Approaches to understanding ethnicity

Approaches to understanding ethnicity

Different approaches to understanding ethnicity have been used by different social scientists when trying to understand the nature of ethnicity as a factor in human life and society. Examples of such approaches are: primordialism, essentialism, perennialism, constructivism, modernism and instrumentalism.

  • Primordialism“, holds that ethnicity has existed at all times of human history and that modern ethnic groups have historical continuity into the far past. For them, the idea of ethnicity is closely linked to the idea of nations and is rooted in the pre-Weber understanding of humanity as being divided into primordially existing groups rooted by kinship and biological heritage.
    • Essentialist primordialism” further holds that ethnicity is an a priori fact of human existence, that ethnicity precedes any human social interaction and that it is basically unchanged by it. This theory sees ethnic groups as natural, not just as historical. This understanding does not explain how and why nations and ethnic groups seemingly appear, disappear and often reappear through history. It also has problems dealing with the consequences of intermarriage, migration and colonization for the composition of modern day multi-ethnic societies.[37]
  • Perennialism” holds that ethnicity is ever changing, and that while the concept of ethnicity has existed at all times, ethnic groups are generally short lived before the ethnic boundaries realign in new patterns. The opposing perennialist view holds that while ethnicity and ethnic groupings has existed throughout history, they are not part of the natural order.
    • Perpetual perennialism” holds that specific ethnic groups have existed continuously throughout history.
    • Situational perennialism” holds that nations and ethnic groups emerge, change and vanish through the course of history. This view holds that the concept of ethnicity is basically a tool used by political groups to manipulate resources such as wealth, power, territory or status in their particular groups’ interests. Accordingly, ethnicity emerges when it is relevant as means of furthering emergent collective interests and changes according to political changes in the society. Examples of a perennialist interpretation of ethnicity are also found in Barth,and Seidner who see ethnicity as ever-changing boundaries between groups of people established through ongoing social negotiation and interaction.
  • Constructivism” sees both primordialist and perennialist views as basically flawed,[40] and rejects the notion of ethnicity as a basic human condition. It holds that ethnic groups are only products of human social interaction, maintained only in so far as they are maintained as valid social constructs in societies.
    • Modernist constructivism” correlates the emergence of ethnicity with the movement towards nationstates beginning in the early modern period.[41] Proponents of this theory, such as Eric Hobsbawm, argue that ethnicity and notions of ethnic pride, such as nationalism, are purely modern inventions, appearing only in the modern period of world history. They hold that prior to this, ethnic homogeneity was not considered an ideal or necessary factor in the forging of large-scale societies.

1 Comment »

  1. We need to take into account those approaches to understanding Ethnicity, some of them are theories and also are related each other.

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