthropologists, and other students of human physiology and genetics have
long disagreed about which, if any, genetic differences mark the
boundaries between races and about how many human races there are. For
several centuries, scholars of one stripe or another from various countries
tried to specify the number of races in the world:
Linnaeus had found four human races; Blumenbach had five; Cuvier had
three; John Hunter had seven; Burke had sixty-three; Pickering had eleven;
Virey had two “species,” each containing three races; Haeckel had thirty-six;
Huxley had four; Topinard had nineteen under three headings; Desmoulins
had sixteen “species”; Deniker had seventeen races and thirty types. (Gossett
Clearly, consensus regarding the nature and number of human races has
been elusive.
The federal government of the United States has been anything but
consistent in its own classifications. In 1870, according to historian Paul
Spickard (1992), the U.S. Bureau of the Census listed five races in the
United States: “White, Colored (Blacks), Colored (Mulattoes), Chinese,
and Indian.… In 1950, the census categories reflected a different social
understanding: White, Black, and Other” (p. 18). By the 1990s, federal
programs, responding more to the demands of various groups than to any
biological theory, required various public and private entities to report
racial data using, once again, five categories, but they were different from
the 1870 categories: White, Black, Asian or Pacific Islander, American
Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic, with the last specified as an ethnic
group, not a race. A new category was added when “Native Hawaiian” and
“Pacific Islander” were pulled out of the Asian category just prior to the
2000 census, and before 9/11 there was talk of adding yet another, “Arab,”
to the scheme. Ultimately, the 2000 census produced a different
innovation: Individuals could list multiple races. “‘Mark one or more’
converts six categories into sixty-three, which, when cross-tabulated by the
ethnic category of Hispanic, generates … 126 categories of race-ethnicity”
(Prewitt 2004: 152).
Other societies have made other choices. For a long time, the South
African government recognized four races: White, African, Colored, and
Asian. In many parts of Brazil, where there has been widespread mixing
among Europeans, Africans, and the indigenous Indians, many people
gave up on the notion of distinct races and instead established a set of
informal and sometimes overlapping categories that recognize varying
degrees of racial mixture, usually determined by an individual’s
appearance and ranging from the lightest complexions to the darkest. In
the census, the Brazilian government counts by color using a tripartite
classification: white, brown, and black (see Bailey and Telles 2006;
Nobles 2002).
If biologically distinct human races do exist, it seems odd that there is so
little agreement on what they are. Indeed, the persistence of the idea of
biologically distinct human races owes more to popular culture and
pseudoscience than to science, and the idea’s pedigree is not scientific, but
historical and political. It emerged originally in the extended encounter
between European and non-European peoples that began in the late 15th
and early 16th centuries. Discovering human beings in Asia, Africa, and
the Americas who looked—and often acted—very different from
themselves, Europeans drew upon the Spanish concept of “purity of
blood,” which sanctioned discrimination against converted Jews and
concluded that often, superficial differences surely indicated more
fundamental differences as well (Fredrickson 2002). This conclusion,
which asserted their own inherent superiority, helped them justify their
efforts to colonize, enslave, and sometimes exterminate many of the
peoples they encountered. Europeans came to believe that races are, in
fact, distinct and identifiable human (and some of them, in the extreme
version, nonhuman) groups; that there are systematic, inherited, biological
differences among races; and that the non-White races are innately inferior
to Whites—that is, to Europeans (see also Jordan 1968).
Systematic physiological differences among many human groups are
obvious. Skin color is only one example. Deciding which of these
physiological differences should serve as racial markers is a complicated
process. Racial boundaries turn out to be messy. For one thing, the
distribution of human physical characteristics, aided by millennia of
mixing among human communities, is persistently irregular. Blood types,
hair textures, skin colors, and body forms vary, sometimes dramatically,
not only between populations we often think of as racially distinct, but
within them as well. In fact, the extent of genetic variation among
individuals within supposed racial groups typically exceeds the variation
between the groups. We can speak of a group of persons as having, on
average, a greater frequency of some set of genes than some other group
has, but those genes seldom will be limited to that group; the differences in
frequency will be differences of degree.
It would be easier to know how to mark racial boundaries if the
supposed physical differences among races were consistently apparent, but
they seldom are. It would be easier, likewise, if some set of characteristic
physical distinctions were correlated consistently with some set of
characteristic abilities or behaviors, but science has been unable to link
such physical differences persuasively to differences in ability or
intelligence or very much else. In other words, the scientific arguments for
any particular way of dividing up and identifying races of human beings
are at best modest. As geneticist Richard Lewontin and his colleagues
point out,
In practice, “racial” categories are established that correspond to major skin
color groups, and all the borderline cases are distributed among these or made
into new races according to the whim of the scientist. But … the differences
between major “racial” categories, no matter how defined, turn out to be
small. Human “racial” differentiation is, indeed, only skin deep. (Lewontin,
Rose, and Kamin 1984:126–27)
As a result, most contemporary scholars have dismissed the idea of race
as a meaningful biological category that can be applied to separate groups
of human beings (Gould 1981, 1994; King 1981; Lewontin et al. 1984;
Smedley 1993).
The Social Construction of Race
Despite the lack of a biological basis for the conception of distinct
human races, race still wields monumental power as a social category. In
many societies, the idea of biologically distinct races remains a fixture in
the popular mind, a basis of social action, a foundation of government
policy, and often a justification for distinctive treatment of one group by
another. Even some academics and intellectuals still accept racial
categories as naturally given and delineated, appealing to genetics as an
explanation of inequality (for example, Herrnstein and Murray 1994; see
also the critique of their work in Fischer et al. 1996). Human beings—even
the most rational and scientific of them—tend to assume racial categories
and to take them seriously, but they do so for social, not biological,
Races, like ethnic groups, are not established by some set of natural
forces, but are products of human perception and classification. In short,
they are social constructs. As geneticist James King (1981) remarks, “Both
what constitutes a race and how one recognizes a racial difference are
culturally determined” (p. 156). We decide that certain physical
characteristics—usually skin color but perhaps also hair type, stature, or
other bodily features—will be primary markers of group boundaries. We
invent categories of persons marked by those characteristics. The
categories become socially significant to the extent that we use them to
organize and interpret experience, to form social relations, and to organize
individual and collective action. In other words, the categories become
important only when we decide they have particular meanings and act on
those meanings. The characteristics that are the basis of the categories,
however, have no inherent significance. We give them meaning, and in the
process we create races.
This is not to say that one cannot find consequential differences among
human groups, only that such differences map poorly against common
understandings of race. In fact, variations within racial groups tend to outweigh—in both number and significance—those that supposedly
distinguish one racial group from another (Duster 2003). In recent years,
as Ann Morning (2005) reports, articles in a number of medical and
scientific journals, including Science, the New England Journal of
Medicine, Genome Biology, and the International Journal of
Epidemiology, have highlighted certain supposedly racial differences, such
as the overrepresentation of spina bifida among Caucasians, especially the
Welsh and the Irish; the disproportionate frequency of Tay-Sachs disease
among Ashkenazi Jews; or the prevalence of sickle-cell anemia among
African Americans. But, as Troy Duster (2003) demonstrates in Backdoor
to Eugenics, even these patterns emerge from the ways we group people
together, think about genetics, and determine public health priorities.
Furthermore, they often give rise to generalizations and conclusions that
go far beyond these narrow and exceptional medical conditions.
We can define a race, then, as a human group defined by itself or others
as distinct by virtue of perceived common physical characteristics that are
held to be inherent. A race is a group of human beings socially defined on
the basis of physical characteristics. Determining which characteristics
constitute the race—the selection of markers and therefore the construction
of the racial category itself—is a choice human beings make, and it is the
reason some social scientists put “race” in quotes. Neither the categories
themselves nor the markers we choose are predetermined by biological
These processes of selection and construction are seldom the work of a
moment. Racial categories are historical products and are often contested.
In one famous case from the early 1980s, a Louisiana woman went to court
to dispute the state’s conclusion that she was Black, claiming a White
racial identity. The state’s argument was that her ancestry was at least
1/32nd “Negro,” which according to state law meant she was Black
(Dominguez 1986). The law had roots in the long history of Black-White
relations in Louisiana and in the American South more generally, in
slavery and its legacy, and in the enduring White effort to maintain the
supposed “purity” of their race. It was a legal manifestation of what is
known as hypodescent, or the “one-drop” rule, which in the United States
holds that any degree of African ancestry at all is sufficient to classify a
person as Black (see Davis 1991). This rule has a history. People have
fought over it, and as the Louisiana case shows, it has been tested in the
courts. It has been reserved largely for Blacks. Americans do not generally
consider a person who is 1/32 Japanese or Dutch to be Japanese or Dutch,
but “one drop” of Black blood has long been considered sufficient for
racial categorization.
The woman in Louisiana lost her case (although the law was eventually
changed), but her story underlines the point made by Michael Omi and
Howard Winant (1994) in their pathbreaking study of race in the United
States: Racial categories are not natural categories that human beings
discover; on the contrary, they are “created, inhabited, transformed, and
destroyed” by human action and are, therefore, preeminently social
products (p. 55). They change over time as people struggle to establish
them, overcome them, assign other people to them, escape them, interpret
them, and so on. The outcomes of those struggles often have enormous
consequences for the individuals involved, but it is not biology that
determines who will suffer and why. People determine what the categories
will be, fill them up with human beings, and attach consequences to
membership in those categories.
Ethnicity and Race
To pose again the question we raised some pages ago: Are races ethnic
groups? The answer, which may not yet be obvious, is sometimes yes,
sometimes no. Ethnicity and race are not the same, but they are not
mutually exclusive categories, either. They sometimes overlap. In short,
races may be but are not necessarily ethnic groups. In the following two
subsections, we first explore the ways that ethnicity and race are different
and then the things they have in common.
Differences between Ethnicity and Race
Most societies have treated groups defined in racial terms very
differently from those defined ethnically, and the differences have been
crucial. In the United States, for example, although some ethnic groups
have been privileged over others at various times in history, Whiteness—a
racial category—has been consistently privileged over non-Whiteness,
with persons of color consigned to the margins of American society and
culture. In different ways at different times, race has been institutionalized
in the organization of the society and ideologized in its culture.
Race has been the most powerful and persistent group boundary in
American history, distinguishing, to varying degrees, the experiences of
those classified as non-White from those classified as White, often with
devastating consequences. The racial boundary that White society has
historically drawn around itself has excluded different groups at different
times. Along with Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans, both
Jews and the Irish, among others, have been perceived as non-Whites at
one time or another in the United States (Ignatiev 1995; Sacks 1994). Both
groups struggled to alter the perception, knowing all too well the costs of
being non-White in the eyes of Whites.
Designating a group of people as a distinct race has been sufficient in
the United States to mark them off as more profoundly and distinctively
“other”—more radically different from “us”—than those ethnic groups
who have not had to carry the burden of racial distinction. Where racial
designations have been used, ethnic distinctions within racial categories
have tended to be overshadowed by the racial designations. All of the
commonly designated racial groups in American life are multiethnic: for
example, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and others among Latinos;
West Indians and American-born Blacks, whose ethnicities operate at a
less comprehensive level than the African American ethnicity they more
generally share; various groups among Asian Americans; a multitude of
culturally diverse peoples among American Indians; and various
ethnicities of European descent among Whites. With the important
exception of Whites, however, society at large generally has either ignored
or minimized these identities throughout much of its history, emphasizing
more comprehensive racial distinctions.2 Furthermore, it has been far more
reluctant to allow movement across racial boundaries than across ethnic
ones. For example, “A Cambodian American does not have to remain
Cambodian, as far as non-Asian Americans are concerned, but only with
great difficulty can this Cambodian American cease to be Asian
American” (Hollinger 1995:28). This does not mean these ethnicities are
unimportant. They are of great importance to the groups involved and a
key to understanding much of what goes on among and within those
groups. It does illustrate, however, the particular power of race, which has
been a foundational feature of American life in a way that ethnicity has
not: the ultimate boundary between “us” and “them.” This pattern of racial
categorization also illustrates the tendency in American life to recognize
diversity among Whites but to ignore it among others.
Not all societies have experienced race in this same way. Relative to
ethnicity, race has played an even greater and more obvious role in the
organization of society and culture in South Africa, for example, than it
has in the United States. Race was a fundamental organizing principle in
most colonial societies around the world, remains a significant dimension
of social organization in various societies of the Middle East and Latin
America, and is of rapidly growing significance in much of contemporary
Europe. In Canada, on the other hand, as the case of French-speaking
residents of Quebec indicates, ethnicity has been fully as important a fault
line as race. In Belgium, ethnicity has considerably overshadowed race as
a dimension of social organization and politics.
Despite the varying prominence of racial categories across societies,
race everywhere has taken on a distinctive set of meanings and uses. Some
of these are apparent in remarks made by a British gold and tin miner in
colonial Malaya, in Southeast Asia, in the early part of the 1900s. Malaya
was a British colony, populated by an ethnically diverse indigenous
population known to the British as Malays, along with significant numbers
of Chinese and Asian Indians (Tamils), brought in both before and during
British colonial rule to meet growing labor needs. Writing of the situation
in Malaya, the miner remarked,
From a labour point of view, there are practically three races, the Malays
(including the Javanese), the Chinese, and the Tamils (who are generally
known as Klings). By nature the Malay is an idler, the Chinaman is a thief,
and the Kling is a drunkard, yet each in his own class of work is both cheap
and efficient, when properly supervised. (quoted in Hirschman 1986:356–57)
A good deal of importance about race is apparent or hinted at in these
remarks, and we can use them to further elaborate the differences between
race and ethnicity. First, race typically has its origins in assignment, in the
classifications that a dominant group imposes upon a less powerful
collection of others. Ethnicity can have similar origins, but it frequently
begins in the assertions of group members themselves. The ethnically
diverse Malays did not see themselves originally as a single people, much
less as a distinctive “race”; this conception seems to have been largely a
European inspiration (Nagata 1981). There are exceptions to the rule of
racial assignment. For example, some groups in the United States,
Germany, and elsewhere have more and more forcefully asserted
Whiteness as a self-conscious racial identity in recent years. Most racial
categories, however, have been constructed first by those who wished to
assign them to someone else; race has been first and foremost a way of
describing “others,” of making clear that “they” are not “us.”
Second, race first took on its distinctive contemporary meani…

Purchase answer to see full

Explanation & Answer:
1000 words

constructionist approach

racial identity construction

immigrants identity

User generated content is uploaded by users for the purposes of learning and should be used following Studypool’s honor code & terms of service.

Reviews, comments, and love from our customers and community:

This page is having a slideshow that uses Javascript. Your browser either doesn't support Javascript or you have it turned off. To see this page as it is meant to appear please use a Javascript enabled browser.

Peter M.
Peter M.
So far so good! It's safe and legit. My paper was finished on time...very excited!
Sean O.N.
Sean O.N.
Experience was easy, prompt and timely. Awesome first experience with a site like this. Worked out well.Thank you.
Angela M.J.
Angela M.J.
Good easy. I like the bidding because you can choose the writer and read reviews from other students
Lee Y.
Lee Y.
My writer had to change some ideas that she misunderstood. She was really nice and kind.
Kelvin J.
Kelvin J.
I have used other writing websites and this by far as been way better thus far! =)
Antony B.
Antony B.
I received an, "A". Definitely will reach out to her again and I highly recommend her. Thank you very much.
Khadija P.
Khadija P.
I have been searching for a custom book report help services for a while, and finally, I found the best of the best.
Regina Smith
Regina Smith
So amazed at how quickly they did my work!! very happy♥.