||This is one of the most difficult concepts in the social sciences to define: researchers disagree on the meaning of the term; social groups differ in their expressions of ethnicity; and some theorists challenge the credibility of the concept in the first place (see Banks, 1996). The etymology of this term dates back to ancient Greece, where the word ethnos was used to refer to a distinct \'people\'. The word ethnic originally entered the English language as an adjective applied to non-Judeo-Christian peoples. The first instance of the word ethnicity used as a noun occurred in the early 1940s, when researchers sought to find a replacement for the word \'race\' once it had become associated with the genocidal policies of the Nazi party. In contemporary usage, ethnicity is seen as both a way in which individuals define their personal identity and a type of social stratification that emerges when people form groups based on their real or perceived origins. Members of ethnic groups believe that their specific ancestry and culture mark them as different from others. As such, ethnic group formation always entails both inclusionary and exclusionary behaviour, and ethnicity is a classic example of the distinction people make between \'us\' and \'them\' (cf. other/otherness).
While much attention was given to theories of ethnicity and the nature of ethnic groups in the early twentieth century, especially in the US (see Chicago school), interest waned in the post-war period. The liberalism that came to dominate the intellectual climate by mid-century was predicated on a belief in the autonomy of individuals. Within the discourse of liberal individualism, the notion that people modify their actions because of their ethnic loyalties is suspect, and generally considered a fading remnant of pre-modern times. The version of Marxism that challenged liberalism in the late 1960s was equally dismissive of ethnicity, claiming that ethnic attachments were fostered by capitalists and the state in order to divide the working class (e.g. Bonacich, 1972). By the 1970s, many leading social theorists had abandoned the study of ethnicity, associating it with antiquated views of society and conservative politics. This dismissive attitude began to change in the 1980s, however, when it became clear ethnicity was not losing its salience; on the contrary, identity politics were on the rise and ethnic nationalism had become a primary force in the most violent struggles around the world, especially in the post-Cold-War era â€” a turn of events unanticipated by liberal and marxist scholars alike (Kimmel, 1996). The fact that over 90 per cent of the world\'s nation-states are poly-ethnic suggests that this type of conflict is likely to continue (see also multiculturalism).
Still, much confusion surrounds the concept of ethnicity. Two misconceptions are particularly common. First, many use the term only to refer to minority groups, assuming that people in the majority are \'normal\' while everyone else is \'ethnic\'. While this usage of the term was considered acceptable in the nineteenth century, it is no longer correct. In fact, everyone has an ethnic background, whether or not it is acknowledged. In most situations, people can only afford to be unaware of their ethnicity when they are in a privileged position (see whiteness).
A second ambiguity arises when the terms ethnicity and race are used interchangeably, or when they are seen as variants of the same classification system. For example, it is often thought that the people can be divided into three or four broad racial groups and that each has a number of ethnic sub-divisions (e.g. race = Caucasian, ethnicity = Italian). However, it is exceedingly difficult â€” many believe impossible â€” to discern discrete \'races\': the genetic mixing of human populations defies such a simplistic classification system. While there are obvious phenotypical and genetic differences between people, there is only one human race, a point emphatically made by the United Nations. Throughout history, though, people have been racialized by others for particular reasons. Most commentators agree that racialization is necessarily a negative process, where one group chooses to define another as morally and/or genetically inferior in order to dominate and oppress it (cf. moral order): racialization is always an imposed category. Phenotypical features, such as skin colour or facial structure, are then interpreted as evidence that the two groups are indeed separate \'types\' of people and are used strategically to demark the boundaries between groups (cf. apartheid). Once defined, such boundaries are extremely difficult to cross. Racialized minorities become ethnic groups when they achieve social solidarity on the basis of their distinct culture and background. Racialization therefore facilitates the development of ethnic consciousness, which may be harnessed by minorities in their struggle against discrimination (e.g. the Black Power movement of the 1960s in the US or the Palestinian Intifadah), but does not necessarily lead to ethnic group formation. While external forces are important in the generation of ethnic consciousness, the most basic difference between race and ethnicity is that ethnic affiliation arises from inside a group; ethnicity is a process of self-definition.
However, ethnicity is not uniformly important to all people: the degree of ethnic identity and attachment varies strongly between and within societies. Many of the most cohesive ethnic groups have emerged after the conquest of a territory by an external power. In these cases ethnic attachment and nationalism are powerfully fused as people affiliate to ensure the survival of their culture, religious practices, and access to employment opportunities. The goal in these struggles is usually political independence. Occasionally, tensions in poly-ethnic states become so extreme that ethnic loyalty becomes the overriding social force shaping the polity. The genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany is a repugnant example of this tendency, as are the recent attempts at \'ethnic cleansing\' (the forced removal of all minorities from an area) in parts of the former Yugoslavia. migration is another impetus for the development of heightened ethnic consciousness. Immigrants often face hostility within the societies they enter, and form ethnic bonds and associations to increase their political credibility. Whereas conquered groups tend to fight for independence, diasporic groups fight for the right to be included in their new societies as equal participants.
Acknowledging the variability of ethnic affiliation, theorists have long debated the causes of ethnic identity and division. Two distinct views dominate the literature: ethnicity as primordial, or absolute, vs. ethnicity as constructed, as the outcome of other social processes (Jenkins, 1996). Those advocating the former see ethnicity as a basic form of affiliation that naturally emerges as people are socialized into cultures with long histories; children are born into ethnic groups and develop deep-seated attachments to them. The most extreme primordial position is taken by socio-biologists, who believe that ethnicity is a legacy of the struggle for food and shelter (Van den Berghe, 1981). In this controversial perspective, ethnic solidarity is seen as an extension of the biologically driven feelings that link individuals to their nuclear family and kin. These researchers find it difficult to explain why some people place little value on their ethnic origin and culture while others choose to express their ethnicity even when it is disadvantageous to do so.
Researchers advocating constructionist views, conversely, assert that ethnic attachments arise in specific contexts, for specific reasons. Marxists, as mentioned, often minimize the importance of ethnicity by arguing that it is a displaced form of class consciousness. In its crudest form, this argument implies a rigid instrumentalism wherein the state, viewed as a tool of the capitalist class, enacts colonial and immigration policies designed to create differences within the working class in order to fragment its solidarity (Bonacich, 1994; cf. colonialism). More sophisticated Marxist treatments of ethnicity have emerged in light of growing ethnic and nationalist movements in the late twentieth century; even these, however, tend to portray ethnicity as a regressive force deflecting people from their \'real\' material interests (Williams, 1995).
Another variant of the constructionist view emphasizes the relational causes of ethnic identification â€” that is, ethnic groups acquire their identity not alone, but in relation to one another. For example, early twentieth-century immigrants from the southern Italian peninsula to North America brought the parochial loyalties of their village origins (see chain migration); in their new, displaced context, however, these local affiliations were united into a broad consciousness of being \'Italian\'. This emergent ethnicity was the product of a host of factors, including similar religious expressions, common languages, geopolitical events, occupational segmentation, residential segregation and the way in which these immigrants were perceived and categorized as Italians by others around them (Yancey et al., 1976). The constructionist view is also best suited to explain the ways that identity shifts as circumstances change. For example, a person can legitimately identify her/himself as English in the United Kingdom, British in other European countries, European in Asia, and \'white\' in Africa. However, while constructionist theories help us understand the variability of ethnic attachments and identities, their very flexibility make it impossible to develop a systematic account of ethnicity. In fact, the very factors that cause ethnic consciousness to emerge in some contexts impede it in others.
Over time, ethnic solidarity may be perpetuated or may dissipate. The processes governing the dynamic between cultural retention vs. assimilation are exceedingly complex, but researchers generally agree that the nature of the social boundaries between ethnic groups is critical. Boundaries are maintained when individuals maximize their interactions with those within their ethnic group while minimizing their interactions with others. This occurs when separate social, political and educational institutions are established within different groups. According to Fredrik Barth (1969), boundaries created between groups can be resilient even when the cultural practices of the groups are no longer distinctive. In many cases ethnic boundaries become entrenched in space, such as in the formation of ethnic neighbourhoods in cities.
Geographers have shown a long-standing interest in documenting the causes and consequences of urban ethnic segregation. Much of this work stems from the conceptualization of human ecology articulated by Robert Park and other members of the Chicago school in the early twentieth century. During the 1960s, attention focused on plotting ethnic \'ghettoes\', devising ways to measure the degree of ethnic segregation (see indices of segregation), and formulating public policy to integrate ethnic and racialized groups across the city. By the end of the decade, a concern for ethnic residential patterns entered the mainstream of urban theory and increasingly sophisticated models of urban land use were devised. This type of work has came under intense criticism since the 1970s. On the one hand, the relationship between the degree of social tolerance and residential patterns is not entirely clear; that is, a high level of segregation is not necessarily the result of discrimination, just as residential mixing does not necessarily indicate the absence of discrimination (see Peach, 1996). On the other hand, studies of segregation have relied almost exclusively on census data. Ethnicity is defined in most censuses by respondents\' national or \'racial\' origin, and is therefore a poor indicator of ethnic affiliation (e.g. all those of Polish descent are lumped into the same category, whether or not they identify with that cultural heritage; see Petersen, 1997). Furthermore, such classification of people perpetuates the idea that there are distinct races, and the census itself may be implicated in the racialization of minorities. Given these criticisms, the number and significance of quantitative studies of ethnicity declined in the 1980s. However, this type of work has been somewhat revived in the 1990s as the number of immigrants in European and North American cities has increased and as immigration policy has become more intensely debated.
Geographers have also devoted considerable energy into examining the racialization process, especially as it impinges on people\'s access to housing and the labour market (e.g. Anderson, 1991; Jacobs, 1996). The regulatory practices of government are highlighted in this work because immigration, housing, employment equity and other policies directly affect the way individuals experience discrimination and ethnic or racial difference. While this research has led to important insights, it has tended to ignore social processes operating within groups; that is, discrimination and racialization are emphasized without a corresponding interest in the agency of individuals to create ethnic consciousness and use this to struggle against domination (Leitner, 1992; also see identity politics).
Geographers have also begun to examine the intersections between ethnicity and other forms of personal identity and stratification, notably class and gender. Here emphasis is placed on which dimension of identity affects all others; for example, masculinity and femininity may well be defined and lived differently in different ethnic groups (cf. feminist geographies). This type of investigation is both conceptually difficult, since researchers must study many facets of experience and social structure simultaneously, and controversial, since it destabilizes traditional definitions of class and gender.Â (DH)
References Anderson, K.J. 1991: Vancouver\'s Chinatown: racial discourse in Canada, 1875-1980. MontrÃ©al and Kingston: McGill-Queen\'s University Press.Â Banks, M. 1996: Ethnicity: anthropological constructions. London: Routledge.Â Barth, F. 1969: Introduction. In F. Barth, ed., Ethnic groups and boundaries: the social organization of cultural difference. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 9-38.Â Bonacich, E. 1972: A theory of ethnic antagonism: The split labor market. In I.L. Horowitz, J.C. Leggett and M. Oppenheimer, eds, The American Working class: Prospects for the 1980s. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 73-93.Â Bonacich, E. 1994: Thoughts on urban unrest. In F.L. Pincus and H.J. Ehrlich, eds, Race and ethnic conflict. Boulder: Westview Press, 404-7.Â Esman, M.J. 1994: Ethnic politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.Â Jacobs, J.M. 1996: Edge of empire: postcolonialism and the city. London and New York: Routledge.Â Jenkins, R. 1996. Ethnicity etcetera: social anthropological points of view. Ethnic and Racial Studies 19: 807-22.Â Kimmel, M.S. 1996: Tradition as revolt: the moral and political economy of ethnic nationalism. Current Perspectives in Social Theory 16: 71-98.Â Leitner, H. 1992: Urban geography: responding to new challenges. Progress in Human Geography 16: 105-18.Â Peach, C. 1996: Good segregation, bad segregation. Planning Perspectives 11: 379-98.Â Peterson, W. 1997: Ethnicity counts. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Transaction Books.Â Van den Berghe, P. 1981: The ethnic phenomenon. New York: Elsevier.Â Williams, R.M. 1995: Consenting to whiteness: reflections on race and marxian theories of discrimination. In A. Callari et al., eds, Marxism in the postmodern age: confronting the new world order. New York: Guilford.Â Yancey, W.L., Ericksen, E.P., and Juliani, R.N. 1976: Emergent ethnicity: a review and reformulation. American Sociological Review 41: 391-402.
Suggested Reading Mason, D. 1995: Race and ethnicity in modern Britain. New York: Oxford University Press.Â Peach, C., Robinson, V. and Smith, S.J., eds., 1981: Ethnic segregation in cities. London: Croom Helm.Â Smaje, C. 1997: Not just a social construct: theorising race and ethnicity. Sociology 31: 307-27.Â Smith, S.J. 1989: The politics of \'race\' and residence: citizenship, segregation and white supremacy in Britain. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Sollors, W., ed., 1996: Theories of ethnicity: a classical reader. London: Macmillan.