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date: 23 July 2019

Emerging Themes and Issues in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration Research

Summary and Keywords

Ethnicity and nationalism, interethnic conflicts, and human migration have been major forces shaping the modern world and the structure and stability of contemporary states. A notable reason for the current academic interest in ethnicity and nationalism is the fact that such phenomena have become so visible in many societies that it has become impossible to ignore them. In the early twentieth century, many social theorists claimed that ethnicity and nationalism would decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a result of modernization, industrialization, and individualism, but this never came about. Instead, ethnicity and nationalism have grown in political importance in the world, particularly since the Second World War. It is important to note that ethnicity and nationalism are social and political constructions, as well as modern phenomena that are inseparably connected with the activities of the modern centralizing state. One characteristic of a modern state is the presence of population diversity brought about by migration. Human migration can be defined as the movement by people from one place to another with the intentions of settling permanently in the new location. One of the reasons why immigrants choose to migrate to another country is because globalization has increased the demand for workers from other countries in order to sustain national economies. Known as “economic migrants,” these individuals are generally from impoverished developing countries—usually people of color—migrating to obtain sufficient income for survival.

Keywords: ethnicity, nationalism, human migration, interethnic conflicts, modern world, industrialization, individualism, population diversity, economic migrants


As even a cursory glance at the titles of the other essays on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration in the Compendium demonstrates, the study of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration is vibrant and dynamic. The sheer number of topics is impressive, and many of those topics are either relatively new phenomena or reflect significant recent changes in their subject matter. For example, irregular migration and human smuggling and trafficking did not exist in their current forms before the 1970s at the earliest, when countries of immigration tightened their borders. Consequently, research has grown to reflect the empirical developments. Similarly, research on forced migration, refugees, and asylum (see the essay titled “Forced Migration, Refugees, and Asylum” in the Compendium) reflects changes in international legal norms and institutions. Meanwhile, research on gender issues in ethnicity, nationalism, and migration (see the essay titled “Gender Issues in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration”) is largely driven by changing disciplinary preferences: of course, these phenomena have always had gender-related causes and effects, but the specific study of those gender-related aspects is largely a phenomenon of the past few decades.

To a greater extent than is perhaps true for other areas of inquiry, emerging themes in nationalism, ethnicity, and migration research tend to be driven by empirical developments. In other words, new areas of study concerning these topics are inspired less by theoretical innovations, new or revised research methods, or changing disciplinary fashions than by events and transformations in the real world. For example, over the past two decades the fall of communism, the end of the Cold War, and the reunification of Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall coincided with renewed nationalism across central and eastern Europe and elsewhere, reconsiderations of the politics of ethnic identity – alongside new or renewed attempts by states and leaders to privilege certain ethnic identities over others – and transformations in patterns of migration.

At the same time, a revitalized European integration and the introduction of a common European citizenship and a common European currency nourished hopes that there would never again be war on the European continent (Maas 2007). But conflicts resulting from the dissolution of Yugoslavia – in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, and most recently Kosovo – created many refugees and asylum seekers and demonstrated the limits of European cooperation on foreign policy. In Africa, the Eritrean war of independence from Ethiopia, civil wars in Algeria, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere, and perhaps most spectacularly the Rwandan genocide and the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, demonstrated the limits of humanitarian intervention. Conflicts in the Caucasus, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the hostilities in Chechnya, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia revealed the weaknesses of ethnic identity formation under the Soviet system, the resurgence of Russian nationalism, and other phenomena of interest to scholars of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration. Other struggles such as the periodic fighting within and between India and Pakistan, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and other conflicts elsewhere likewise demonstrated the continuing salience of studies of nationalism, ethnicity, and migration and provided empirical fodder for scholarship.

New themes and issues in ethnicity, nationalism, and migration research could also be inspired by events such as the terrorist attacks and bombings in New York, Washington, Madrid, Bali, London, Casablanca, Mumbai, and elsewhere. Indeed there was a need for conceptual clarity, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which some commentators suggested were qualitatively different from previous terrorist activities, requiring new concepts in order to understand them. As of this writing, the United States and other Western powers remain mired in major conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan. A global financial crisis threatens the foundations of the international economic system, with policy makers drawing comparisons with the Great Depression and other economic catastrophes. Global warming and related phenomena are predicted to result in environmental changes, causing policy makers to evaluate potential migratory pressures. (In one particularly telling example, the president of the Maldives, a country consisting of islands off the coast of India, began diverting national revenue to a fund that would buy a new homeland and allow Maldivians to avoid becoming “climate refugees living in tents for decades”; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that sea levels could rise by up to 59 cm by 2100, submerging most or all of the Maldives.) The effects of scarcity of food and water, limited natural resources, and epidemic or pandemic diseases – alongside the traditional problems of war and demographic pressure – were also raised as possibilities that could unleash millions of migrants. In sum, such potentialities recalled the aphorism of former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who, asked by a young journalist what can most easily steer a government off course, famously answered, “Events, dear boy. Events.”

Though events and transformations in the real world account for many if not most new developments in scholarship about ethnicity, nationalism, and migration, it would be wrong to assume that they explain all of the new directions in research. A retrospective look at research directions demonstrates that, while certainly influenced to a very large extent by real world developments, the scholarship also reflects trends and styles in the disciplines of the scholars conducting the research. This research is conducted chiefly by political scientists and sociologists, with important contributions made also by historians, geographers, demographers, economists, anthropologists, gender studies scholars, philosophers, scholars of law, and others. As a result, emerging themes in nationalism, ethnicity, and migration research are influenced not simply by changing real world conditions but also by disciplinary pressures and predilections in political science, sociology, and related disciplines.

Because of the multidisciplinary (and sometimes interdisciplinary and crossdisciplinary) nature of contemporary scholarship on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration, one useful trend is for scholars trained in one discipline to learn from the concerns, methods, or preoccupations of other disciplines. Just as the importation of techniques drawn from economics has transformed political science and sociology over the past few decades, so too a return to the methods and concerns of historians, legal scholars, and others could revitalize and reground those disciplines in the future (for general criticism on this score, see Shapiro 2005). At the same time, scholarship on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration possesses potentially quite high policy relevance. As a result there exists a plethora of policy-oriented publications on these subjects, perhaps most particularly on issues relating to migration. This brief essay will not discuss new concepts and methods, because the essay titled “Methodological Developments in Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Migration Research” in the Compendium series focuses on these developments. Instead, below is a selective survey of some of the noteworthy and current state-of-the-art research. Given the sheer amount and variety of exciting new scholarship on these themes it is impossible to mention all or even most good work, but the selections can be grouped into three broad categories: conflict, violence, and international order; nations, states, and markets; and identities, affiliations, and allegiances. (Of course, many of the works discussed below fit into more than one category; but some division is necessary.)

Conflict, Violence, and International Order

One of the most significant challenges for researchers working on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration is that concepts were usually developed with reference to particular times and places. Because they developed in response to particular circumstances or empirical cases, is it not always clear that concepts can travel well to other contexts. For example, reviewing the extensive literature concerning the impact of ethnicity and war on state making (Taylor and Botea 2008) we note that not only the international political system but also the international economic system differ radically from that of early modern Europe, which provided the empirical evidence for the predominant causal claims about the relationship between ethnicity, war, and state making. Investigating two non-European cases, Taylor and Botea find that two main factors contributed to state making in Vietnam that were absent in Afghanistan: the existence of a core ethnic group that formed the basis for a relatively long-standing political community, and the combination of war and revolution which inspired a nationalist ideology. Of these two factors, the authors suggest that ethnic homogeneity is the more important for successful state formation. This kind of research – which attempts to test in a new environment the validity of causal claims made with reference to earlier or more geographically limited (most often European or North American) cases – depends on previous investigations of what constitutes ethnicity and how leaders manipulate ethnic identities, not only empirically but also conceptually. At its core, the issue is how well concepts and theories travel to new environments, and this is a fruitful way for scholars of ethnicity, migration, and nationalism to broaden their analyses beyond the usual suspects.

Another recent example of research that seeks to extend or question prevailing theories of ethnic conflict is the work of Erin Jenne, whose Ethnic Bargaining: The Paradox of Minority Empowerment (2007) demonstrates that minority leaders in central and southeastern Europe played a relatively peripheral role in ethnic mobilization, contrary to the expectation that leadership matters significantly. Jenne also documents how minorities typically do not radicalize in response to fears of discrimination but rather as a result of perceptions of external patronage that increase the expected value of rebellion or agitation over that of interethnic compromise. An important enabling factor for ethnic bargaining, certainly in the cases Jenne investigates (the Sudeten German claims in interwar Czechoslovakia; Moravian and Slovak mobilization in postcommunist Czechoslovakia; the Hungarian movements in postcommunist Slovakia, Romania, and Vojvodina; and Albanian secessionism in Kosovo), was the establishment of international and transnational institutions in the aftermath of World War II. Furthermore, Jenne shows how the absence or presence of external supporters, usually co-ethnics, who can credibly offer assistance and encouragement, explains why minority ethnic groups with external support may radicalize even if the majority government seeks to appease them, while minorities without credible external support do not radicalize even in situations of suppression or repression. One review (Vermeersch 2007) lauds the book not only for its concise descriptions of cases but also because it embraces the view that ethnic claims result from processes of mobilization rather than from some intrinsic characteristic of the minority populations, such as their socioeconomic position, political situation, or grievances. Examining ethnic radicalization in terms of social movements adds a useful perspective.

The normative and instrumental thrust of this kind of research is often to seek to prevent or at least mitigate conflict by investigating which techniques are most successful at preventing or containing discord, and Jenne offers policy prescriptions, primarily aimed at external actors. Another recent work that also examines minority ethnic electoral politics along similar lines – constructivist rather than primordialist – is Jóhanna Kristín Birnir’s book Ethnicity and Electoral Politics (2007). Investigating what distinguishes peaceful multiethnic democracies from violent ones and what distinguishes violent ethnic groups from peaceful ones within the same state, Birnir employs a formal model, statistical analysis, and detailed case studies. This is “something for every taste, and enough of each to satisfy almost everyone’s appetite” (Bleich 2007). Birnir argues that ethnic groups and their political demands are not inherently intransigent and that ethnic politics need not lead to violence. Indeed, she argues that ethnic identity can positively influence party formation and development in new and maturing democracies. Violence results not from the existence of ethnic parties but rather from their systematic exclusion from power. Access to power produces incentives for ethnic parties to work within the democratic system; exclusion encourages disaffection and violence. Both Jenne and Birnir follow James Fearon and David Laitin’s suggestion that scholars should seek to explain not just ethnic war but also ethnic peace (Shoup 2007).

Another recent work that investigates the relationship between leadership and nationalism is Karim Mezran’s book Negotiation and Construction of National Identities (2007), which adopts a distinctive approach to the study of national identity, examining the impact of inter-elite negotiation on nation building and the resulting national identity, and arguing that the process that leads to a shared definition of national identity determines how stable the resulting polity will be. Mezran examines four North African cases – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya – and concludes that the definition of national identity that eventually becomes dominant is not necessarily the product of conscious elite actions, but rather the outcome of a process of elite negotiations. He also argues that successful negotiation leads to later political stability. For example, Moroccan King Mohammed V’s success in the late 1950s at mediating between different visions of national identity, forcing compromise between different groups, and synthesizing a shared vision of Moroccan national identity means that there have been no divergent visions of any importance since independence. By contrast, Algeria’s Front de libération nationale (FLN) contained four conflicting visions of Algerian identity, which Mezran labels Islamic socialism, secular socialism, liberalism, and traditional Islamism. Because there were no negotiations between proponents of these different visions to produce a synthesized Algerian identity, the author concludes, political instability has resulted. The cases of Tunisia and Libya are situated between the two extremes of success and failure. A book review concludes that, by bringing in negotiation analysis, Mezran has proposed an innovative approach to national identity studies, one that “provides fruitful new opportunities for future research” (Ilgit 2008).

The previous works are notable for the way in which they apply new perspectives to long-standing research concerns. Another example of recent research which applies new theories to old problems is David Romano’s The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (Romano 2006), which investigates why ethnic minorities continue to mobilize along ethnic nationalist lines, demanding independent, sovereign states of their own when there are high risks involved and the chances of success are slim. Romano adopts three dimensions of political process theory – opportunity, mobilization, and cultural framing – to the analysis of ethnic mobilization, focusing on an in-depth case study of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey. By adopting these techniques from social movement theory, Romano produced, according to a review by Swarts (2008), a more complete account of how and when ethnic mobilization occurs than either a structuralist, rationalist, or culturalist account alone would have done.

One example of a recent research that focuses on the role of gender in conflict and violence is Joyce Kaufman and Kristen Williams’s (2007) book Women, the State, and War: A Comparative Perspective on Citizenship and Nationalism, which looks at the impact that recent conflicts have had on women, both physically and in terms of the place of women within national identities, what the authors term “gendered nationalism.” Before concentrating on three arenas of ethnic conflict – Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and the Balkan states – the authors examine the history of women as citizens in the United States. Rather than attempting to explain the causes of ethnic conflict, Kaufman and Williams focus on individual actors, exploring when and why women become political activists. They find that it is often working class women who spearhead movements, perhaps (they suggest) because working class women are more directly affected by violence than men. Kaufman and Williams also posit that women are more motivated than men to join with others (women) on the other side of conflicts to work for peace.

Work in “gendered nationalism” tends to be ethnographic or interpretative. Along different but related lines, in keeping with the policy relevance of its themes, much crossover work on ethnicity and nationalism tends to be journalistic. One recent example is Vicken Cheterian’s War and Peace in the Caucasus (2009), which, like some other works discussed above, investigates why some ethnonationalist movements become violent while others do not, focusing on various secessionist rebellions in the North Caucasus, Georgia, and Armenia. Such works tend not to focus much, if at all, on developing general analytical perspectives or seeking conceptual clarity; rather, they report “from the ground” in ways that appeal to policy makers and interested members of the public. In terms of style, they may have much in common with the historical studies discussed below, though their current events salience is higher. Though some might question whether work which tends to the journalistic can properly be considered research, the themes of nationalism, ethnicity, and migration provoke much work that might be labeled “quasi-academic”; the aim of the authors of such work is not to impress tenure committees but rather to report on, and perhaps influence, issues of political and social salience. Given the sheer volume of such crossover writing, it should not be ignored. Indeed, as Stephanie Lawson (2006) has convincingly argued, academic research has increasingly focused on specificity, particularity, and contingency rather than attempting to discern objective and universal social laws, although such contextualist approaches can themselves end up objectifying social reality rather than engaging in deeper analysis and questioning.

Of course there are also recent works on nationalism that adopt more traditional international relations approaches. For example, Douglas Woodwell’s Nationalism in International Relations: Norms, Foreign Policy, and Enmity (2007) analyzes how the politics of national identity and incompletely realized nation-states influence conflict between states within the international system. Focusing on three sets of cases (Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya; India, Pakistan, and China; and Greece and Turkey), Woodwell seeks to discover the determinants of aggressive behavior in irredentist situations Rather than explaining such behavior in terms of political institutions and power politics, Woodwell suggests that ethnonational demographic patterns often promote interstate distrust, tension, and occasional armed conflict. In sum, much exciting new research in the area of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration is concerned with long-standing areas of inquiry about conflict, violence, and international order.

Nations, States, and Markets

Other stimulating new research is concerned with the relationship between nations, states, and markets in a globalizing world. Nationalism has long interested scholars of international relations, but much research in international relations is often criticized for conflating “nation” and “state” – even though loyalty to the state differs from loyalty to the nation and there exists no state that is perfectly synonymous with a nation; despite the nationalizing efforts of states, every state contains individuals who do not identify as members of the dominant nation. One example of a book criticized for confounding the concept of nation with that of state is Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder’s Electing to Fight (2005). A review (Bloom 2006) chides the authors for following “theoretically bankrupt paths that have previously been flagged by scholars of ethnic conflict and nationalism” such as Brubaker and Laitin (1998) and Connor (2004). In particular, Bloom notes that theories of ethnic conflict and nationalism routinely overestimate the likelihood of conflict and the strength of nationalism.

Like much of international relations, so, too, much research in international political economy has tended to confuse the nation with the state, meaning that discussions of “economic nationalism” have generally meant statist policies such as protectionism and interventionism, while nationalism itself is ignored. This is where research like that in Economic Nationalism in a Globalizing World (Helleiner and Pickel 2005) is useful because it involves examining how national identities and nationalism shape economic policies and processes. By underlining the connections between nation, state, and economy, such work can simultaneously serve as an important intervention in the theoretical debate between the rationalist and constructivist traditions within international relations and challenge the disciplinary distinctions between international relations and international political economy (Varadarajan 2006). By focusing on the differences between statism and nationalism, such scholarship reasserts the continuing relevance of nationalism, against predictions that nations and nation-states would wither under the onslaught of globalization.

The relationship between nations, states, and markets also interest sociologists and political theorists. For example, building on his earlier work on nationalism, Craig Calhoun, in his new book Nations Matter: Citizenship, Solidarity, and the Cosmopolitan Dream (2007), portrays nationalism as a form of social solidarity. Calhoun’s version of nationalism, like the civic nationalism of David Miller (for example, Miller 2007), transcends ethnic and other differences. Calhoun praises national liberation movements for fighting oppression and bringing wide ranges of people into the political process. He also views nationalism as undergirding contemporary resistance to capitalist globalization and the struggle against privatization. Like Miller, Calhoun suggests that nationalism can mobilize collective commitment to public institutions and social welfare provision.

Along related but more empirical lines, other contemporary research investigates the relationship between nationalism and social policy. For example, Daniel Béland and André Lecours, in their book Nationalism and Social Policy: The Politics of Territorial Solidarity (2008) investigate the ways in which nationalism impacts social policy, focusing on three developed multinational states which all have strong nationalist movements: Canada (Québec), the United Kingdom (Scotland), and Belgium (Flanders). Nationalism shapes social policy at both the state and substate levels in each of these three cases.

The field of history is replete with examples of work on the essay’s three themes, particularly nationalism. As an example, Erez Manela’s book The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007) situates the 1919 Revolution in Egypt, the Rowlatt Satyagraha in India, the May Fourth movement in China, and the March First uprising in Korea in the context of a broader “Wilsonian moment” that shaped the international order emerging from the aftermath of World War I. Manela relays how emerging nationalist movements appropriated Wilsonian language but then became disillusioned when the principle of self-determination, announced in the Fourteen Points, later failed to materialize.

Other work on the relationship between nations, states, and markets in a globalizing world often focuses on institutions. One example is Philip Roeder’s book Where Nation-states Come From: Institutional Change in the Age of Nationalism (2007), which focuses primarily on East European and Central Asian cases to argue that successful nation- and state-building projects tend to be associated with existing political institutions prior to independence, what Roeder terms the segment-state, a jurisdiction defined by both human and territorial boundaries. In the absence of a segment-state, the author argues, nation- and state-building projects tend to fail even when they possess other attributes associated with success, such as a distinctive ethnic identity. Roeder argues that independence is usually simply an administrative upgrade of a segment-state, an already-existing set of institutions that transitions from limited or partial sovereignty to full sovereignty.

Dovetailing with this kind of research focus is work epitomized by David Laitin’s new book Nations, States, and Violence (Laitin 2007). Starting from the now standard view that national identities come not from shared ethnicity but are political constructions made to serve political ends, Laitin argues that national identity results from efforts by people to coordinate their identities with others with whom they share cultural traits. It is these coordination efforts that create persistent social and cultural ties. Laitin further argues that national heterogeneity itself does not lead to violence, though he admits there were advantages to homogeneity. Because of migration and because groups within states once considered homogeneous are seeking recognition, heterogeneity is increasing.

Another fertile area of research which is concerned with the relationship between nations, states, and markets is the whole field of regional integration, which of course is a long-standing preoccupation for scholars of international relations and other fields but which has experienced a flowering over the past two decades as regional integration succeeded, most notably in Europe. One example of recent work along the lines of the ENMISA’s (Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migration section of ISA) concerns is Janet Laible’s Separatism and Sovereignty in the New Europe: Party Politics and the Meanings of Statehood in a Supranational Context (2008), which investigates why separatist nationalism continues to thrive despite European integration. Focusing on the cases of Scottish and Flemish nationalism, Laible argues that the European Union supports separatists by underlining the desirability of statehood and creating new forms of political capital that nationalists employ in their struggles for self-government. A second noteworthy work – here, as elsewhere, there are too many to list – is Adrian Favell’s Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Movement and Mobility in an Integrating Europe (2008), which examines intra-European Union migration in Amsterdam, London, and Brussels by combining sixty in-depth interviews of free-moving European citizens with ethnographic and documentary research. Together, the Laible and Favell volumes barely scratch the surface of the exciting research being conducted on European integration.

Identities, Affiliations, and Allegiances

Of the three themes covered by the ethnicity, nationalism, and migration section of the Compendium, nationalism and ethnicity are active and fertile fields of research, but migration is perhaps even more so. A search of the Library of Congress catalogue for the keyword “immigration” finds no fewer than 217 monographs published in 2008 alone. Granted, some of those are government or policy reports and some are foreign language books, but the number is impressive. Much work on migration is not much concerned with ethnicity or nationalism (and thus is of little interest for this survey), but the work that is tends to focus on issues of political identity, affiliation, and allegiance. Questions addressed include the impact of immigration on national identity, the allegiance(s) of migrants, the political psychology of ideology, and so forth.

Some work on migration is primarily historical, but still has contemporary relevance. For example, Mark Choate’s book on Italian emigrants, Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad (2008), considers the 13 million Italians who settled abroad between 1880 and 1915 and examines the relationship of these migrants both with Italy and with their new countries. Because the Italian government maintained that emigrants were linked to Italy and to one another through shared culture, religion, and ethnicity, Italian officials fostered Italian identity through schools, athletic groups, the Catholic Church, banks to handle emigrant remittances, and other institutions. But such projects also provoked debates about whether encouraging loyalty to Italy would discourage integration abroad and about whether the funds spent sustaining overseas connections should instead be invested in Italy.

In common with past practice, much research on immigration is based on ethnographic fieldwork. One example of this kind of work is Apichai Shipper’s book Fighting for Foreigners (2008), which investigates the case of Japan, a country that is experiencing an unprecedented influx of immigrants, particularly from Asia and Latin America. The book investigates the ways in which Japanese citizens have established local advocacy groups, both secular and religious, to aid immigrants with access to social services and to economic and political rights. Shipper’s concerns with immigrants to Japan and the ways in which indigenous Japanese citizens seek to aid them become full members of society might find a counterpoint in Elizabeth Cohen’s book Semi-citizenship in Democratic Politics (2009), which argues that states have never succeeded at making citizenship an all or nothing status. Focusing on significant semi-citizen groups such as children, resident aliens, and gays and lesbians, Cohen demonstrates how citizenship is a label superimposed over a set of memberships that do not easily lend themselves to unitary categorization.

As always with the themes of nationalism and identity, there are many excellent country case studies. Examining the case of Spain, Sebastian Balfour and Alejandro Quiroga’s book The Reinvention of Spain: Nation and Identity since Democracy (2007) studies the debates over the nature of Spain. While the 1978 Constitution defines Spain as a nation of nationalities, some now claim that Spain is a nation of nations, a nation of nations and regions, a post-traditional nation-state, or a post-national state. It is refreshing to see such a comprehensive survey of the different ways in which the same state is viewed. Of course, the existence of different ways of viewing a state is not a recent phenomenon, as another book on Spain elucidates. Henry Kamen’s latest book, Imagining Spain: Historical Myth and National Identity (2008), which discusses the attempts by nineteenth and twentieth century historians and politicians to create a nationalist ideology by inventing a fictitious image of what Spain was during the sixteenth century (a powerful, united, Catholic nation that ever since has been in national decline), shapes how aspects of early modern Spain such as the monarchy, the empire, and the Inquisition continue to be perceived today.

The relationship between identity and affiliation as crystallized in sovereignty comes under scrutiny in Julie Mostov’s book Soft Borders: Rethinking Sovereignty and Democracy (2008). Using examples primarily drawn from southeastern Europe, particularly the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Mostov argues that sovereignty should be reconceptualized and borders made more open, thereby promoting cultural hybridity and creativity. She argues for a transnational citizenship exercised through multiple and overlapping polities, of fluid spaces of political association. Similarly, in his new book Ethnicities and Global Multiculture: Pants for an Octopus (2007), the sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse recalls that, historically, different cultural groups have been intermingling since even before the formation of nations and states. He discusses attempts by states to control or suppress what he terms multiethnicity, and views contemporary multicultural policies as simply the latest in a long line of state attempts to regulate ethnicity. Reviewing the book, Deflem (2008) notes that the rise in the ethnicity and globalization literature can be attributed to the increasingly obvious awareness of a complex reality of global multiethnicities. Of particular note (again, there are too many good works to catalogue exhaustively) in terms of the construction of political identity is Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (Brubaker et al. 2006), which uses extensive fieldwork and a range of methods to emphasize how the creation and maintenance (or production and reproduction) of ethnicity and nationalism represent fluid and contested processes rather than fixed facts.

One fascinating recent work which charts the continuity in nationalism over the course of many centuries is David Aberbach’s Jewish Cultural Nationalism: Origins and Influences (2008). The book traces Jewish nationalism from Israel in biblical and Talmudic periods, to medieval Spain under Islamic rule, to Europe after the French Revolution, to Hebrew and Jewish nationalism in Tsarist Russia between 1881 and 1917. Between the French Revolution and the Holocaust, writes Aberbach, emancipation and integration in their countries of citizenship led most Jews to see themselves as a religious group rather than a nation and to think that Zionism was therefore unnecessary and even dangerous. (As an example, he notes that secularized Jews in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in Germany, omitted the hope for a return to Zion from their prayer books.) The Holocaust caused most Jews to accept the principle of a Jewish national identity focused on Israel, defined as a state for Jews to defend themselves. Aberbach argues that core Jewish texts demonstrate the continuity of Jewish cultural nationalism, and that the Bible should be read as a national document.

A counterpoint to this kind of thinking comes from the historical sociologist and eminent scholar of nationalism Anthony Smith. In his latest book, The Cultural Foundations of Nations: Hierarchy, Covenant and Republic (2008), Smith identifies three distinctive historical forms that nations have taken, which he labels with the terms in the subtitle. Unlike the case of Jewish cultural nationalism as described by Aberbach, however, Smith views nationalism as a form of secular religion that evolves in opposition to traditional religions.

As discussed in the Introduction, with the point that empirical developments in the real world drive much of the new research on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration, the fall of the Soviet Union has triggered a wave of works concerned with the construction of national identity in post-Soviet space. In this regard, a noteworthy collection that focuses on Russia itself is National Identity in Russian Culture: An Introduction, edited by Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis (2004). Many of the chapters in that book have a historical focus. A more contemporary focus is provided, for example, by National Identity and Globalization: Youth, State and Society in Post-Soviet Eurasia (2007) by Douglas Blum, a political scientist who also employs methods more habitually used by sociologists and anthropologists, such as focus groups, interviews, personal observations, and reading of local texts. The result is an interdisciplinary book that fuses area studies with the subject of national identity creation, investigating both the efforts of state elites to craft a national identity and how masses demand or come to terms with this identity creation under globalization (Yanik 2008). The book focuses on a city in each of three post-Soviet Eurasian states (Astrakhan, Russia; Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Baku, Azerbaijan), showing how elites and masses adopt strategies such as absorption of values from elsewhere, rejection of those values, and assertion of indigenous values to create discourses that may be ambiguous but nevertheless cohesive. In line with other research, the book concludes that processes of national identity creation are constantly changing as agents accentuate, dampen, and refashion various narratives. Crucially, Blum argues that not only elites are engaged in processes of national identity creation but that the role of the masses is equally crucial as elites and masses bargain over discourses and institutions. In this way, Blum’s work shares commonalities with the works (discussed above) of Mezran on negotiated identities and Jenne on ethnic bargaining. All three share the now dominant premise that national identities are socially constructed, but investigate the mechanics by which such constructions occur.

In summary, the study of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration is vibrant and it has moved beyond the methodological stuffiness that previously dominated the field. Research on ethnicity, nationalism, and migration, though intellectually important, often tended to be among the last to adopt new or inventive methods. Indeed, it can be argued that intellectual debate and academic engagement were paralyzed by false divisions between modernism, perennialism, primordialism, and other paradigms (see Smith 1998 for the reigning analysis of these approaches). Rigorous adherence to such divisions for too long strangled interesting work, and the development of new and engaging thinking on the topics of ethnicity, nationalism, and migration is thus a welcome testament to the field’s vitality and effervescence.


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Balfour, S., and Quiroga, A. (2007) The Reinvention of Spain: Nation and Identity since Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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Blum, D.W. (2007) National Identity and Globalization: Youth, State and Society in Post-Soviet Eurasia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

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Brubaker, R., Feischmidt, M., Fox, J., and Grancea, L. (2006) Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Find this resource:

Calhoun, C.J. (2007) Nations Matter: Citizenship, Solidarity, and the Cosmopolitan Dream. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Cheterian, V. (2009) War and Peace in the Caucasus: Ethnic Conflict and the New Geopolitics. New York: Columbia University Press.Find this resource:

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Let me thank the editors and an anonymous reviewer for useful comments; the usual disclaimers apply.