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Ethnicity without groups

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 August 2003

University of California (Los Angeles).


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This paper offers a critical analysis of ‘groupism’ and suggests alternative ways of conceptualizing ethnicity without invoking the imagery of bounded groups. Alternative conceptual strategies focus on practical categories, cultural idioms, cognitive schemas, discursive frames, organizational routines, institutional forms, political projects, and contingent events. The conceptual critique has implications for the ways in which researchers, journalists, policymakers and NGOs address ‘ethnic conflict’ and ‘ethnic violence’. The paper concludes with an analysis of an empirical case from Eastern Europe.

L'auteur propose une analyse critique du “groupisme” et explore des voies alternatives pour conceptualiser l'ethnicité sans avoir recours à la supposition de groupes cohésifs. On porte attention aux catégories pratiques, langues et dialectes, schémas cognitifs, formes discursives, traits organisationnels, projets politiques et évènements contingents. La critique a des implications sur les façons dont chercheurs, journalistes, politiques et ONG traitent du conflit ethnique et de la violence ethnique. Une étude de cas sur l'Europe de l'Est vient à l'appui.

Der Autor veröffentlicht hier eine kritische Analyse der ”Gruppe“ und zeigt Alternativen, um die ethnische Zugehörigkeit zu definieren, ohne von kohesiven Gruppen sprechen zu müssen. Praktische Kategorien, Sprache, kognitive Schemata, Rahmenbedingungen, Organisationsformen, politische Projekte und innere Ereignisse bilden Schwerpunkte. Die Kritik hat Auswirkungen auf die Art und Weise, wie Forscher, Journalisten, Politiker und nichtstaatliche Organisationen mit ethnischen Konflikten und Gewalt umgehen. Eine Fallstudie über Osteuropa ergänzt die Untersuchung.

Research Article
© 2002 Archives Européennes de Sociology


Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the conference ‘Facing Ethnic Conflicts’, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, December 14, 2000; the Working Group on Ethnicity and Nationalism, UCLA, January 13, 2001; the Anthropology Colloquium, University of Chicago, February 26, 2001; and the Central European University, Budapest, March 20, 2001. Thanks to participants in these events for their comments and criticisms, and to Margit Feischmidt, Jon Fox, Liana Grancea, David Laitin, Mara Loveman, Emanuel Schegloff, Peter Stamatov, Peter Waldmann, and Andreas Wimmer for helpful written comments.(1) Foundational discussions include Cooley 1962 [1909], chapter 3 and Homans 1950 in sociology; Nadel 1957, chapter 7 in anthropology; Bentley 1908, chapter 7 and Truman 1951 in political science. More recent discussions include Olson 1965, Tilly 1978 and Hechter 1987.