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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

3 - Ethnicity without groups


Common sense groupism

Few social science concepts would seem as basic, even indispensable, as that of group. In disciplinary terms, “group” would appear to be a core concept for sociology, political science, anthropology, demography, and social psychology. In substantive terms, it would seem to be fundamental to the study of political mobilization, cultural identity, economic interests, social class, status groups, collective action, kinship, gender, religion, ethnicity, race, multiculturalism, and minorities of every kind.

Yet despite this seeming centrality, the concept “group” has remained curiously unscrutinized in recent years. There is, to be sure, a substantial social psychological literature addressing the concept (Hamilton et al. 1998; McGrath 1984), but this has had little resonance outside that sub-discipline. Elsewhere in the social sciences, the recent literature addressing the concept “group” is sparse, especially by comparison with the immense literature on such concepts as class, identity, gender, ethnicity, or multiculturalism – topics in which the concept “group” is implicated, yet seldom analyzed its own terms. “Group” functions as a seemingly unproblematic, taken-for-granted concept, apparently in no need of particular scrutiny or explication. As a result, we tend to take for granted not only the concept “group,” but also “groups” – the putative things-in-the-world to which the concept refers.

My aim in this chapter is not to enter into conceptual or definitional casuistry about the concept of group.

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