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date: 27 September 2021

Conceptual Debates in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migrationlocked

Conceptual Debates in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Migrationlocked

  • Stephen J. LarinStephen J. LarinCentre for Studies on Democracy and Diversity, Queen's University at Kingston

Summary

Since the mid-nineteenth century, the term “ethnic” has come to mean “member of a group of people with a set of shared characteristics,” including a belief in common descent. As such, “ethnic groups” refer to human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical or customs type or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration. Ethnic phenomena are primarily explained through the “primordialist” and “instrumentalist” explanations. Primordialism holds that ethnicity is a constitutive and permanent feature of human nature. Instrumentalists argue that ethnicity is a social construct with the purpose of achieving political or material gain. However, the real debate is among constructivists over whether ethnicity should be studied from the participant or the observer perspective. Meanwhile, it is difficult to determine exactly when and where “the nation” first became identified with “the people” as it is today, but the process is closely tied to the rise of popular sovereignty and representative democracy. When nations and nationalism became the subject of academic inquiry, three positions emerged: “modernism,” which holds that both nations and nationalism are modern phenomena; “perennialism,” which argues that nationalist ideology is modern, but nations date back to at least the Middle Ages; and “ethno-symbolism,” a combination of the previous two. Most contemporary classifications of nations and nationalism are typological, the most prominent of which identify two dichotomous types, such as the distinction between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism. Other classifications are better described as taxonomies.

Subjects

  • Identity

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