Us and Them in Modern Societies
Ethnicity and Nationalism in Trinidad, Mauritius
Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Scandinavian University Press 1992
This book is a hybrid
between a collection of articles and a theoretical monograph informed
by original ethnography. Some of the nine chapters had been published
in earlier versions in various professional journals; some were adapted
chapters from my doctoral thesis; and the introduction was written entirely
for this volume.
Drawing extensively on material collected in Mauritius (1986) and Trinidad
(1989), two multi-ethnic societies which both display the whole range
of ethnic relations at the micro level -- from intermarriage (frequent)
to ethnic violence (rare) -- the book analyses ethnic phenomena at several
levels: in its relationship to a supra-ethnic nation-building ideology,
as a property of social relations and as a property of culture, in relation
to peace and political stability, and in relation to power discrepancies.
In several chapters it is shown that a certain degree of shared culture
is required for a poly-ethnic society to be viable; notably, a shared
set of political rules, a shared labour market and shared institutions
of education. Thus the link between ethnicity and culture becomes tenuous,
as one can have a great ethnic diversity and minor cultural variations
(and vice versa, great cultural variations in ethnically homogeneous societies).
In this sense, all societies are "plural" and not just the poly-ethnic
ones. The first chapter is available here in html format, while Chapters 1, 4 and 7 are available as this PDF:
Foreword by Bruce Kapferer
1. Introduction: On the study of ethnicity
2. Ethnicity as a comparative concept: A justification
3. The cultural contexts of ethnic differences
4. Ethnicity versus nationalism
5. Containing conflict and transcending ethnicity?
6. Linguistic diversity and the quest for national identity
7. New World Indians: A comparison between Trinidad and Mauritius
8. Two nationalisms
9. Against pluralism: Ethnicity and modernity
1. Introduction: On the
Study of Ethnicity and Ethnicities
Although every chapter in this book deals, to a greater or lesser
extent, with aspects of society and culture in Trinidad and/or Mauritius,
the book is chiefly intended as a contribution to the interdisciplinary
theoretical discussion on ethnicity, nationalism and modernity.
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 depart from, and elaborate on, current anthropological
perspectives on ethnicity and nationalism; Chapters 5, 6 and 7 are
more ethnographic in nature, although they, too, are meant to illuminate
the theoretical discussions about the phenomena; while Chapters
8 and 9 are attempts to move beyond some of the current theorizing
on "poly-ethnic societies". In this introductory chapter,
I shall give an overview of the main issues to be tackled and the
analytical framework employed in so doing. I will also briefly situate
the present work in contemporary Anglophone academic discourse.
First, however, I shall suggest why Trinidad and Mauritius deserve
sustained attention by practitioners of the comparative social disciplines.
Why Trinidad and Mauritius?
Trinidad & Tobago and Mauritius are tropical island-states,
located in the southern Caribbean and the south-western Indian Ocean,
respectively. Neither has a pre-modern history; as societies, they
were created by plantation colonialism and were thus contributors
to the development of a capitalist world-system. (Trinidad, unlike
Mauritius, did have an indigenous population, which has been brutally
exterminated without leaving any visible trace.) They belong to
a category of societies which has not been intensively studied by
social anthropologists; they are neither "primitive" societies
nor "our own" society. They represent varieties of modernity
sometimes carelessly labelled "creole cultures". This
term, parasitical on the more accurate linguistic term "creole
language" (see e.g. Hancock, 1979), suggests the presence of
an incongruous admixture of cultural traditions. This idea, if ultimately
misleading, at least puts us on the right track. Both island-states,
independent since the 1960s, contain populations of diverse origins,
and are for this reason often classified as "plural" societies.
The population segments which make up these societies are aware
of their objective uprootedness; at the same time, they scarcely
yearn for their ancestral lands (India and Africa, in most cases).
Nation-building in Trinidad and Mauritius, in other words, is a
complex project and frequently a thorny issue in domestic politics
(see Chapters 4, 7 and 8; see also Eriksen, 1991e).Given the small
territories of the islands, secession could never be an option for
discontented groups. Further, nobody would be able to win a civil
war. The uprooted populations of Trinidad and Mauritius have but
two opportunities: emigration (which has been, and still is, common)
or compromise. The latter option has largely been chosen in political
life. During their brief period of independence, both societies
have admirably avoided inter-ethnic violence, and both are functioning
multi-party democracies. Lastly, both Trinidad and Mauritius are
presently changing in ways which may (or may not) render ethnicity
irrelevant in most practical contexts in a not too remote future.
In sum, then, Trinidad and Mauritius are tropical, densely populated,
emphatically modern, poly-ethnic and democratic societies which
change quickly, economically and culturally. What more could an
analyst ask for? All of these issues will be discussed in the chapters
to follow. For now I turn to an explication of the analytical framework
to be employed.
Cornering the Elusive Fact of Ethnicity
Definitional quarrels concerning the concept of ethnicity and problems
arising in this connection have led some scholars to discard the
concept of ethnicity altogether (see, for example, Chapman et al.,
1989), replacing it with a more comprehensive concept of classification.
To make my position clear, I should state that in my view this is
rather an overstatement of the issue. Instead of abandoning the
ship, we might try to keep it afloat a while yet, to see whether
or not the concept of ethnicity has been exhausted as a conceptual
bridgehead towards a comparative understanding of social phenomena
which are otherwise different.
Some of the contemporary confusion and resignation over the use
and misuse of the concept of ethnicity arises, clearly, out of its
being used for very different analytical (or ideological!) purposes,
its being applied to human phenomena ranging from presumed biological
dispositions (e.g. van den Berghe, 1981; 1986) or socio-psychological
features of identity (e.g. Epstein, 1978; Liebkind, 1989) over situational
analysis (e.g. Eidheim, 1971) and local political strategies (e.g.
Cohen, 1969; 1974b) or minority strategies (e.g. Fishman, 1989)
to comprehensive collective ideologies (e.g. Nash, 1988) on the
one hand, and aspects of societal formations on the other (e.g.
M.G. Smith, 1965.)1
In addition, ethnicity has entered the political vocabulary of our
times, and the inaccurate usage current in the mass media may have
a dangerously contagious effect on analytical conceptualizations.
The academic discourse on ethnicity is multidisciplinary and frequently
interdisciplinary, and the concept of ethnicity has lost some of
its accuracy because of the lack of discipline sometimes implied
by interdisciplinary work. I should therefore make it clear that
I am persuaded that we need a shared, comparative concept of ethnicity
which is so fashioned that it may shamelessly be applied to contexts
which are otherwise enormously different. Ethnicity, then, should
be taken to mean the systematic and enduring social reproduction
of basic classificatory differences between categories of people
who perceive each other as being culturally discrete. It has aspects
of politics as well as aspects of meaning or identity.2
This concept of ethnicity will be discussed in several of the chapters
to follow (see particularly Chapters 2 and 3). Below, I shall therefore
limit myself to discussing a few of its implications not dealt with
"Kinds" of Ethnicity?
The still quite recent development in ethnic studies which can be
referred to as the Barthian revolution, consists of a number of
related insights developed in the volume edited by Fredrik Barth
following a conference in Bergen in 1967 (Barth, 1969b). Barth and
his Scandinavian colleagues stressed that ethnicity should not be
regarded as a property of a group, but rather as an aspect of social
relationship and process. In other words, it was seen as futile
and misleading to distinguish ethnic groups through listing different
"cultural traits" supposedly dividing "cultural groups",
as had been common until the mid-1960s (and which is, incidentally,
still common among non-specialists). Instead, Barth suggested in
his celebrated introductory chapter, one should look for what was
socially effective; that is the ethnic boundaries whereby socially
relevant cultural boundaries were being reproduced. In Chapter 3,
I discuss the Barthian perspective extensively, and I shall therefore
leave it for now.
However, the insistence on formal aspects of social relationship
as fundamental to ethnicity deserves a few comments in this introduction,
not least as it is (I hope) to be read by some non-anthropologists.
The issue deals with the relationship between form and substance
in ethnicity. The programmatic insistence by Barth, Eidheim (1969,
1971) and others (which has, however, not always been followed up
in practice) that all social phenomena involving ethnic boundary
maintenance are in some relevant respect similar, no matter what
their other characteristics, has led to great uneasiness, and has
probably been partly responsible for the abandoning of the comparative
concept of ethnicity on the part of a number of younger scholars,
who prefer to slice up the social world according to different principles.
For sheer common sense forces us to concede that ethnic groups in
the Amazon forest are faced with problems different from those of
ethnic groups in South London, and that the latter again are in
important, analytically relevant respects different from secessionist
movements in Canada or Sri Lanka. Can they meaningfully be regarded
as the "same kind of group", and do they require the same
Allow me now to describe some characteristics of some different
"kinds" of ethnic groups usually dealt with in the literature,
in order to highlight their differences, to see if they have anything
in common, and whether whatever they may have in common should either
merit an extension of the Barthian perspective or contradict it.
My own definition, as proposed above, is a variation on the Barthian
theme; and it is also closely related to the heuristic concept of
political­p;symbolic ethnicity proposed by Abner Cohen (1974a).
The comparison between the four "types of ethnic groups"
below is meant to indicate how and why substantial, empirical contexts
and formal analytical contexts must be kept apart. It is also intended
to show how comparison between substantial contexts (empirical,
political or otherwise concrete societal phenomena) and the abstract
classification of substantial contexts must be mediated by analytical
contexts to be intelligible; that is, by our own inventions.
(1) Urban minorities. The Muslim immigrant populations of Western
Europe may serve as a representative example of this category. Most
of them have arrived since the Second World War in search of a livelihood.
Although many second-generation immigrants of this category have
lost their mother-tongue and have acquired citizenship, they remain
self-consciously distinctive, and there can be no question of their
status as ethnic minorities. Research, particularly in Britain and
Scandinavia, has focused on problems of adaptation and, conversely,
on discriminatory practices on the part of the host countries. More
recently, questions of cultural identity and belonging have entered
the research agenda. Some problems revealed in research on these
minorities, and often mentioned by their spokesmen, are (i) discrimination
in the labour market, (ii) cultural discrimination in the public
sphere (re the Rushdie affair), (iii) marginality in relation to
the formal political system, (iv) the loss of cultural identity;
for example, the second generation's lack of a true mother country
or mother-tongue. These minorities, which are nevertheless usually
ideologically oriented toward an ancestral land, rarely or never
demand political autonomy, and, of course, they never demand political
independence. Their aim is to be as well integrated as possible
into the labour market of the host country without losing their
distinctiveness; many expect to return to their ancestral country
eventually (and many do so, some even within a few years). Their
strategies in relation to the political and educational systems
of the host countries tend to reflect a concern to be accepted as
valuable contributors to the economy on the one hand, and as a legitimate
cultural minority on the other hand.
(2) Indigenous populations. "Indigenous populations" is
a blanket term for aboriginal inhabitants who are politically non-dominant
and who are not, or only partially, integrated into the dominant
nation-state. This means that their language, customs, political
practices and/or livelihood must be different from that championed
by the state. Indigenous populations are also defined by their being
acknowledged as such by international organizations such as IWGIA
(International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs) in Copenhagen,
Minority Rights Group in London, and their own non-localized council,
WCIP (World Council of Indigenous Peoples). The Basques of the Bay
of Biscay and the Welsh of Great Britain are usually not considered
indigenous populations in these forums, although they are certainly
as indigenous, technically speaking, as the Saami of northern Scandinavia
or the Jivaro of the western Amazon. This is because their integration
into the institutions of modernity is too complete; they take part
in most of the practices instituted in, and sanctioned by, the nation-state.
For one thing, the languages of "real" indigenous peoples
should be chiefly oral, and their technology should be largely indigenous
and non-industrial. As a rule, indigenous peoples are only partly
integrated into, or claim the right of autonomy from, basic institutional
dimensions of the modern nation-state such as capitalism, mass surveillance,
militarization and/or industrialism (see Giddens, 1990:59). The
concept "indigenous people" is not an accurate analytical
one, but one drawing on broad family resemblances and contemporary
Scholars studying indigenous peoples implicitly assume that they
need special protection and particular rights if they are to retain
important aspects of their cultural heritage and develop some form
of political autonomy. Features shared by indigenous peoples worldwide
include: (i) territorial claims not respected by governments, (ii)
threats of "cultural genocide", that is, enforced assimilation
or physical extermination, (iii) a way of life requiring special
measures in economic, political and or educational matters. Indigenous
peoples do not, as a rule, intend to set up their own nation-states.
On the contrary, they tend to stress that their cultural distinctiveness
requires that they should be allowed (by the nation-state) to retain
their original political system in some or all respects. In their
political struggle, they often depict their loss of their ancient
homeland as theft on the part of the immigrants. They may in this
respect demand some form of retribution from the nation-state. Common
to the groups assembled in the WCIP is also a non-modern traditional
technology and non-state traditional social organization. In the
study of indigenous peoples and in their political struggle, their
cultural uniqueness is often contrasted with central aspects of
modernity, although there are variations. (See also Chapter 4.)
(3) Proto-nation-states ("ethnonationalist" movements).
These groups, the most famous of ethnic groups in the news media
in the early 1990s, include Kurds, Sikhs, Palestinians and southern
Tamils, and their number is growing. They may be said to include
diaspora or irredentist nationalists such as Kenyan Somalis, Northern
Irish Catholics, Hungarians in Romania, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh
and German-speaking Alto-Adigese; as a rule, however, they have
no external nation-state to relate to. They are secessionists, claiming
that their cultural uniqueness implies that they should have their
own nation-state and not be "ruled by others". These groups,
short of having a nation-state, may be said to have more substantial
characteristics in common with nations in nation-states than with
either urban minorities or indigenous peoples. They are always territorially
based; they are differentiated according to class and educational
achievement; they are neither more nor less modern than others.
In accordance with a common usage of the term, these groups are
"nations without a state".
(4) "Plural societies". The term "plural society"
is usually used about colonially created states with self-consciously
culturally heterogeneous populations (M. G. Smith, 1965; see Chapter
9). Typical plural societies, originally analysed by J. S. Furnivall
(1948) and later by M. G. Smith, would include Burma, Indonesia
and Jamaica. The groups that make up the plural society, although
they are forced to participate in uniform political and economic
systems, are regarded as (and regard themselves as) highly distinctive
in other matters. According to Furnivall (1948) and Smith (1965),
one group tends to dominate politics in the plural society. In the
context of the typology of ethnic groups which I am presently trying
out, the population segments of plural societies are distinctive
in the following ways: (i) they have no external nation-state to
relate to realistically; (ii) they are not strong nationalists,
but rather tend to identify with their ethnic group; (iii) secessionism
is normally not perceived as an alternative; (iv) each population
segment is internally divided according to class and possibly other
criteria of rank. According to Smith, these societies are deeply
divided and potentially violent, but this view has been challenged
repeatedly (see Ryan, 1990; see also Chapter 9). The relationship
of the groups that make up plural societies to the modern institutions
of the nation-state and the market, is not deemed an important variable
in this approach. African nation-states and the United States alike
are considered plural societies (M. G. Smith, 1986), although the
groups that make up the former are much more heterogeneous in this
respect than most of the groups that make up the latter. The general
idea is that plural societies are faced with a constant threat of
fragmentation due to group competition and group-based quest for
power. Trinidad and Mauritius, which furnish the raw material for
most of the analyses in this book, are both considered typical "plural
A very wide formal definition of ethnicity, such as the one which
I have proposed, would include all of these "kinds" of
groups, no matter how different they are in other respects. Surely,
there are aspects of politics (gain and loss in interaction) as
well as meaning (social identity and belonging) in the ethnic relations
reproduced by urban minorities, indigenous peoples, proto-nations
and component groups of "plural societies" alike. Despite
the great variations between the problems and substantial characteristics
represented by the respective kinds of groups, the word ethnicity
may, in other words, meaningfully be used as a common denominator
for them. The distinctions that I have suggested merely refer to
differences between particular historically contingent contexts
of ethnicity. Besides, these distinctions are themselves highly
problematic; notably, the idea of the plural society is in my view
a dubious one (see Chapter 9).
An interesting empirical issue seems to be the fact that all of
the "kinds of group" enumerated must relate politically
to the nation-state, and stand in a problematic relationship to
the nationalist ideology embodied by the state. Their mutual differences,
from this point of view, seem to lie in their varying prospects
for getting a nation-state of their own, and in their varying degrees
of participation in the institutions of modernity (notably wage
work, institutional politics, modern education and mass media use).
The urban minorities often either have a nation-state of their own
to relate to (albeit geographically dislocated, as it were), and/or
identify themselves (to varying degrees) with the host country.
The proto-nations aspire to have their nation-state. The indigenous
populations tend to have the rejection of the nation-state at the
top of their political agenda, while the constituent segments of
the plural society may be expected to try to appropriate the state
and nationalist ideology on behalf of their own group. On the other
hand, the practices associated with the state are in some cases
compatible with the demands of the ethnic groups, in other cases
not. The crucial variable here seems to be modernisation, which
indicates degrees of participation in, and control from, the institutions
related to the state and market. On this score, however, there are
important differences within the categories which I have suggested.
Among indigenous peoples, for example, there is a great difference
between the literate and politically articulate Saami of northern
Scandinavia (Eidheim, 1971; 1985) and the largely illiterate and
politically powerless Dyirbal of northern Queensland (Schmidt, 1987).
Interfaces of Modernity
Apart from conforming to my proposed definition of ethnicity, there
seems, thus, to be nothing uniting the different "kinds"
of ethnic groups, except their all having to relate actively to
the nation-state as ethnic groups. This empirical fact would support
Giddens' (1985; 1990) and others' claim that the contemporary world
is profoundly a modern one (Giddens rejects the term "post-modern"),
where the nation-state is the "pre-eminent power container".
A shared interface, which could be a useful analytical bridgehead,
is therefore the nation-state (see Chapter 4).
However, the lumping together of, for example, "plural societies"
and "indigenous peoples" as categories of ethnic groups,
seems analytically unfortunate, since their mutual differences may
prove more significant than their similarities. Moreover, there
are, of course, also other ways of distinguishing between "kinds
of ethnicity" or "kinds of ethnic contexts". Some
are tried out in later chapters in this book; some have been tried
out by others (see, for example, Yinger, 1986). Seen as such, ethnicity
as a comparative concept is devoid of substantial content, let there
be no doubt about that. The dimensions along which we choose to
distinguish between kinds of ethnic phenomena, therefore, are contingent
upon the questions we ask as analysts. The typology tried out above
is constructed along the dimension of differential incorporation
into the nation-state. If one were chiefly interested in the importance
of ethnicity in comparative social classification, it would be natural
to develop a typology of contexts where the ethnic element ranged
from the very important to the almost insignificant. If, again,
one were chiefly interested in accounting for the presence of ethnicity
in a particular society, one would need to distinguish between societal
levels and try to assess the importance of ethnicity at each level,
as well as depicting the interlevel connections. Such a set of distinctions
could, for example, look like this:
(1) State organization
(2) Political organization
(3) Property and the division of labour
(4) Patterns of settlement
(5) Casual intercourse
(6) Marital ideologies and practices
In some societies, thus, ethnicity may have an important bearing
on virtually all aspects of social organization. In others, only
rules of endogamy (which are followed to a varying degree) serve
to reproduce ethnic boundaries socially. The semantic density of
ethnicity varies enormously. At one extreme, ethnic difference could
be intrinsically connected with cultural idioms related to almost
every conceivable social situation (one could think of the heavily
ethnically flavoured contexts of Israel, the Eastern Cape or the
US South); at the other extreme, ethnicity is relevant only once
a year in connection with the celebration of a national festival.
The distinctions are clearly important if one wishes to locate ethnicity
accurately in social time­p;space. And one might go on, inventing
a host of further kinds of distinctions between ethnic contexts,
tailored for dealing with particular sets of assumptions or analytical
questions. Such distinctions, no matter how "concrete"
and "empirically founded" we may claim them to be, are
ultimately our own inventions, and are as such contingent on the
questions we wish to examine. Let me now, therefore, turn to the
substantial issues with which this volume is concerned.
Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Contemporary World
Following the change in the dominant analytical perspective on ethnicity
usually attributed to Barth, the interest in ethnicity and ethnic
phenomena has grown enormously in social anthropology and related
disciplines. This has also come about as a reaction to changes taking
place in the world outside of academia. As aspects of modernity
become dominant and begin to penetrate the very heartlands of anthropology,
the discipline needs to respond to these changes. This has partly
been undertaken through a change in the dominant empirical focus
from "tribe" to "ethnic group", and additionally,
most contemporary anthropologists do in some way or other account
for the influence of the nation-state and the commodity market on
the contexts which they study. In this sense, the world has shrunk.
Moreover, conflicts and political alignments in the contemporary
world tend to be expressed through ethnic idioms. Culture has in
other words become ideologized; it has become a kind of symbolic
system prone to conscious manipulation through politics. An increasing
number of the world's inhabitants become self-consciously aware
that they have a culture; in a sense, they thereby invent their
culture. The kind of tradition that one desperately tries to revive
and revitalize has, of course, a different content, and a different
political function, from that of one's great-grandparents, who never
objectivated their culture as something detachable from themselves.
Cultural innocence has been irretrievably lost (cf. Eriksen, 1991f;
Changes in the actual world have contributed to bridging gaps between
academic disciplines in this respect. Traditionally the domain of
historians and political scientists, the comparative study of nationalism
has recently become close to the concerns of anthropologists and
sociologists studying ethnicity ­p; in a sense, it has forced
itself upon them. International relationists concomitantly realise
the importance of what they call "internal" (or domestic)
conflicts and the need for anthropological perspectives (see Ryan,
1990, for a recent statement). Ernest Gellner's concise theoretical
monograph on nationalism (1983) has in this regard served as a stimulus
comparable in impact to that of Barth with respect to ethnicity.
Gellner's thesis was that nationalism has developed as a Gesellschaft
ideology trying to mitigate the socially fragmenting effects of
industrialization and large-scale social organization. He points
out that there is an infinite number of possible nationalisms, and,
by implication, that nationalisms are inventions; their claims of
historical continuity are always dubious and must be analyzed as
expressions of ideology. Similar points were made by Benedict Anderson
(1983) and Eric Hobsbawm (1983), and contemporary discourse on nationalism
accordingly tends to focus on the ideological aspects of nations
as imagined communities (Anderson's phrase) tailored to suit the
social organization of industrial society.
Studies of ethnicity as well as nationalism are thus at a relativizing
stage, where the social construction of identities and the relativity
of "historical truths" are focused upon. In this book,
particularly Chapters 4, 6, 8 and 9 are intended as critical contributions
to the interdisciplinary discussion of nationalism. In Chapters
4 and 6, I discuss the relationship between ethnicity and nationalism;
in Chapter 8, different aspects of nationalism are distinguished
between; and in Chapter 9, a model of post-national and post-ethnic
social identity is outlined.
Power and Domination
Sometimes analysts distinguish between violent and non-violent ethnic
conflicts. In my view, one might in many of these cases discard
the predicate "ethnic" and simply talk of violent versus
non-violent conflicts. To characterize a particular conflict as
an "ethnic" one is relevant if and only if one talks comparatively
about forms of political organization and process which encourage
either the improvement or the deterioration of inter-ethnic relations.
From a political perspective, this is clearly the most important
field for interdisciplinary research on ethnicity and nationalism.
Since much previous research has, in my view, been tainted by insufficient
analytical tools (such as "pluralist theory" and other
reifying conceptualizations of "cultural groups" and the
like), both conceptual rethinking and fresh research are called
for. The most important questions dealing with political systems
in so-called poly-ethnic societies addressed in this book are these
(1) What are the conditions for peace in poly-ethnic societies?
My choice of Trinidad and Mauritius as foci for comparative research
on ethnicity and nationalism was strongly influenced by the fact
that both were emphatically poly-ethnic, and yet had avoided violent
ethnic conflict since moving to independence in the 1960s. Most
of the following chapters contribute to explaining how this can
be; see particularly Chapters 4, 7 and 8. In my view, anthropologists
have not paid sufficient attention to the manifestly destructive
aspects of social identities; I have in mind phenomena such as violent
racism and chauvinist nationalism (see, however, Kapferer, 1988;
see also Jenkins, 1986). These phenomena need careful analysis.
My own contribution, for what it is worth, consists chiefly of critical
analyses of programmatically non-violent, non-chauvinist ideologies
of cultural unity.
(2) Is it fruitful to talk of poly-ethnic societies at all, or does
such a terminology both misrepresent social reality and serve to
justify crude ethnicism and or brutal chauvinist nationalism? If
the social disciplines are to yield any new insights, they must
be critical in the sense that they do not appropriate folk conceptualizations
of society without investigating the social reality to which they
refer. If nationalisms and ethnicities are seen as "natural"
entities which are not dealt with critically by investigators, then
they will not be able to understand how social realities can be
social products and in what ways they are ideological. If they fail
to regard folk concepts of national and ethnic identity critically,
analysts can easily become the hostages of nationalists wishing
to justify violent and discriminatory practices. The analytical
deconstruction of ethnicity and nationalism can therefore be politically
important. The most fundamental deconstruction of these concepts,
which are nevertheless debated throughout the book, is to be found
in Chapter 9. The relevance of this deconstruction for the contemporary
anthropological discussion concerning the concept of culture is
made explicit there and, to some extent, in Chapter 3.
Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces in Globalization
The contemporary interest in ethnicity and nationalism, and the
currently vivid exchange of views across academic boundaries, are
largely caused by changes having taken place in the external world;
the fact that nationalism and ethnicity, as foci of personal identity
and of social organization alike, are empirically of great importance
to many of the inhabitants of a world about to become thoroughly
modern. The next important analytical step to be taken should in
my view be a renewed, comparative focus on social identities. Since
ethnic and national ideologies are of highly varying importance
worldwide, it is highly pertinent that we try to account for the
"negentropic" variations developed within, and in response
to, the culturally and socially universalizing idioms of modernity.
Why is it that ethnic ideologies are more important in some contexts
than in others; what are the other identities available, and under
which circumstances are they relevant? What exactly does it mean
to be a citizen? I am not claiming that this is an unexplored field.3
However, we seem to lack a unified conceptual framework for the
comparative study of social identities in this sense of the word.
In this book, a main concern lies in the search for social determinants
in the construction of social identities and differences in a world
that increasingly appears as a seamless one. The concept of identity
itself is not, however, dealt with critically.
Again, the study of ethnicity and nationalism is being caught up
with by the world. The tendencies sometimes described as globalization
(see Featherstone, 1990; Giddens, 1990), which create entirely new
socio-cultural configurations in time­p;space (to use Giddens'
terminology), are highly relevant in this regard. The fact that
knowledge, culture and even social organization no longer need to
be confined to a particular location, clearly has important effects
on the constructions of social identities. Migration, the spread
of global mass media, mass education and of the main international
language (English), the increasing power of the nation-state in
most of the world, and the increasing dominance of monetary economies,
together indicate profound social changes in the contemporary world.
It seems that the agenda of modernity is about to be realized on
a global level, at least at the level of symbolic representations.
Whether or not Eric Hobsbawm is correct when he suggests that nationalism
has thereby had its day,4 it is doubtless
true that important aspects of contemporary social identities are
non-localized. The universal languages of pop music, soap operas
and consumerism, or, for that matter, the global appropriation of
Kafka's, Marquez's or Ngugi's novels, cannot be directly linked
with particular ethnic or national identities; they smooth out differences
and create the impression that the world is seamless. To this extent,
they may seem to transcend territorially based identities. On the
other hand, these processes in some areas create counterreactions
in the form of ethnic, nationalist, linguistic or religious revivalism
desperately trying to control indigenous cultural resources and
maintain not only social boundaries but also the subjectively perceived
cultural content of the group. However, such reactions may credibly
be seen as confirmations of the hegemony of modernity, both since
they tend to use the language of modernity for their own ends (they
use the mass media and appeal to people's cultural self-consciousness),
and since they relate ideologically to the ideology of modernity
as simple negations of it.
Personally, I would like to believe that the contemporary upsurge
in ethnic animosities and violent nationalist sentiment seen in
parts of every continent is but a transitory phenomenon; a counterreaction
directed against the irreversible social changes and cultural homogenization
brought about by different forms of modernization. Although it would
probably not be wise to hazard the guess that ethnic sentiments
will eventually disappear, there are reasons, indicated above and
in Chapter 9, for believing that their command over individuals
may eventually diminish. On the other hand, conflicts between poor
and rich countries may easily turn violent, and will in that case
probably be justified by forms of nationalist ideology; that is,
ideologies stressing the cultural differences between us and them.
In our endeavour fully to understand these and related contemporary
processes of change and continuity, the combined efforts of scholars
from various academic disciplines will be required. Not least for
this reason, it is to be hoped that the lively interdisciplinary
discourse on nationalism, ethnicity, the nation-state and globalization
in the world of high modernity will continue as we uneasily approach
a new millennium.
Notes to Chapter 1
1See the contributions to Rex and Mason
(1986), particularly Jenkins' and Yinger's papers, for an overview
of some current approaches.
2This definition has benefited from
conversations with Harald Eidheim.
3See, for example, Epstein's (1978)
and Roosens' (1989) fine comparative studies of ethnic identity.
Social psychologists have for years investigated identity using
quasi-quantitative methods; see, for example, Weinreich (1986) and
the contributions to Liebkind (1989).
4 Hobsbawm (1990) cites Hegel to the
effect that "the owl of Minerva flies at dusk", in this
assuming that our contemporary interest in nationalism is a symptom
of its imminent disappearance...