Ethnicity and the State: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives

Course Description: 

Is ethnicity ascriptive or negotiated? Does it foreshadow, compliment, compete or subvert sensibilities such as nationalism, religious affiliation, spiritual belonging or class solidarity? Is it an empowering, emancipatory vector which contributes to freedom and equality, or an essentializing, coercive force that reifies difference, alienation and violence? How do ethnic sensibilities co-habit with the modern and post-modern state? How do liberal theory and its imperfect praxis contribute to this field? How valid are their critiques? And what are the moral and political pitfalls awaiting anthropologies attempting sophisticated deconstructionist theorizations of ethnicity while supporting indigenous strategies of essentialized mobilization?

Some of these issues first surfaced as European nationalism eclipsed the great empires of the 19th century. They became relevant again in the 1960s, with decolonization and the emergence of post-colonial states. Later, a third wave of preoccupation with ethnicity and its relationship to states was triggered by the reconfigurations of conglomerate states (USSR, Yugoslavia) and by ethnic tensions in Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, where ethnic sensibilities generate and mobilize new forms of socio-political energy, offering new idioms for identification and affiliation. Most recently, new versions of politicized ethnicity transpire in the form of increasing ethnicization of communities in veteran Western states that see themselves as liberal democracies. This involves assertive claims by native and immigrant communities seeking recognition, cultural equity, collective rights and redress for past injustices. The Scottish referendum of September 2015, and its reverberations amongst Basques, Velons, and other groups in states in Western Europe, suggest that rather than a remnant of the past, ethnicity remains a force to be reckoned with in the shaping of the future.

Weeks 1-3 offer an overview of sociological and anthropological articulations of ethnicity and its relationships with identity, nationalism and the state. Weeks 4-7 focus on indigenous ethnic groups, highlighting the different ways in which ethno-territorial logics valorize dominant ethnic groups and marginalizes others. This produces political arrangements that range from accommodation and constructive integration, through passive toleration and antagonized alienation all the way to exclusion, conflict and, at times, horrendous genocidal outbursts. Weeks 8-10 look at the dilemmas and conundrums triggered by ethnic minorities in liberal democracies: the politics of recognition, identity politics and multiculturalism, notions of collective rights and their critiques. And the final segment of the course examines the return of indigenous politics in young and older states, invoking the dilemmas faced by social scientists who seek to critically theorize ethnicity while accommodating the strategic essentialization often employed by minority groups attempting to articulate claims, secure collective rights and redress past injustices.

Learning Outcomes: