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of Peace Research, vol. 28, no. 3, 1991
The aim of this article is to identify some conditions for peaceful
coexistence between the state and populations in multi-cultural societies.
Initially, the concepts of ideology, nationalism and ethnicity are
examined briefly. It is argued that a successful ideology, such as
a nationalist or an ethnic one, must simultaneously legitimize a social
order, i.e. a power structure, and provide a meaningful frame for
the articulation of important, perceived needs and wishes of its adherents.
A few empirical cases are then considered. These examples, ranging
from the multi-cultural island-states of Mauritius [treated at greater
length here] and Trinidad & Tobago
[dealt with in a different vein here] to
the Saami (Lappish) minority situation in northern Norway, involve
conflicts between nation-states and ethnic groups, and between different
ethnic groups within the nation-state. Some conflicts and the methods
employed to resolve them, are compared. The uniqueness of nationalism
as a modern, abstract "binary" ideology of exclusion and
inclusion, and its powerful symbolic as well as practical aspects,
are stressed and contrasted with "segmentary" ethnic ideologies.
Finally, the article proposes a list of necessary conditions for the
peaceful coexistence of culturally diverse groups within the framework
of a modern nation-state.
The conclusion is that the main responsibility lies with the state
insofar as it possesses a monopoly of political power and the legitimate
use of force. State policies should genuinely attempt to decentralize
power while at the same time recognizing the right of being cultural
distinctive, even in matters relevant for political discourse. State
nationalism should not be symbolically linked with the collective
identity of only one of the populations.The culturally homogenizing
tendencies of nationalism must in other words be counteracted through
institutional arrangements which secure some form of ethnic autonomy
and encourage cultural pluralism. The alternatives are violent suppression
and the enforced assimilation of culturally distinctive groups.
1. Aims and concepts
Virtually every modern nation-state is to a greater or lesser extent
ethnically divided. This frequently implies a potential for various
forms of conflict - from armed conflicts to autonomist movements and
political segregation along ethnic lines (see e.g. Horowitz, 1985;
Wallensteen et al., 1986, for overviews).
Two central aspects of the contemporary global situation indicate
that ethnic conflicts may be of increasing relative importance. First,
the East-West conflict is presently on the wane. The recent changes
in the global political system both call the attention of scholars
and policy-makers to conflicts which cannot be understood within the
idiom of the Cold War, and further directly stimulate the growth of
a wide range of new ideological movements in the former Eastern Bloc,
many of them drawing explicitly on nationalist and ethnic rhetoric.
Secondly, processes of modernization in the Third World lead to ever
more encompassing confrontations between dominant nationalisms and
other ideologies in many countries.
Ethnic ideologies are at odds with dominant nationalist ideologies,
since the latter tend to promote cultural similarity and wide-ranging
integration of all the inhabitants of the nation-state, regardless
of their ethnic membership. It can therefore be instructive to contrast
ethnic ideologies with nationalism in contemporary nation-states.
Through examples from ethnically complex nation-states, the variable
content and social impact of such different ideologies are explored.
The purpose is to identify some conditions under which culturally
justified conflicts may arise within modern nation-states,1
and to suggest conditions for their resolution or avoidance. The general
perspective is from within; that is, ideologies and practices are
considered largely from the point of view of their adherents. It will
be argued, further, that the multi-ethnic nation-state is no contradiction
in terms - that it may indeed be a viable and stable political entity.
The central concept of ideology is treated throughout as a double
concept. On the one hand, ideology serves to legitimize a particular
power structure and in this respect conforms to a conventional marxist
view. On the other hand, ideologies necessarily derive their popular,
potentially mobilizing force from their ability to organize and make
sense of the immediate experiences of their adherents; they cannot,
therefore, be regarded simply as forms of false consciousness2.
The term ideology can profitably be used in the plural insofar as
people evaluate available ideologies critically and compare them through
choosing their strategies and practices. The final outcome of a competitive
situation involving two or several ideologies depends on their respective
persuasive power among their frequently ambivalent audiences. It follows
from this that an analysis of particular ideologies, in this case
nationalist and ethnic ones, demands an understanding of the lives
of the followers of the ideologies in question. An analysis of ideology
cannot solely consider the properties of the political system and
the ideational content of the ideologies themselves, since beliefs
and other forms of knowledge contribute to the reproduction of society
only to the extent that they are embedded in interaction.
1.2. Nationalism and ethnicity
In its most basic sense, ethnicity refers to the social reproduction
of basic classificatory differences between categories of people and
to aspects of gain and loss in social interaction. Ethnicity is fundamentally
dual, encompassing both aspects of meaning and of politics. Ethnicity
is, however, a concept which refers to a multitude of socio-cultural
phenomena. It may appear at our doorstep any time and vanish in a
matter of seconds: for instance, my relationship with foreign students
at the university has ethnic connotations and can thus be viewed as
an ethnic relationship. They enter my office and go away; the duration
of such an ethnic relationship can be less than half an hour. Similarly,
my Pakistani-Norwegian grocer enters my life to a very limited degree,
and the ethnic aspect of our relationship is nearly negligible (although
never entirely absent). On the other hand, the term ethnicity can
also refer to large-scale, long-term political processes such as the
relationship between blacks in the United States and the US nation-state;
it can refer to intricate trade networks throughout the United Kingdom
or to the religious sentiments of individuals; sometimes ethnicity
becomes nationalism historically, sometimes it vanishes altogether,
and so on. In a certain sense, ethnicity is created by the analyst
through the questions she poses in her research. What makes ethnicity
a more interesting concept in the contexts considered below than say,
class, is its empirically pervasive nature: Ethnicity can, if sufficiently
powerful, provide individuals with most of their social statuses,
and their entire cultural identity can be couched in an ethnic idiom.
In social anthropology and urban sociology, ethnicity has been analysed
extensively at the level of interpersonal action, at the level of
the township, at the level of factioning and riots, etc. In this restricted
context, I focus on ethnic phenomena which involve nation-states directly
or indirectly, and where ethnicity is manifest through political organization3.
I will treat nationalism and ethnicity as ideologies which stress
the cultural similarity of their adherents. By implication, nationalists
and ethnicists will, in a situation of conflict, stress cultural differences
vis-à-vis their adversaries.4 The
distinction between the two may therefore appear to be one of degree,
not one of kind - particularly since many political movements are
commonly perceived as being both nationalist and ethnic in character.
What to make, then, of say, autonomist movements in Soviet Central
Asia, proclaiming Azeri or Armenian nations, insofar as their official
status is that of ethnic minority groups? The difference, in this
case, is in the eye of the beholder. A self-proclaimed nationalist
holds that state boundaries should be identical with cultural boundaries
(see Gellner, 1983, for an excellent discussion of the concept). If
such claims are not acknowledged as legitimate by the political authorities
of the state in which she resides, they will perceive her, and define
her, as an ethnic revivalist. In other words, the major difference
between ethnicity and nationalism lies, as they are delineated here
for convenience, in their relationship to the state. Unsuccessful
nationalisms therefore tend to become transformed into ethnicities
whose members reside more or less uncomfortably under the aegis of
a state which they do not identify with their own nationality or ethnic
category. This has happened to certain indigenous peoples of autonomist
persuasion, to many of the "one hundred and four peoples"
of the Soviet Union, and to some extent, to the white minority of
Zimbabwe, whose variety of nationalism in the end lost the battle
for political and cultural hegemony.5
Many of the ethnics6 condemned to such
a fate eventually vanish through migration, extermination or cultural
assimilation. On the other hand, there are ethnicities and ethnic
movements whose ultimate aim is not - and can never be - full statehood.
Urban minorities in Europe and North America are obvious examples;
such groups are in many respects integrated in ways radically different
from groups who claim territorial rights. Finally, we need to distinguish
provisionally between those indigenous "Fourth World" peoples
favouring autonomy but not full statehood, and those ethnic minorities
(or nations without a nation-state of their own) whose legitimized
leaders or spokespersons work for total political independence. Ethnic
minority situations are frequently ambiguous in this regard. Greenlanders
make up an ethnic category to the extent that their destiny is intertwined
with that of metropolitan Denmark, but they constitute a potential
nation-state to the extent that they collectively vie for full political
autonomy. Their identity as Greenlanders can therefore be regarded
both as an ethnic and as a national one, depending on the analytical
perspective. This contradiction is naturally manifest also in the
experience of many Greenlanders. The widespread switching between
ethnic and national identities in Poland and other Central European
countries in the 1920s and '30s further exemplifies the contextual
character - and empirical interrelatedness - of ethnicity and nationalism
as popular ideologies (see Neumann, 1990).
Nationalism entails the ideological justification of a state, actual
or potential. Judged on this criterion, ethnicity can sometimes be
interpreted as a form of stagnant nationalism which may eventually,
or periodically, become manifest as nationalism.
The social importance, the "semantic density", of such ideologies
varies immensely historically, geographically, contextually and situationally
- both at the level of the individual and at the level of the political
system. The mere fact that "nationalism exists in country X"
or "ethnic minority groups live in state Y" does not necessarily
imply that such ideologies play an important part in the lives and/or
political processes encompassed by the system. The relative importance
of nationalism and ethnicity is an empirical question, and the cases
discussed below suggest the circumstances under which they can assume
2. Nationalism vs. ethnicity
Viewed geopolitically, nationalism is an ambiguous type of ideology.
It can be aggressive and expansionist - within and outside of state
boundaries; and it can serve as a truly peacekeeping and culturally
integrating force in a nation-state or a region. Nationalism is frequently
regarded by liberal theorists as a universalist kind of ideology emphasizing
equality and human rights within its polity, but it can just as plausibly
be seen as a kind of particularism denying non-citizens or culturally
deviant citizens full human rights and, in extreme cases, even denying
them membership in the community of humans (see Giddens, 1987, pp.
177 ff. for a critical discussion of these aspects of nationalism).
Depending on the social context, then, nationalism may have socio-culturally
integrating as well as disintegrating effects; it sometimes serves
to identify a large number of people as outsiders, but it may also
define an ever increasing number of people as insiders and thereby
encourage social integration on a higher level than that which is
current. There is nothing natural or historically inevitable in this.
For the nation is an invention and a recent one at that; to paraphrase
Anderson (1983), it is an imagined community; it is not a natural
phenomenon, despite the fact that the object of every nationalism
is to present a particular image of society as natural. Nationalism
is ever emergent and must be defended and justified ideologically,
perhaps particularly in new states, where alternative modes of social
integration, usually on a lower systemic level, remain immediately
relevant to a large number of people. The "multi-ethnic"
or "plural" state is the rule rather than the exception
(Smith, 1981); however, cultural plurality can evaporate historically,
it can lead to the formation of new nation-states, it can lead to
conflict between ethnics or between state and ethnic, or it can be
reconciled with nationhood and nationalism.
2.1. The emergence of nationalism
Historically, an important part played by nationalist ideologies in
many contemporary nation-states has been to integrate an ever larger
number of people culturally, politically and economically. The French
could not be meaningfully described as a "people" before
the French revolution, which brought the Ile-de-France (Parisian)
language, notions of liberal political rights, uniform primary education
and not least, the self-consciousness of being French, to remote areas
- first to the local bourgeoisies, later to the bulk of the population.
Similar large-scale processes took place in all European countries
during the 19th century, and the modern state, as well as nationalist
ideology, is historically and logically linked with the spread of
literacy (Goody, 1986), the quantification of time and the growth
of industrial capitalism. The model of the nation-state as the supreme
political unit has spread throughout the 20th century. Not least due
to the increasing importance of international relations (trade, warfare,
etc.), the nation-state has played an extremely important part in
the making of the contemporary world. Social integration on a large
scale through the imposition of a uniform system of education, the
introduction of universal contractual wagework, standardization of
language etc., is accordingly the explicit aim of nationalists in
e.g. contemporary Africa. It is, of course, possible to achieve this
end through contrasting the nation with a different nation or a minority
residing in the state, which is then depicted as inferior or threatening.
This strategy for cohesion is extremely widespread and is not a peculiar
characteristic of the nation-state as such: similar ideologies and
practices are found in tribal societies and among urban minorities
alike. Insofar as enemy projections are dealt with in the present
context, they are regarded as means to achieve internal, national
cohesion, since international conflicts are not considered.
Nationalism as a mode of social organization represents a qualitative
leap from earlier forms of integration. Within a national state, all
men and women are citizens, and they participate in a system of relationships
where they depend upon, and contribute to, the existence of a vast
number of individuals whom they will never know personally. The main
social distinction appears as that between insiders and outsiders;
between citizens and non-citizens. The total system appears abstract
and impenetrable to the citizen, who must nevertheless trust that
it serves his needs. The seeming contradiction between the individual's
immediate concerns and the large-scale machinations of the nation-state
is bridged through nationalist ideology proposing to accord each individual
citizen particular value. The ideology simultaneously depicts the
nation metaphorically as an enormous system of blood relatives or
as a religious community, and as a benefactor satisfying immediate
needs (education, jobs, health, security, etc.). Through this kind
of ideological techniques, nationalism can serve to open and close
former boundaries of social systems. Some become brothers metaphorically;
others, whose citizenship (and consequently, loyalty) is dubitable,
become outsiders. In Figure 1 below, the peculiar communicational
features of nationalism and the nation-state are depicted crudely
and juxtaposed with the Gemeinschaft-like kinship or locality-based
organizations they seek to replace and imitate in their symbolism.
The major difference is that nationalism communicates through impersonal
media (written laws, newspapers, mass meetings etc.) whereas kinship
ideology is communicated in face-to-face interaction. The former presupposes
the latter as a metaphoric model.
Fig. 1 about here -- sorry about this, but it seems to have been lost
during conversion. It will be inserted when it has been excavated
Nationalism is ideally based on abstract norms, not on personal loyalty.
Viewed as a popular ideology, nationalism is inextricably intertwined
with the destiny of the nation-state. Where the nation-state is ideologically
successful, its inhabitants become nationalists; that is, their identities
and ways of life gradually grow compatible with the demands of the
nation-state and support its growth. Where nationalism fails to convince,
the state may use violence or the threat of violence to prevent fission
(that is, in the modern world, the potential formation of new nation-states
on its former territory). The monopoly on the use of legitimate violence
is, together with its monopoly of taxation, one of the most important
characteristics of the modern state; however, violence is usually
seen as a last resort. More common are ideological strategies aiming
to integrate hitherto distinctive categories of people culturally.
Since national boundaries change historically, and since nations can
be seen as shifting collectivities of people conceiving of their culture
and history as shared, this is an ongoing process. Ethnic groups can
vanish through annihilation or more commonly, through assimilation.
They may also continue to exist, and may pose a threat to the dominant
nationalism in two main ways, either as agents of subversion (they
do, after all, represent alternative cultural idioms and values -
this was how the Jews of Nazi Germany were depicted) or as agents
of fission (which is evidently the case with Baltic nationalists).
Nationalist strategies are truly successful only when the state simultaneously
increases its sphere of influence, and responds credibly to popular
demands. It is tautologically true that if the nation-state and its
agencies can satisfy perceived needs in ways acknowledged by the citizens,
then its inhabitants become nationalists. The main threats to national
integration are therefore alternative social relationships which can
also satisfy perceived needs. There are potential conflicts between
the nation-state and non-state modes of organization, which may follow
normative principles incompatible with those represented by the state.
This kind of conflict is evident in every country in the world, and
it can be studied as ideological conflict, provided ideology is not
seen as a system of ideas, but as sets of ideological practices. Typical
examples are African countries, where "tribalism" or organization
along ethnic lines is perceived as a threat (by the nation-state),
or as an alternative (by the citizens), to the universalist rhetoric
and practices of nationalism. From the citizen's point of view, nationalism
may or may not be a viable alternative to kinship or ethnic ideology
(or there may be two nationalisms to choose between, e.g. a Soviet
and a Lithuanian one) - and she will choose the option best suited
to satisfy her needs, be they of a metaphysical, economic or political
nature. The success or failure of attempts at national integration
must therefore be studied not only at the level of political strategies
or systemic imperatives; it must equally be understood at the level
of the everyday life-world. In a word, the ideological struggles and
the intra-state conflicts, as well as the context-specific options
for "the good life", shape and are simultaneously rooted
in the immediate experiences of its citizens, - and the analysis must
2.2. Binary and segmentary ideologies
Nationalism, as the ideology of the modern nation-state, ostensibly
represents universalist norms domestically, as opposed to particularist
norms. A common type of conflict entailed by this opposition occurs
in the labour markets of many countries. According to kinship-based
and ethnic ideologies of the kind prevalent in many African countries,
employment should normally be provided by members of the extended
lineage (or the ethnic). According to nationalist ideology, employment
should be allocated democratically and bureaucratically, according
to formal qualifications, regardless of the personal relationship
between employer and applicant. These contradicting norms pervade
labour markets in many parts of the world. The example further indicates
that an individual who perceives the differences, will adhere to the
ideology whose implications are more beneficial to himself (see Helle-Valle,
1989; Eriksen, 1988, for fuller discussions). The general point to
be made here is that whenever nationalism is ideologically opposed
to ethnic and kinship ideology, it will strive to present itself as
just and fair according to abstract principles. Whether or not it
succeeds in this respect depends on its ability to persuade people
that it is beneficial to themselves (in some respect or other) that
they subscribe to impartial justice of the kind represented by the
Contradictions between abstract norms of justice and concrete norms
of loyalty occur in virtually every realm of social life in modern
nation-states. In most states, variations on this theme form a central
part of the discourse on ideology; the question concerns which type
of social identity is relevant and ultimately, how the social world
is constituted (see Larsen, 1987). A relevant question while considering
different forms of incorporation and integration in some modern states,
is therefore this: Under which circumstances are social identities,
specifically ethnic identities, made relevant in conflicts in modern
states, how do such conflicts arise, and how can they be resolved?
The general answer to this question, as will be evident from the examples
and subsequent discussion, is that such conflicts evolve when agents
act according to particularistic systems of segmentary oppositions,
which either contribute to inequality or are justified by perceptions
of inequality, and where invocations of cultural differences can serve
to account for such strategies. Let me elaborate briefly. Segmentary
oppositions in social integration function according to the general
scheme first developed in Evans-Pritchard's analysis of mechanisms
for the articulation and solution of conflicts among the Nuer of the
Sudan (see Evans-Pritchard, 1940, particularly chapter 4). The general
formula is: "It's I against my brother, my brother and I against
our cousins; my cousins, my brother and myself against our more distant
relatives, etc." In a modern, multi-ethnic society, segmentary
oppositions could be expressed thus by a member of the X'es in country
N: "It's I against my family, my extended lineage and myself
against the rest of the X'es; further, it's all of us X'es against
the other people and the state of N; but it's all of us citizens of
N against the people of the country M." The pattern of competition
and potential conflicts could be envisaged as one consisting of concentric
circles; the general model is analog, for degrees of difference are
made relevant. Unlike the digital model advocated by nationalism,
dividing people into only two, mutually exclusive categories (insiders
and outsiders), segmentary ideologies entail degrees of inside- and
Through its official policies, the state will normally favour forms
of organization incompatible with corporate action along ethnic or
lineage lines; its way of classifying is different (digital or binary)
and the system of segmentary opposition suggested is therefore incompatible
with the organization of most nation-states. On the other hand, the
state may itself represent a form of "lineage organization",
if it is controlled by a dominant ethnic.
One of the examples below describes a society where the nation-state
skilfully mediates between the two conflicting principles of social
2.3. Compromise and hegemony: Mauritius and Trinidad
Nowhere is the notion of the nation as an imagined community more
evidently true than in the colonially created states. Commonly invoked
as examples of this are the new African nation-states (see e.g. Smith,
1983; Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), whose boundaries were randomly
drawn a century ago, and whose nationalisms are of very recent origin.
Even more striking are the culturally constructed nationalisms of
societies which were never pre-colonial. Mauritius and Trinidad &
Tobago are examples of such emergent nations. Both of these island-states,
one in the Indian Ocean, one in the Caribbean, are ethnically heterogeneous
and have always been; the very societies were created through the
mass import of slaves and indentured labourers during the modern era,
and they have been independent less than thirty years7.
Until the 1960s, then, the wider identities of the inhabitants of
these islands were colonial; the people knew that they were British
subjects and that, to some extent, they were ruled from Britain.
Mauritius and Trinidad, demographically similar, have followed different
courses in creating their respective nationalisms. Let us consider
Mauritians are as a rule very conscious of problems related to ethnic
differences. Their society is made up by groups originating from three
continents and four major religions; there is no clear majority, and
yet, the Mauritian nation-state has hitherto avoided systematic inter-ethnic
violence (the one notable exception to this is the series of minor
riots around independence in 1967-8). Yet Mauritians are, regardless
of ethnic membership, determined to retain their ethnic distinctiveness.
Rituals celebrating particular religions are widely attended, there
is little intermarriage between groups, and there is currently an
upsurge in popular interest in cultural origins: Hindi courses are
held for Indo-Mauritians who have never learnt their ancestral tongue,
Arabic is being introduced as the language of the mosque, an Organization
of Afro-Mauritians was set up in the mid-eighties, etc. Simultaneously,
there are strong "centrifugal" forces at work encouraging
a Mauritian nationalism which is identified with uniformity in cultural
practices: the emergent industrial system of production demands uniformly
qualified, mobile labour, which in turn requires a standardization
of education. National radio, TV and newspapers increasingly influence
the form and topic of discourse about society, and the political system
takes little account of ethnic differences. Although parties tend
to be ethnically based, their rhetoric is nationalistic, and public
political discourse is issue-oriented. The Mauritian state, recognizing
the immanent dangers of the potential dominance of one ethnic, has
taken great pains to develop a set of national symbols which can be
endorsed by anybody, and which are thus not associated with one particular
ethnic.8 Caught between different, sometimes
conflicting ideological orientations, Mauritians choose situationally
between the universalist ethics of nationalism, and the particularist
ethics of ethnicity. In matters relating to employment and marriage,
ethnicity is still a major variable, but it is constantly counteracted
by discourse proclaiming the superiority of abstract justice and non-particularism.
The openness of Mauritian discourse, public and private - in particular,
the fact that ethnic conflicts and cultural differences are acknowledged
everywhere as facts of social life, coupled with the absence of a
hegemonic ethnic - indicate the kind of inter-ethnic compromise realized
in Mauritius. Although there are important contradictions between
ideologies of ethnicity and ideologies of nationalism at the level
of individual action, the contradictions are to a great extent reconciled
on the national political level, where compromise, justice, equal
rights and tolerance are emphasized. Ethnically based systems of segmentary
oppositions are encouraged outside of the educational, political and
economic systems, where the virtues of meritocracy are continuously
stressed. Current economic growth certainly contributes to accounting
for the stable political situation, but it is by no means certain
that recession would automatically lead to the breakdown of the currently
shared rules for inter-ethnic relations. Processes of national integration
stressing the necessity of inter-ethnic compromise were evident over
a decade before the current economic boom, which began in the mid-eighties.
The ethnic equilibrium may be fragile, but the political system has
repeatedly proven capable of coping with conflict.
Strategies of compromise, characteristic of Mauritian society, are
- as we are painfully aware - by no means the inevitable outcome of
ethnic plurality. In Trinidad, ethnicity takes on a different meaning.
Like in Mauritius, ethnicity is important in many situations in daily
life as well as in politics, but it is not always acknowledged as
such. Strategies of playing down ethnicity as a relevant topic are
frequently employed in public discourse; this kind of strategy is
typical of dominant groups in many societies. The symbolic content
of Trinidadian nationalism is a good example of this.
1956 may be said to have been the year when Trinidadian nationalism
emerged. For the first time, a pro-independence nationalist political
party (PNM; People's National Movement) won the general elections.
What was the content of its nationalism? The main slogan was Massa
Day Done; a reasonable translation would be "our era as colonial
servants is over". Notions of self-reliance and self-determination
were in themselves powerful official national symbols. To the average
urban Trinidadian, these ideas were extremely attractive, and nationalism
was a strong and intoxicating force in Trinidadian public life throughout
the sixties. But to whom? Who were the Trinidadians whose community
was created imaginatively by the PNM leaders? Looking more closely,
we find several social schisms implicit in Trinidadian nationalism,
the most important of which runs between blacks and Indians. The blacks
are the larger group (but only slightly larger than the Indo-Trinidadian)
and have held the political power since before independence. Indians
were politically and economically marginal, largely confined to the
canefields. The towns were dominated by blacks; the radio played black
music, and the national heroes, the calypsonians, were nearly invariably
black or brown Creoles. The core electorate of the PNM were the urban
black. So what to make of the part played by Indians in early Trinidadian
nationalism? - It is a fact that they were for generations alienated
from power and influence; only since around 1960 have the majority
of Indo-Trinidadians taken part in the national project of Trinidad
& Tobago to the extent that they have received compulsory elementary
schooling and extensive career opportunities in the national political
and economic system. During the last 20 years, and particularly during
the 1980s, there has been a strong wave of Indian ethnic revitalization
in Trinidad. Culturally self-conscious Indians claim that Trinidadian
nationalism is a black ideology with which they cannot identify without
losing their identity as Indians. A question frequently raised critically
by blacks as a reply to this accusation, has been whether it is possible
to be simultaneously Indian and Trinidadian. Here it should be noted
that it would be absurd to ask whether it is possible to be simultaneously
black and Trinidadian, since black culture is identified with national
culture. In other words, the issue deals with responses to state-monitored
attempts at cultural assimilation. Defining Indian culture as anti-national,
blacks confirm their own as that of the Trinidadian nation. Less powerful
than the blacks politically and in public culture, but still a large
category of people now well integrated economically and politically,
Indians react partly through declaring their status as that of an
oppressed minority, partly through allowing themselves to become assimilated,
and partly through arguing that their customs and notions, too, form
part of national Trinidadian culture. The latter line of argument
recalls the official policies of the Mauritian state, where the desirability
of cultural pluralism is emphasized (provided it does not conflict
with bureaucratic and capitalistic values). In Trinidad, the legitimacy
of ethnic systems of segmentary oppositions is rejected in official
discourse, but there is also a systematic inequality of power between
ethnic groups. Stressing an ideology of equality in an environment
of inequality is characteristic of dominant groups.9
The unequal distribution of power thus seems to account for the significant
variations in the techniques used for handling ethnic differences
in Trinidad and Mauritius.
Trinidad and Mauritius were chosen as examples because they are in
many ways similar, yet display two very different solutions to the
problem of multiculturalism versus nationalism. Both maintain ethnic
peace on the national level; neither has currently an ethnic problem
involving systematic physical violence, whether between individuals
or between state and individual.10 However,
the Trinidadian model structurally resembles that of less successful
multi-cultural societies. The United States is an example of such
a society, where all citizens, regardless of race and religion, have
the same basic rights, but where rules of social mobility favour some
but not all, and where nationalism is identified with cultural symbols
of the hegemonic group. Thus, blacks and Hispanics are disqualified
in a way structurally similar to that of Indians in Trinidad. Ideologies
of equality in this way serve to justify inequality whenever they
fail to account for cultural differences. Additionally, the US nation
contains - or encapsulates - ethnic minorities whose cultural distinctiveness
is in important ways incompatible with the requirements of national
society. This is clearly the case with Amerindian groups, who more
obviously than blacks and Hispanics suffer culturally from the intrusion
of nationalistically justified imperatives. Participation in the capitalist
economy, the schooling system etc. may contradict important features
of their way of life. In the case of such groups, the problem is not
only one of inequal distribution of power; it is perhaps chiefly a
problem of cultural and political autonomy. In this kind of state/ethnic
relationship, the powerless, "muted" group may demand the
right to be culturally different in confrontation with the state,
in a context of overwhelming power asymmetry.
We now turn to a description a conflict of this type, which is nevertheless
atypical - and therefore interesting analytically - because this state
is in principle willing to take part in dialogue with the minority.
2.4. Indigenous peoples and state penetration: The example of northern
The relationship between the Norwegian state and the Saami (Lappish)
minority in Northern Norway is complex, and a brief outline of some
aspects of the contemporary relationship will have to suffice.
Since the start of the post-war wave of ethnic revitalization among
the Saami (roughly since the 1950s), the Saami organizations' demand
for cultural and political self-determination has grown in intensity.
The ethnic processes taking place in territories settled by Saami
are similar to nationalist movements. There is a current resurgence
in popular interest in the recodification and glorification of their
stigmatized cultural tradition, and there has consequently been an
increasingly articulated dichotomization in interaction with Norwegians
and mainstream Norwegian culture and society (Eidheim, 1971). These
processes are similar to those of the burgeoning Norwegian nationalism
of the mid-19th century (see Østerud, 1984). There is one major
difference, however, between indigenous rights groups such as the
Saami, and classical nationalist movements. The Saami do not presently
demand full sovereignty; they do not intend to set up a Saami nation-state.
Orienting themselves towards international law, the Saami nevertheless
fight for self-determination in matters considered vital to their
survival as a culture-bearing group. In this they have aims comparable
to those of indigenous groups in the Americas, in Australia and elsewhere.
This would have to include an institutionalization of the relationship
between the state and themselves built on an official recognition
of their right to self-determination as an indigenous people and a
recognition of the state's duty to grant these special rights.
A profound dilemma for the Saami movement, then, is rooted in the
rather paradoxical situation that the state against which they fight
for self-determination must also, in the last instance, be accepted
as an ultimate guarantor for the very same rights that it threatens.
Norwegian policies vis-à-vis the Saami, insofar as they have
acknowledged the Saami as a culturally distinctive minority, have
until recently focused on questions of juridical rights defined within
the national Norwegian idiom. The Saami movement was not successful
until it was able to present itself effectively as the representative
of a Fourth World people and present its case in the idiom of international
law, although an institutionalized division of power between the nation-state
and the newly elected Saami parliament (1989) is now emerging. Unlike
the situation in Mauritius and Trinidad, where negotiation takes place
in a shared idiom of discourse, the State-Saami context is still one
where there is not always agreement regarding the very rules of the
game (see Eidheim, 1985, for a full discussion).
This dilemma goes to the core of a central problem of nationalism:
the nationalist tendency towards cultural homogenization, and the
accompanying tendency to frame every political question in the state's
legalistic, bureaucratic form of discourse. This disqualifies culturally
distinctive groups from full participation, and simultaneously promotes
their assimilation. The process taking part in the northernmost part
of Europe is an interesting one from this point of view, since the
state is here in principle sympathetically inclined to a dialogue
with a well articulated, culturally distinctive group. The recent
founding of an elected Saami parliament (with limited power) may enable
Saami to articulate their political demands in their own terms. Such
an attempt may, however, be unsuccessful for two reasons: First, the
structure of the Saami parliament is modelled on Norwegian political
institutions - it resembles a county council - which may result in
an internationalization of the form of Saami politics. Secondly, the
necessary discourse with the Norwegian state must probably be kept
within a Norwegian idiom focussing on juridical rights and duties.
The ideological situation of contemporary Saami is a difficult one.
Simultaneously a Norwegian citizen and member of the modern world
on the one hand, and a member of a cultural minority on the other,
the average Saami is faced with a number of difficult choices. He
is culturally and ideologically opposed to, and yet economically and
structurally dependent on, the Norwegian state. It is relatively easy
for Saami to assimilate, to become Norwegian, and many do. This should
not be taken as an indication of Norwegian nationalism among the indigenes
- there is little in their history and contemporary situation encouraging
such an ideology, - it should rather be seen as a tangible indication
of the division of power and opportunities in a modern state society.
Unless a truly ingenious model of autonomy within the national state
is developed, the structural imperatives for Saami to assimilate will
probably work in favour of assimilation in the long run, and the Saami
ethnic may eventually vanish. The dominant Norwegian nationalism will
in that case emerge victorious; not primarily as a belief system,
however, but as a power structure and a set of unified, integrating
political, economic and domestic practices. Ethnically based systems
of segmentary oppositions (Saami values/principles against Norwegian
values/principles) will in this case be invalidated: if they eventually
cease to be relevant in all kinds of interaction, then the Saami minority
will have been been fully assimilated.
On the other hand, if the principles of international law concerning
the rights of indigenous peoples are fully acknowledged in the practices
of the Norwegian state, then the Saami may survive as a culture-bearing
group within the territory of the Norwegian state, which may thereby
avoid otherwise inevitable accusations of cultural genocide.
It should be noted, finally, that the Saami movement draws much of
its legitimacy from political entities not constituted by the state
or by a system of states (such as the UN or the Common Market), but
from international Fourth World organizations and informal networks,
and through transnational public support. Fourth World politics thus
serves as a countervailing influence - however modest - to the state's
monopoly of political power in the contemporary world.
2.5. National attitudes to ethnic minorities
Ethnic minorities pose a problem to the national state to the extent
that they communicate their distinctiveness in contexts where this
distinctiveness is incompatible with requirements of the nation-state,
notably those referring to formal equality and uniform practices.
The minorities, as is evident from the example of the Saami, are faced
with threats of more or less enforced assimilation. The intensity
of such pressures to assimilate is generally linked to the degree
of modernization and the level of state integration in national society.
Where ethnic minorities could formerly be ignored and left alone,
they are, in the modern world, defined from the outside as citizens
of the national state, and are thus given equal rights by an administrative
apparatus unable to - or at least unwilling to - grant its subjects
unequal rights on grounds of cultural distinctiveness. Indigenes or
other ethnically distinctive populations may, too, serve as negative
symbols of the nation, in which case the relationship is chiefly one
of conflict or oppression, not one of possible compromise. This was
clearly the case in Nazi Germany, where Germanness was defined in
contrast to the un-Germanness of Jews, Gypsies and Slavs (and this
still holds to some extent in modern Germany; see Forsythe, 1989).
On the other hand, ethnic minority populations can also be used symbolically
in an apparently opposite way, as metaphors of the nation. This seems
to be the case in Australia, where aboriginals "have become so
close to the centre of nationalist thought that they have suffered
from it" (Kapferer, 1988, p. 142). In emphasizing the purity
and ancientness of aboriginal society, official Australia prevents
their assimilation in a manner not dissimilar from policies of apartheid;
that is, they are given differential treatment due to differences
in culture (or race). That Aboriginals are not treated as equals by
the Australian state is evident (Kapferer, ibid.), and Australian
prejudices against people of non-Northern European descent indicate
that Australian egalitarianism applies only to those perceived as
the same kind of people(see Kapferer, 1988, pp. 183 ff.).
2.6. Autonomy or assimilation?
On the one hand, ethnic minorities may demand specific rights because
of their distinctive culture and way of life. On the other hand, they
may suffer systematic discrimination if they are granted such rights
by the state. South African apartheid is an even more obvious example
of this than the Australian policies vis-à-vis Aboriginals.
When the "Bantustans" or "homelands" were created,
black South Africans were formally allowed to refuse to contribute
to the white economic system to which they were, inextricably, structurally
tied. The teaching of African languages among blacks has also been
encouraged in apartheid policy. This has enabled blacks to retain
parts of their cultural heritage, and it has equally efficiently debarred
them from political participation in South African society.11
Their systems of segmentary oppositions have been isolated from the
wider social context of which they potentially form part.
It may seem, then, that neither solution is viable. If all citizens
are to be treated equally, then cultural minorities are disqualified
because their particular skills are ignored. But if citizens are treated
unequally on the basis of cultural difference, then cultural minorities
suffer discrimination because they lack certain rights granted the
rest of the population. It may seem, then, that ethnic minorities
are bound to lose any conceivable battle with the state.
The dilemma is easier to resolve - at least in theory - than it may
seem. If we consider the Trinidadian situation again, the crucial
factor in the cultural predicament of Indo-Trinidadians clearly consists
in the official definition of nationalism. If Trinidadian nationalism
is to be defined as coterminous with black culture, then Indians have
to choose between evils, as it were; either they assimilate and become
"Creoles", or they retain their Indianness at the risk of
being ostracized and disqualified. If the definition of Trinidadianness
on the contrary is extended to include Hindus, and if India is officially
recognized as an ancestral Trinidadian land, then it may be possible
to be Indian and Trinidadian without more ado. Similarly, multi-cultural
nations such as Australia, the United States and South Africa could
conceivably extend the idiom of nationalism to include non-white people,
creating compromises and tolerating differences in a "Mauritian"
The more fundamental problem is, however, not yet resolved. For nationalism,
intimately linked with the state and large-scale organization, entails
specific principles of social organization not necessarily compatible
with those of ethnic minorities. The success of Mauritian nationalism
seems to depend on the containment of such differences to contexts
where ethnic segmentary oppositions do not interfere with the principles
of the state. Cultural minorities, apparently, are thus forced to
adapt to some of the demands of the modern state in order to be able
to articulate their interests. This will to a greater or lesser extent
entail cultural change. If they refuse, they run the risk of witnessing
the purchase of their ancestral land for a handful of coloured glass
beads. For the key variable in the understanding of relationships
between nations and ethnics is power. The power invariably lies with
the state, which officially represents the nation, which possesses
the monopoly of legitimate violence, which contains the culturally
hegemonic group, - and which thereby defines the terms of negotiation
and the form of discourse. Powerless groups must therefore learn to
master the language of the powerful, and in this process they may
have to alter their cultural identity substantially. This applies
equally to aboriginal populations and to urban minorities, although
emphases may differ; for one thing, urban minorities, unlike many
indigenes, usually engage in wagework and in this conform to a central
requirement of nationalist ideology.
3. The justification of nationalism: Symbols, power, integrating practices
In order to function successfully, nationalism must legitimize the
power of the state, and it must simultaneously make the lives of citizens
seem inherently meaningful. The partial failure of Norwegian nationalism
to make sense to the Saami in this dual fashion has led to negotiations,
where the Norwegian nation-state nevertheless sets the terms by ignoring
and tacitly disapproving of Saami identity and selfhood. Indeed, in
all the examples mentioned except that of Mauritius, which is in this
respect considered a success, conflicts between nation-states and
ethnics can be understood along this dimension. If the state fails
to persuade its citizens that it represents the realization of (some
of) their dreams and aspirations, then its power may appear illegitimate.
The result may be revolt, and in such cases the state may well resort
to violence. This is well known from many countries, past and present.
My point has been that there are also powerful non-violent means available
for the nation-state to secure its monopoly of political power, even
if nationalist ideology fails. The most important is the state's exclusive
right to define the terms of discourse, including its right to collect
taxes. In well integrated states, these terms of discourse take on
the form of doxa (Bourdieu, 1980); that is, they are perceived as
unquestionable. In states including groups which are not integrated
in the state through a shared education, participation in the same
economic system, etc., this form of statal power is perceived as a
form of coercion; as enforced "acculturation", as it were.
The ideological power of nationalism is often (but not always) expressed
in the official identification of enemies, and as has been noted many
times by analysts, warfare can serve as a nationally integrating force.
Any segmentary opposition (or other forms of conflict) within the
polity may be postponed and "forgotten" when an external
enemy encourages the realization of the highest, unambiguously binary
level of the system of oppositions. The Falklands/ Malvinas war between
Britain and Argentina (1982) is a recent example of this familiar
mechanism, at least if seen from a British point of view. Similarly,
the identification and prosecution of internal enemies has been a
familiar technique of integration for centuries. Contemporary witchhunts
include the Kenyan police-state's "internal war" against
the partly mythical opposition group Mwakenya and, emerging from popular
(not state-monitored) nationalism, French nationalists' designation
of North Africans as the main threat to Frenchness. In order to understand
the persuasive power of nationalism on the one hand, and its oppressive
aspects on the other, it must be conceded that nationalism is, ultimately,
a particularist form of ideology: it defines cultural and social boundaries
on behalf of a community, and it excludes those who do not fit in.
I have argued that these boundaries are flexible, but have also indicated
that they are not indefinitely so. Notably, nationalism - as the ideology
which holds that the boundaries of the state should be coterminous
with the boundaries of the cultural community12
- requires cultural uniformity in certain respects. Nationalism represents
a simple binary opposition (between citizens and non-citizens), whereas
other ideologies differentiate between people in segmentary terms.
The state, which by the late 20th century necessarily represents a
successful nationalism (i.e., it is a nation-state), possesses a monopoly
of violence and has exclusive rights to extract tribute in the form
of taxes. It is therefore in the immediate interest of a successful
nationalism to promote cultural homogeneity as regards law and order,
and economic activity. Conflicts between pastoralists and the new
states in Africa typically exemplify this problem. Pastoralists do
not acknowledge the laws pertaining to private property (nor, for
that matter, national borders), and since their economy is not chiefly
a monetary one, they do not contribute financially to the state. Therefore,
they are by definition anti-nationalists insofar as they reside within
the state which, as ideology has it, should be coterminous with the
cultural community. In a very fundamental sense, then, every human
being in the late 20th century is encouraged - or forced - to take
on an identity as a citizen. As indicated, those who do not tend to
lose. The battle between nationalist and ethnic ideologies is most
frequently won by the dominant nationalism, which is already represented
in the state. However, as I have suggested, there are possible compromises
between the ideology of the nation-state and ethnicity - even if the
inherently aggressive assimilating drive of state nationalism is acknowledged.
Let us therefore consider some conditions for the resolution - or
avoidance - of conflicts between state nationalism and ethnicity.
4. Conditions for multi-cultural peace
Two main types of conflict involve nationalist ideology. Many conflicts
arise between states or potential states. Every international conflict
involving states - as well as civil wars such as the one in Sri Lanka,
where one party fights for political secession - are varieties of
this kind of conflict. The ideologies activated are all explicitly
nationalist in character.
This discussion has focussed on the second type of conflict. This
kind of conflict unfolds within a state where neither party favours
political secession. Such conflicts can involve the state and one
or several ethnics; ideologically, they are ambiguous as several of
the combatants may claim to represent universalism and nationalism
on behalf of all of the groups involved in the conflict, notwithstanding
that some other group may (or may not) form the majority and/or be
in charge of the state administration. This category of conflicts
is the most complex, empirically and ideologically.
By way of conclusion, we can now indicate some necessary (although
not sufficient) conditions for the resolution of types of conflicts
involving categories of people where their stressing mutual cultural
differences forms an important part of the ideological justification
of the conflict, and where the boundaries of the state are not challenged.
In other words, this is an attempt to delineate conditions for peaceful
cultural plurality within a modern state.
4.1. Necessary conditions for peaceful multiculturalism
· Equal access to the educational system, the labour market
and/or other shared facilities should be deemed as desirable. This
must also entail the right to be different, the right not to participate
in national society in certain respects, the right to enact systems
of segmentary oppositions not sanctioned by the state. The judiciary
system will normally limit the extent of the articulation of such
differences. Laws are changeable.
· National identity should be available to all citizens regardless
of their cultural differences.
· State policies pertaining to multiculturalism should take
account of possible culturally contingent differences in their definitions
· By implication, the state cannot be identified with a set
of symbols exclusively representing one or a few component populations.
· Political power should be decentralized, and different principles
for local political organization should be accepted.
Differences between nation-states as regards modes of integration,
political systems and economic circumstances are enormous. Since I
have throughout this article treated the nation-state as an analytical
concept, I am now compelled to mention some of the relevant differences
between actual, historically situated nation-states.
First, the differences in degree of incorporation within the state
are crucial. For instance, many African and Melanesian societies are
hardly at all integrated on a national level; their members hardly
participate in national society. The problems discussed in this article
do not apply to them yet (although they are faced with different problems).
Secondly, the degree of cultural uniformity within nation-states varies.
Even in Mauritius, where the absence of cultural uniformity seems
to have been turned into a blessing for nationalism, cultural homogeneity
is very high in important respects; there is consensus as regards
the political system, there is uniform participation in the educational
system as well as the capitalist economy. Conflicts between state
and ethnic are more difficult to resolve when representatives of the
ethnic demand participation on their own terms, which need not be
those of the nation-state.
Thirdly, it is empirically significant whether a particular nation-state
and its accompanying ideology has emerged out of feudalism or out
of colonialism (or both at once, as seems to be the case with some
of the post-1989 East European nationalisms). The former societies
tend to be better integrated, socially and culturally, than the latter.
Fourthly, specific political traditions or histories influence the
nature of inter-ethnic relations. The history of slavery contributes
to shaping the contemporary relationship between blacks and the US
nation-state and seems to prevent constructive dialogue. On the other
hand, the moderate success of independent Zimbabwe as regards ethnic
relations shows that there is nothing inevitable in this kind of historical
Fifthly, and perhaps most fundamentally, the actual division of political
and economic power (and thereby, the division of discursive power)
constitutes, in an important sense, the social structure of a society.
In a word, groups which are oppressed, poor and stigmatized have little
opportunity to articulate their claims convincingly. The remarkable
success of North American Jews in retaining their ethnic identity,
governing their own destiny and yet being recognized as good Americans,
a striking success compared with other immigrant groups, has been
possible only because their economic power has been considerable.
In sum, if violence or other serious conflicts between nation-state
and ethnicity are to be avoided, then the state must reduce its demands
as regards the degree of cultural integration of its citizens. Since
it is virtually second nature of modern, bureaucratic states (unlike
earlier, pre-nationalist states) to promote cultural integration at
any cost, this is extremely difficult to achieve. It remains an indubitable
fact, nevertheless, that the responsibility lies largely with the
state so long as it insists on retaining its monopolies of political
power and the use of legitimate violence.
Acknowledgements. Several persons have read and commented on an earlier
version of the article. Hülya Demirdirek provided stimulating
criticism and comments on both substantial and theoretical issues.
Iver B. Neumann contributed many valuable insights and suggestions
from the field of International Relations. Georg Henriksen and Jo
Helle-Valle raised important issues concerning the treatment of nationalism
and ethnicity. Nils-Petter Gleditsch suggested several improvements
of both form and content. Last but not least; thanks to Harald Eidheim's
suggestions, the exposition has been considerably clarified - particularly
in the section dealing with the Saami. The ongoing research project
on ideologies in Trinidad and Mauritius has been funded by a grant
and a subsequent fellowship from the Norwegian Research Council for
the Sciences and the Humanities (NAVF).
1Relationships of coercion and integration
between and within states are not, of course, necessarily constituted
on the principles of the sovereignty of the state. When, in 1968,
the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia and when, a decade later, the Red
Army invaded Afghanistan, the limits of the relevant polity were drawn
outside of national boundaries. Conversely, to the extent that the
USSR failed to use violence to suppress autonomists in the Baltic
republics in 1989-90, the relevant limits of the polity were drawn
inside the state. In neither case was the state unambiguously perceived
as the relevant political unit.
2A good, topically relevant demonstration
of this dual character of ideology, is Kapferer's (1988) analysis
of the nationalisms of Sri Lanka and Australia.
3This does not mean that ethnicity can
be reduced meaningfully to politics. I have argued earlier (Eriksen,
1988) that ethnic identity and ethnic organization are both irreducible
aspects of the phenomenon.
4Whatever their "objective content",
cultural differences are important as long as they make a difference
to the people involved. In a given situation, the communicated cultural
differences between say, Kikuyu and Kamba in Kenya (who are linguistically
close) may be more important than those obtaining between Kikuyu and
Luo (who are linguistically distant).
5The Zimbabwean example brings out some
of the ambiguities of the matter: To the whites, who lost the civil
war, Zimbabwean nationalism presented itself as a relevant option
to be endorsed or rejected. Many failed to make up their mind unambiguously,
and tend to oscillate situationally between Zimbabwean nationalist
and Rhodesian supremacist ideologies.
6My use of ethnic as noun is inspired by
the French word ethnie, which is semantically wider than the
term "ethnic group", which connotes tight group integration.
7Trinidad & Tobago became intependent
from Britain in 1962, Mauritius in 1968. Both are members of the Commonwealth.
Research in Mauritius and Trinidad was carried out, respectively,
in 1986 and 1989.
8This is dealt with more fully in Eriksen,
1988, pp. 166-213. The issue of language is discussed in Eriksen,1990.
9See Ardener (1989, pp. 129-30) on dominant
and "muted" groups with particular reference to gender.
10The attempted coup d'etat in Trinidad
in July, 1990, was not ethnically motivated. Although known as "Black
Muslims", apparently an ethnic label, the rebels were a tiny
group of politically frustrated radicals with little initial popular
support. It is possible that the looting and burning taking place
in Port of Spain for a few days during the drama did have an ethnic
aspect in the targeting of wealthy Syrians, but this was no marked
feature of the riots.
11The South African situation further exemplifies
the connection between industrialism and nationalism: Business interests
in South Africa favour universal nationalism because it will integrate
a larger number of people into the economic system, while other whites
continue to support the non-nationalist apartheid system.
12The related, but different ideology of
federalism, is not considered here. It may provide solutions to some
of the problems discussed. This also applies to the "consociational"
state model discussed and advocated by Lijphart (1977). Forms of conflict
not considered here are those emerging from "irridenta nationalism"
(the most famous example of which is probably that of Alto Adige/Süd-Tirol
in North-Eastern Italy), and forms of national integration not considered
include diaspora nationalisms, where the nation is not strictly localized
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©Thomas Hylland Eriksen 1991