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The formation of group identity

Ethnicity and nationalism –
appreciating particularities and
appeasing collectives
Lecture for the MA course:
“Ethnic Challenges to the Nation-State:
Studying State Responses from a Human Rights
Kjetil Tronvoll, NCHR, 11 September 2007

Kjetil Tronvoll
Norwegian Centre for Human Rights
University of Oslo


in contrast to other collectives  The boundaries are flexible and constantly reproduced through social interaction  Since they are symbolic representations. their appearance are multivocal  They are generated through perceived aspects of shared knowledge and recognised social routines (‘common’ behaviour and institutions)  They appear self-ascribed or ascribed by others  It is a relevant and meaningful category for its members Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 2 .What is a collective identity?  A collective is not a given ‘pre-existing’ category  It is a symbolic representation of ‘commonness’ among a group of people.

primordial aspect of human existence and self-consciousness? Are identities somehow clearly definable and demarcated? Are they basically unchanging and unchangeable in the fundamental demands they make on individuals and in the bonds they create and sustain between the individual and his/her group?  Or are ethnicity and nationalism to whatever extent defined situationally and contextual? Being strategically and tactically manipulative? Do they have the quality of being capable of change at both the individual and collective level? Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 3 .Collective identities: primordial or instrumental?  Are ethnicity and nationalism (collective identities) an intrinsic.

processual. socially) by external forces (the fundament of right to selfdetermination?) (Comaroff 1996)  Instrumentalist/constructivist: identity as a created sentiment. ever-changing perception of identity    Realist perspective: ‘objective’ interest underpin collective identities Cultural constructionism: formation of groups as a function of shared ‘culture’ Political constructionism: elite-driven hegemonic production of ‘culture’ (Comaroff 1996) Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 4 . instrumentalist/constructivist  Primordialist: identity as something intrinsic and inherent (importance of blood and descent. non-changing perception of identity  Neo-primordialism: ethnic consciousness is only realised when the group is threatened (culturally. custom and culture) → static. politically. political and cultural resources → flexible. manipulative. religion and language. based on social.Primordialist vs. multivocal.

 it is relational.What is ethnicity?  “Ethnicity is an aspect of social relationship between agents who consider themselves as culturally distinctive from members of other groups with whom they have a minimum of regular interaction” (Eriksen.  it requires social interaction with ‘others’  it is contextually influenced Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 5 .  it makes cultural differences relevant in communication.:  it is an aspect of social relationship. not a cultural ‘entity’ in itself.e. 2002: 12)  I.

Understanding ethnic boundaries  Fredrik Barth’ seminal work Ethnic group and boundaries (1969)  Ethnicity as a form of social organisation. not an aspect of culture  Focus on boundary mechanism which upholds the ethnic group. not the ‘cultural stuff it encloses’  Allows for self-ascription of identity and ascription by others  Shifting from a static to an relational and processual approach Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 6 .

for which purpose (power)?  The groups ‘culture’ and social organisation may change without removing/changing the ethnic boundary markers  Cultural differences relate to ethnicity if. traits. another): what is made relevant? (Barth)  Who defines culture/markers. different markers emphasised vs. and only if. one group. political ideas)  The boundary markers may change through time and according to context (some markers emphasised vs.Ethnic boundary ‘maintenance’  The ethnic boundary markers define the difference between groups (customs. language. such differences are made relevant in social interaction (Eriksen) Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 7 .

as well as distinguishes Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 8 . individually or collectively (intermarriage/cultural adoption. etc)  Boundaries connect. exchange and even people across them  People may change ethnic identity. economic/production strategies. interaction. political pragmatism. but social ones  There is a continuous flow of information. escape social stigma.Ethnic boundary transcendence  Ethnic boundaries are not necessary territorial boundaries.

not of history → concerns for future prospects. not past grievances. 1974)  Dual capacity of ethnicity:   Manipulated from the outside to create ethnic antagonism and schism May also serve as a residual category for people to mobilise behind from within  Ethnicity is a social organisation which might be used as mobilising force. as the symbols of the traditional culture are used as mechanisms for the articulation of political alignments” (A. since it simultaneously may serve political ends and satisfy psychological needs for belongingness  The ethnic group as a political actor is a product of the situation.  A political strategy to achieve collectively what one cannot obtain individually Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 9 .Ethnicity as political organisation  “Ethnicity is fundamentally a political phenomenon. Cohen.

conflict or race for natural resources. does not in itself produce ‘ethnicity’  An idea of common identity is inspired by and rooted in several factors. invented or real:  The appropriation of shared history (Tonkin)  Creation of common myths of origin (Hoskins)  Idea of a chosen people (Smith)  Nurturing the image of ‘historical’ enemies Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 10 .Ethnic mobilisation  A political issue.

not the other way around.Ethnicity and the state  “The concept of ethnicity … is most useful when used as a label for a dimension of the identity formation process in a single political unit. and a leadership. heterogeneity precedes homogeneity (Wilmsen)  Ethnicity as a response to state intervention/imposition. i. most specifically the nation-sate” (Williams.e. strategy to achieve collectively what one could not achieve individually  It is in contexts of imposed assimilation and simultaneous discrimination followed by a process of mobilisation. 1989)  Ethnicity is a product of state formation. that an ethnic discourse. emerges Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights  A minority group does not exist without a state University of Oslo 11 .

e. Ethnicity has its origin in inequality (Comaroff. are not necessarily the same as those that sustain it (Comaroff) Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 12 .Ethnicity from below. and above 1) Ethnic boundaries of identity have referents to personal consciousness. 1996) 3) Ethnicity is constructed in routine. everyday social interaction where relevant cultural differences are communicated (Barth and Comaroff) 4) Once ethnic identities/boundaries are constructed and objectified. social interaction and cultural symbolism: i. they are contestable and multivocal (Anthony Cohen. their manifestations have a salient impact on the members of the group (Comaroff) 5) The conditions that give rise to ethnogenesis. 1994) 2) Ethnicity is also a collective expression of identify formation related to a hierarchical political system/state.

Nationalism: in defence of the state  Globalisation challenges the politico-ideological foundation of nationalism (Comaroff 1996. or  Nationalism/nation: is an imagined political community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson 1991)  A process to establish the ideological justification of the state (Eriksen 1993/2002) Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 13 . which requires that ethnic boundaries should not cut across political ones” (Gellner 1983). movements and diasporas  Weakening of the nation-state  Rise of a new politics of identity and difference  What is nationalism?  Ethnicity writ large and adapted to the state: “Nationalism is a theory of political legitimacy. Keating/McGarry 2001)  Growth of trans-national institutions.

sentimental attachment → “imagined community”. etc)  The state must be relevant to its citizens (service delivery. etc)  Manifestation of its geographical borders  Be prepared to use violence to defend the “nation” Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 14 .and supra national identities irrelevant (regionalism. religion.Nationalism in practice  Try to make ethnicity and other sub. etc)  Establish/re-establish the state’s hegemony and authority over its citizenry (political and territorial control.

lacking Kjetil Tronvoll in humanity. politico-territorial community. irrational. ‘trans-national’ character. threatening. Emphasis on heroic origin. all ethninationalism appear primitive. historical continuity. 2) Euronationalism: an ideology that promotes a secular state founded on universalist principles of citizenship and social contract. in the eyes of ethnonationalism – which appears perfectly rational from within – Euronationalism remains inherently colonising. magical. “From the perspective of Euronationalism. membership by ascription. and bereft of social conscience” (Comaroff 1996) Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 15 . not ethnic basis. and above all. I. one dominating ethnic group defines the national content (Smith 1991).Two types of contemporary nationalism (Comaroff) 1) Ethno-nationalism: the ideology of uniting an ethno-cultural group with territory by way of genealogy. Emphasis on cultural particularism.e.

” It promotes the rights to difference.  “Its objective is to accommodate cultural diversity within a civil society composed of autonomous citizens … equal and undifferentiated before the law.… and the third  Heteronationalism: a synthesis that seeks to integrate ethno-national identity politics within a euronationalist understanding of political community. understood as multiculturalism (Comaroff 1996) Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 16 .

Positioning the 3 theories of nationalism  Ethno-nationalism: primordial attachments gives validity and justifies claims to ethnic selfdetermination  Heteronationalism: also based on primordial group sentiments but recognises individual rights multiculturalism. self-determination  Euronationalism: relies on heroic human agency. rationalised and explained by neoprimordial instrumentalism. justified by constructionism: emphasises individual rights and equal citizenship privileges Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 17 .

Understanding collectives  Boundaries both distinguish and connect collectives  Must distinguish between the cognitive premises that construct the boundary – by what might be called acts of imposition – and the sociology of people living and acting around that boundary and thereby shaping an outcome (Barth 2000)  Boundaries are multivocal symbolic expressions. thus individually perceived based on personal experience and cognition (Barth/Anthony Cohen 200)  Whose boundaries?  Boundaries of identity are amorphous and ambiguous  Thus must be infused with symbolic content to create collective distinctions Kjetil Tronvoll Norwegian Centre for Human Rights University of Oslo 18 .