An ethnic group, or an ethnicity, is a category of people who identify
with each other based on similarities such as common ancestry,
language, society, culture or nation. Ethnicity is usually an
inherited status based on the society in which one lives. Membership
of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage,
ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect,
symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine,
dressing style, art, and physical appearance.
Ethnic groups, derived from the same historical founder population,
often continue to speak related languages and share a similar gene
pool. By way of language shift, acculturation, adoption and religious
conversion, it is sometimes possible for individuals or groups to
leave one ethnic group and become part of another (except for ethnic
groups emphasizing racial purity as a key membership criterion).
Ethnicity is often used synonymously with ambiguous terms such as
nation or people. In English, it can also have the connotation of
something exotic (cf. "ethnic restaurant", etc.), generally related to
cultures of more recent immigrants, who arrived after the dominant
population of an area was established.
The largest ethnic groups in modern times comprise hundreds of
millions of individuals (
Han Chinese being the largest), while the
smallest are limited to a few dozen individuals (numerous indigenous
peoples worldwide). Larger ethnic groups may be subdivided into
smaller sub-groups known variously as tribes or clans, which over time
may become separate ethnic groups themselves due to endogamy or
physical isolation from the parent group. Conversely, formerly
separate ethnicities can merge to form a pan-ethnicity, and may
eventually merge into one single ethnicity. Whether through division
or amalgamation, the formation of a separate ethnic identity is
referred to as ethnogenesis.
2 Definitions and conceptual history
2.1 Approaches to understanding ethnicity
2.2 Ethnicity theory
3 Ethnicity and nationality
4 Ethnicity and race
5 Ethno-national conflict
Ethnic groups by continent
6.4 North America
6.5 South America
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Ethnic saris in Kerala
The term ethnic is derived from the Greek word ἔθνος ethnos
(more precisely, from the adjective ἐθνικός ethnikos, which
was loaned into
Latin as ethnicus). The inherited English language
term for this concept is folk, used alongside the latinate people
since the late Middle English period.
Early Modern English
Early Modern English and until the mid-19th century, ethnic was
used to mean heathen or pagan (in the sense of disparate "nations"
which did not yet participate in the Christian oikumene), as the
Septuagint used ta ethne ("the nations") to translate the Hebrew goyim
"the nations, non-Hebrews, non-Jews". The Greek term in early
antiquity (Homeric Greek) could refer to any large group, a host of
men, a band of comrades as well as a swarm or flock of animals. In
Classical Greek, the term took on a meaning comparable to the concept
now expressed by "ethnic group", mostly translated as "nation,
people"; only in
Hellenistic Greek did the term tend to become further
narrowed to refer to "foreign" or "barbarous" nations in particular
(whence the later meaning "heathen, pagan").
In the 19th century, the term came to be used in the sense of
"peculiar to a race, people or nation", in a return to the original
Greek meaning. The sense of "different cultural groups", and in
American English "racial, cultural or national minority group" arises
in the 1930s to 1940s, serving as a replacement of the term race
which had earlier taken this sense but was now becoming deprecated due
to its association with ideological racism. The abstract ethnicity had
been used for "paganism" in the 18th century, but now came to express
the meaning of an "ethnic character" (first recorded 1953). The term
ethnic group was first recorded in 1935 and entered the Oxford English
Dictionary in 1972. Depending on the context that is used, the term
nationality may either be used synonymously with ethnicity, or
synonymously with citizenship (in a sovereign state). The process that
results in the emergence of an ethnicity is called ethnogenesis, a
term in use in ethnological literature since about 1950.
Depending on which source of group identity is emphasized to define
membership, the following types of (often mutually overlapping) groups
can be identified:
Ethno-linguistic, emphasizing shared language, dialect (and possibly
script) – example: French Canadians
Ethno-national, emphasizing a shared polity or sense of national
identity – example: Armenians
Ethno-racial, emphasizing shared physical appearance based on genetic
origins – example: African Americans
Ethno-regional, emphasizing a distinct local sense of belonging
stemming from relative geographic isolation – example: South
Ethno-religious, emphasizing shared affiliation with a particular
religion, denomination or sect – example: Jews
In many cases – for instance, the sense of Jewish
peoplehood – more than one aspect determines membership.
Definitions and conceptual history
Ethnography begins in classical antiquity; after early authors like
Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus,
Herodotus in ca. 480 BC laid the
foundation of both historiography and ethnography of the ancient
world. The Greeks at this time did not describe foreign nations but
had also developed a concept of their own "ethnicity", which they
grouped under the name of Hellenes.
Herodotus (8.144.2) gave a famous
account of what defined Greek (Hellenic) ethnic identity in his day,
shared descent (ὅμαιμον - homaimon, "of the same blood"),
shared language (ὁμόγλωσσον - homoglōsson, "speaking the
shared sanctuaries and sacrifices (Greek: θεῶν ἱδρύματά
τε κοινὰ καὶ θυσίαι - theōn hidrumata te koina kai
shared customs (Greek: ἤθεα ὁμότροπα - ēthea homotropa,
"customs of like fashion").
Whether ethnicity qualifies as a cultural universal is to some extent
dependent on the exact definition used. According to "Challenges of
Measuring an Ethnic World: Science, politics, and reality", in
Challenges of Measuring an Ethnic World: Science, Politics and
Reality : Proceedings of the Joint Canada-United States
Conference on the Measurement of Ethnicity, April 1–3, 1992, Joint
United States Conference on the Measurement of Ethnicity,
Department of Commerce, Statistics Canada, 1993, a conference
Statistics Canada and the
United States Census Bureau
(April 1–3, 1992). Many social scientists, such as
Fredrik Barth and Eric Wolf, do not consider ethnic
identity to be universal. They regard ethnicity as a product of
specific kinds of inter-group interactions, rather than an essential
quality inherent to human groups.[irrelevant citation]
According to Thomas Hylland Eriksen, the study of ethnicity was
dominated by two distinct debates until recently.
One is between "primordialism" and "instrumentalism". In the
primordialist view, the participant perceives ethnic ties
collectively, as an externally given, even coercive, social bond.
The instrumentalist approach, on the other hand, treats ethnicity
primarily as an ad-hoc element of a political strategy, used as a
resource for interest groups for achieving secondary goals such as,
for instance, an increase in wealth, power, or status. This
debate is still an important point of reference in Political science,
although most scholars' approaches fall between the two poles.
The second debate is between "constructivism" and "essentialism".
Constructivists view national and ethnic identities as the product of
historical forces, often recent, even when the identities are
presented as old. Essentialists view such identities as
ontological categories defining social actors, and not the result of
According to Eriksen, these debates have been superseded, especially
in anthropology, by scholars' attempts to respond to increasingly
politicised forms of self-representation by members of different
ethnic groups and nations. This is in the context of debates over
multiculturalism in countries, such as the
United States and Canada,
which have large immigrant populations from many different cultures,
and post-colonialism in the
Caribbean and South Asia.
Max Weber maintained that ethnic groups were künstlich (artificial,
i.e. a social construct) because they were based on a subjective
belief in shared
Gemeinschaft (community). Secondly, this belief in
Gemeinschaft did not create the group; the group created the
belief. Third, group formation resulted from the drive to monopolise
power and status. This was contrary to the prevailing naturalist
belief of the time, which held that socio-cultural and behavioural
differences between peoples stemmed from inherited traits and
tendencies derived from common descent, then called "race".
Another influential theoretician of ethnicity was Fredrik Barth, whose
"Ethnic Groups and Boundaries" from 1969 has been described as
instrumental in spreading the usage of the term in social studies in
the 1980s and 1990s. Barth went further than Weber in stressing
the constructed nature of ethnicity. To Barth, ethnicity was
perpetually negotiated and renegotiated by both external ascription
and internal self-identification. Barth's view is that ethnic groups
are not discontinuous cultural isolates, or logical a prioris to which
people naturally belong. He wanted to part with anthropological
notions of cultures as bounded entities, and ethnicity as
primordialist bonds, replacing it with a focus on the interface
between groups. "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries", therefore, is a focus
on the interconnectedness of ethnic identities. Barth writes:
"... categorical ethnic distinctions do not depend on an absence
of mobility, contact and information, but do entail social processes
of exclusion and incorporation whereby discrete categories are
maintained despite changing participation and membership in the course
of individual life histories."
In 1978, anthropologist Ronald Cohen claimed that the identification
of "ethnic groups" in the usage of social scientists often reflected
inaccurate labels more than indigenous realities:
... the named ethnic identities we accept, often unthinkingly, as
basic givens in the literature are often arbitrarily, or even worse
In this way, he pointed to the fact that identification of an ethnic
group by outsiders, e.g. anthropologists, may not coincide with the
self-identification of the members of that group. He also described
that in the first decades of usage, the term ethnicity had often been
used in lieu of older terms such as "cultural" or "tribal" when
referring to smaller groups with shared cultural systems and shared
heritage, but that "ethnicity" had the added value of being able to
describe the commonalities between systems of group identity in both
tribal and modern societies. Cohen also suggested that claims
concerning "ethnic" identity (like earlier claims concerning "tribal"
identity) are often colonialist practices and effects of the relations
between colonized peoples and nation-states.
According to Paul James, formations of identity were often changed and
distorted by colonization, but identities are not made out of nothing:
[C]ategorizations about identity, even when codified and hardened into
clear typologies by processes of colonization, state formation or
general modernizing processes, are always full of tensions and
contradictions. Sometimes these contradictions are destructive, but
they can also be creative and positive.
Social scientists have thus focused on how, when, and why different
markers of ethnic identity become salient. Thus, anthropologist Joan
Vincent observed that ethnic boundaries often have a mercurial
character. Ronald Cohen concluded that ethnicity is "a series of
nesting dichotomizations of inclusiveness and exclusiveness". He
agrees with Joan Vincent's observation that (in Cohen's paraphrase)
"Ethnicity ... can be narrowed or broadened in boundary terms in
relation to the specific needs of political mobilization. This may
be why descent is sometimes a marker of ethnicity, and sometimes not:
which diacritic of ethnicity is salient depends on whether people are
scaling ethnic boundaries up or down, and whether they are scaling
them up or down depends generally on the political situation.
Approaches to understanding ethnicity
Different approaches to understanding ethnicity have been used by
different social scientists when trying to understand the nature of
ethnicity as a factor in human life and society. Examples of such
approaches are: primordialism, essentialism, perennialism,
constructivism, modernism and instrumentalism.
"Primordialism", holds that ethnicity has existed at all times of
human history and that modern ethnic groups have historical continuity
into the far past. For them, the idea of ethnicity is closely linked
to the idea of nations and is rooted in the pre-Weber understanding of
humanity as being divided into primordially existing groups rooted by
kinship and biological heritage.
"Essentialist primordialism" further holds that ethnicity is an a
priori fact of human existence, that ethnicity precedes any human
social interaction and that it is basically unchanged by it. This
theory sees ethnic groups as natural, not just as historical. It also
has problems dealing with the consequences of intermarriage, migration
and colonization for the composition of modern day multi-ethnic
Kinship primordialism" holds that ethnic communities are extensions
of kinship units, basically being derived by kinship or clan ties
where the choices of cultural signs (language, religion, traditions)
are made exactly to show this biological affinity. In this way, the
myths of common biological ancestry that are a defining feature of
ethnic communities are to be understood as representing actual
biological history. A problem with this view on ethnicity is that it
is more often than not the case that mythic origins of specific ethnic
groups directly contradict the known biological history of an ethnic
"Geertz's primordialism", notably espoused by anthropologist Clifford
Geertz, argues that humans in general attribute an overwhelming power
to primordial human "givens" such as blood ties, language, territory,
and cultural differences. In Geertz' opinion, ethnicity is not in
itself primordial but humans perceive it as such because it is
embedded in their experience of the world.
"Perennialism", an approach that is primarily concerned with
nationhood but tends to see nations and ethnic communities as
basically the same phenomenon, holds that the nation, as a type of
social and political organisation, is of an immemorial or "perennial"
character. Smith (1999) distinguishes two variants: "continuous
perennialism", which claims that particular nations have existed for
very long spans of time, and "recurrent perennialism", which focuses
on the emergence, dissolution and reappearance of nations as a
recurring aspect of human history.
"Perpetual perennialism" holds that specific ethnic groups have
existed continuously throughout history.
"Situational perennialism" holds that nations and ethnic groups
emerge, change and vanish through the course of history. This view
holds that the concept of ethnicity is basically a tool used by
political groups to manipulate resources such as wealth, power,
territory or status in their particular groups' interests.
Accordingly, ethnicity emerges when it is relevant as means of
furthering emergent collective interests and changes according to
political changes in the society. Examples of a perennialist
interpretation of ethnicity are also found in Barth, and Seidner who
see ethnicity as ever-changing boundaries between groups of people
established through ongoing social negotiation and interaction.
"Instrumentalist perennialism", while seeing ethnicity primarily as a
versatile tool that identified different ethnics groups and limits
through time, explains ethnicity as a mechanism of social
stratification, meaning that ethnicity is the basis for a hierarchical
arrangement of individuals. According to Donald Noel, a sociologist
who developed a theory on the origin of ethnic stratification, ethnic
stratification is a "system of stratification wherein some relatively
fixed group membership (e.g., race, religion, or nationality) is
utilized as a major criterion for assigning social positions".
Ethnic stratification is one of many different types of social
stratification, including stratification based on socio-economic
status, race, or gender. According to Donald Noel, ethnic
stratification will emerge only when specific ethnic groups are
brought into contact with one another, and only when those groups are
characterized by a high degree of ethnocentrism, competition, and
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world
primarily from the perspective of one's own culture, and to downgrade
all other groups outside one's own culture. Some sociologists, such as
Lawrence Bobo and Vincent Hutchings, say the origin of ethnic
stratification lies in individual dispositions of ethnic prejudice,
which relates to the theory of ethnocentrism. Continuing with
Noel's theory, some degree of differential power must be present for
the emergence of ethnic stratification. In other words, an inequality
of power among ethnic groups means "they are of such unequal power
that one is able to impose its will upon another". In addition to
differential power, a degree of competition structured along ethnic
lines is a prerequisite to ethnic stratification as well. The
different ethnic groups must be competing for some common goal, such
as power or influence, or a material interest, such as wealth or
territory. Lawrence Bobo and Vincent Hutchings propose that
competition is driven by self-interest and hostility, and results in
inevitable stratification and conflict.
"Constructivism" sees both primordialist and perennialist views as
basically flawed, and rejects the notion of ethnicity as a basic
human condition. It holds that ethnic groups are only products of
human social interaction, maintained only in so far as they are
maintained as valid social constructs in societies.
"Modernist constructivism" correlates the emergence of ethnicity with
the movement towards nation states beginning in the early modern
period. Proponents of this theory, such as Eric Hobsbawm, argue
that ethnicity and notions of ethnic pride, such as nationalism, are
purely modern inventions, appearing only in the modern period of world
history. They hold that prior to this, ethnic homogeneity was not
considered an ideal or necessary factor in the forging of large-scale
Ethnicity is an important means by which people may identify with a
larger group. Many social scientists, such as anthropologists Fredrik
Barth and Eric Wolf, do not consider ethnic identity to be universal.
They regard ethnicity as a product of specific kinds of inter-group
interactions, rather than an essential quality inherent to human
groups. Processes that result in the emergence of such
identification are called ethnogenesis. Members of an ethnic group, on
the whole, claim cultural continuities over time, although historians
and cultural anthropologists have documented that many of the values,
practices, and norms that imply continuity with the past are of
relatively recent invention.
Ethnic groups differ from other social groups, such as subcultures,
interest groups or social classes, because they emerge and change over
historical periods (centuries) in a process known as ethnogenesis, a
period of several generations of endogamy resulting in common ancestry
(which is then sometimes cast in terms of a mythological narrative of
a founding figure); ethnic identity is reinforced by reference to
"boundary markers" - characteristics said to be unique to the group
which set it apart from other groups.
Ethnicity theory says that race is a social category and is but one of
several factors in determining ethnicity. Some other criteria include:
"religion, language, 'customs,' nationality, and political
identification". This theory was put forth by sociologist Robert
E. Park in the 1920s. It is based on the notion of “culture”.
This theory was preceded by over a century where biological
essentialism was the dominant paradigm on race. Biological
essentialism is the belief that white European races are biologically
superior and other non-white races are inherently inferior. This view
arose as a way to justify slavery of Africans and genocide of the
Native Americans in a society which was supposedly founded on freedom
for all. This was a notion that developed slowly and came to be a
preoccupation of scientists, theologians, and the public. Religious
institutions asked questions about whether there had been multiple
genesis's (polygenesis) and whether God had created lesser races of
men. Many of the foremost scientists of the time took up idea of
racial difference. They would inadvertently find that white Europeans
were superior. One method that was used was the measurement of cranial
Ethnicity theory was based on the assimilation model. Park outlined
his four steps to assimilation: contact, conflict, accommodation, and
assimilation. Instead of explaining the marginalized status of people
of color in the
United States with an inherent biological inferiority,
he instead said that it was a failure to assimilate into American
culture that held people back. They could be equal as long as they
dropped their culture which was deficient compared to white culture.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant's theory of racial formation directly
confronts both ethnicity theory's premises and practices. They argue
in Racial Formation in the
United States that ethnicity theory was
exclusively based on the immigration patterns of a white ethnic
population and did not account for the unique experiences of
non-whites in this country. While this theory identities different
stages in an immigration process – contact, conflict, struggle,
and as the last and best response, assimilation – it did so
only for white ethnic communities. The ethnicity paradigm neglects
the ways that race can complicate a community's interactions with
basic social and political structures, especially upon contact.
And assimilation – shedding the particular qualities of a
native culture for the purpose of blending in with a host
culture – did not work for some groups as a response to racism
and discrimination as it did for others. Moreover, once the legal
barriers to achieving equality had been dismantled, the problem of
racism became the sole responsibility of already disadvantaged
communities. It was assumed that if a Black or Latino community
was not 'making it' by the standards that had been set by white
ethnics, it was because that community did not hold the right values
or beliefs. Or they must be stubbornly resisting dominant norms
because they did not want to fit in. Omi and Winant's critique of
ethnicity theory explains how looking towards a cultural defect for
the source of inequality ignores the "concrete sociopolitical dynamics
within which racial phenomena operate in the U.S." In other words,
buying into this approach effectively strips us of our ability to
critically examine the more structural components of racism and
encourages, instead, a “benign neglect” of social inequality.
Ethnicity and nationality
Nation state and minority group
Part of a series on
Status and rank
Age grade/Age set
Law and custom
Societies without hierarchical leaders
African Political Systems
Papuan Big man system
Art of Not Being Governed
Non-western state systems
and the State in Africa
Colonialism and resistance
Europe and the People
Political economy in anthropology
Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems
E. Adamson Hoebel
F. G. Bailey
Robert L. Carneiro
Henri J. M. Claessen
E. E. Evans-Pritchard
Thomas Blom Hansen
Ted C. Lewellen
Sally Falk Moore
James C. Scott
Douglas R. White
Social and cultural anthropology
In some cases, especially involving transnational migration, or
colonial expansion, ethnicity is linked to nationality.
Anthropologists and historians, following the modernist understanding
of ethnicity as proposed by Ernest Gellner and Benedict
Anderson see nations and nationalism as developing with the rise
of the modern state system in the 17th century. They culminated in the
rise of "nation-states" in which the presumptive boundaries of the
nation coincided (or ideally coincided) with state boundaries. Thus,
in the West, the notion of ethnicity, like race and nation, developed
in the context of European colonial expansion, when mercantilism and
capitalism were promoting global movements of populations at the same
time that state boundaries were being more clearly and rigidly
In the 19th century, modern states generally sought legitimacy through
their claim to represent "nations." Nation-states, however, invariably
include populations that have been excluded from national life for one
reason or another. Members of excluded groups, consequently, will
either demand inclusion on the basis of equality, or seek autonomy,
sometimes even to the extent of complete political separation in their
own nation-state. Under these conditions – when people
moved from one state to another, or one state conquered or
colonized peoples beyond its national boundaries – ethnic
groups were formed by people who identified with one nation, but lived
in another state.
Multi-ethnic states can be the result of two opposite events, either
the recent creation of state borders at variance with traditional
tribal territories, or the recent immigration of ethnic minorities
into a former nation state. Examples for the first case are found
throughout Africa, where countries created during decolonisation
inherited arbitrary colonial borders, but also in European countries
Belgium or United Kingdom. Examples for the second case are
countries such as
Germany or the Netherlands, which were ethnically
homogeneous when they attained statehood but have received significant
immigration during the second half of the 20th century. States such as
the United Kingdom,
Switzerland comprised distinct ethnic
groups from their formation and have likewise experienced substantial
immigration, resulting in what has been termed "multicultural"
societies especially in large cities.
The states of the
New World were multi-ethnic from the onset, as they
were formed as colonies imposed on existing indigenous populations.
In recent decades feminist scholars (most notably Nira
Yuval-Davis) have drawn attention to the fundamental ways in which
women participate in the creation and reproduction of ethnic and
national categories. Though these categories are usually discussed as
belonging to the public, political sphere, they are upheld within the
private, family sphere to a great extent. It is here that women
act not just as biological reproducers but also as 'cultural
carriers', transmitting knowledge and enforcing behaviours that belong
to a specific collectivity. Women also often play a significant
symbolic role in conceptions of nation or ethnicity, for example in
the notion that 'women and children' constitute the kernel of a nation
which must be defended in times of conflict, or in iconic figures such
Britannia or Marianne.
Ethnicity and race
Race and ethnicity are considered[by whom?] related concepts.
Ethnicity is often assumed to be somewhat more of a cultural identity
of a group, often based on shared ancestry, language and cultural
tradition, while race is assumed to be strictly a biological
classification, based on
DNA and bone structure. Race is a more
controversial subject than ethnicity, due to common political use of
the term. It is assumed[by whom?] that, based on power relations,
there exist "racialized ethnicities" and "ethnicized races". Ramón
Grosfoguel (University of California, Berkeley) argues that
'racial/ethnic identity' is one concept and that concepts of race and
ethnicity cannot be used as separate and autonomous categories.
Before Weber (1864-1920), race and ethnicity were primarily seen as
two aspects of the same thing. Around 1900 and before, the
essentialist primordialist understanding of ethnicity predominated:
cultural differences between peoples were seen as being the result of
inherited traits and tendencies. With Weber's introduction[when?]
of the idea of ethnicity as a social construct, race and ethnicity
became more divided from each other.
In 1950 the
UNESCO statement, "The Race Question", signed by some of
the internationally renowned scholars of the time (including Ashley
Montagu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gunnar Myrdal, Julian Huxley, etc.),
"National, religious, geographic, linguistic and cultural groups do
not necessarily coincide with racial groups: and the cultural traits
of such groups have no demonstrated genetic connection with racial
traits. Because serious errors of this kind are habitually committed
when the term 'race' is used in popular parlance, it would be better
when speaking of human races to drop the term 'race' altogether and
speak of 'ethnic groups'."
In 1982 anthropologist David Craig Griffith summed up forty years of
ethnographic research[by whom?], arguing that racial and ethnic
categories are symbolic markers for different ways that people from
different parts of the world have been incorporated into a global
The opposing interests that divide the working classes are further
reinforced through appeals to "racial" and "ethnic" distinctions. Such
appeals serve to allocate different categories of workers to rungs on
the scale of labor markets, relegating stigmatized populations to the
lower levels and insulating the higher echelons from competition from
Capitalism did not create all the distinctions of ethnicity and
race that function to set off categories of workers from one another.
It is, nevertheless, the process of labor mobilization under
capitalism that imparts to these distinctions their effective
According to Wolf, racial categories were constructed and
incorporated[by whom?] during the period of European mercantile
expansion, and ethnic groupings during the period of capitalist
Writing in 1977 about the usage of the term "ethnic" in the ordinary
Great Britain and the United States, Wallman noted that
The term 'ethnic' popularly connotes '[race]' in Britain, only less
precisely, and with a lighter value load. In North America, by
contrast, '[race]' most commonly means color, and 'ethnics' are the
descendants of relatively recent immigrants from non-English-speaking
countries. '[Ethnic]' is not a noun in Britain. In effect there are no
'ethnics'; there are only 'ethnic relations'.
In the U.S., the OMB defines the concept of race as outlined for the
US Census as not "scientific or anthropological" and takes into
account "social and cultural characteristics as well as ancestry",
using "appropriate scientific methodologies" that are not "primarily
biological or genetic in reference".
Further information: Ethnic conflict
Sometimes ethnic groups are subject to prejudicial attitudes and
actions by the state or its constituents. In the 20th century, people
began to argue that conflicts among ethnic groups or between members
of an ethnic group and the state can and should be resolved in one of
two ways. Some, like
Jürgen Habermas and Bruce Barry, have argued
that the legitimacy of modern states must be based on a notion of
political rights of autonomous individual subjects. According to this
view, the state should not acknowledge ethnic, national or racial
identity but rather instead enforce political and legal equality of
all individuals. Others, like Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, argue
that the notion of the autonomous individual is itself a cultural
construct. According to this view, states must recognize ethnic
identity and develop processes through which the particular needs of
ethnic groups can be accommodated within the boundaries of the
The 19th century saw the development of the political ideology of
ethnic nationalism, when the concept of race was tied to nationalism,
first by German theorists including Johann Gottfried von Herder.
Instances of societies focusing on ethnic ties, arguably to the
exclusion of history or historical context, have resulted in the
justification of nationalist goals. Two periods frequently cited as
examples of this are the 19th century consolidation and expansion of
German Empire and the 20th century Nazi Germany. Each promoted the
pan-ethnic idea that these governments were only acquiring lands that
had always been inhabited by ethnic Germans. The history of
late-comers to the nation-state model, such as those arising in the
Near East and south-eastern
Europe out of the dissolution of the
Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, as well as those arising out of
the former USSR, is marked by inter-ethnic conflicts. Such conflicts
usually occur within multi-ethnic states, as opposed to between them,
as in other regions of the world. Thus, the conflicts are often
misleadingly labelled and characterized as civil wars when they are
inter-ethnic conflicts in a multi-ethnic state.
Ethnic groups by continent
Ethnic groups in Africa
Ethnic groups in
Africa number in the hundreds, each generally having
its own language (or dialect of a language) and culture.
Many ethnic groups and nations of
Africa qualify, although some groups
are of a size larger than a tribal society. These mostly originate
with the Sahelian kingdoms of the medieval period, such as that of the
Akan, deriving from
Bonoman (11th century) then the Kingdom of Ashanti
Ethnic groups in Asia
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The Assyrians are the indigenous peoples of Northern Iraq.
There is an abundance of ethnic groups throughout Asia, with
adaptations to the climate zones of Asia, which can be Arctic,
subarctic, temperate, subtropical or tropical. The ethnic groups have
adapted to mountains, deserts, grasslands, and forests.
On the coasts of Asia, the ethnic groups have adopted various methods
of harvest and transport. Some groups are primarily hunter-gatherers,
some practice transhumance (nomadic lifestyle), others have been
agrarian/rural for millennia and others becoming industrial/urban.
Some groups/countries of
Asia are completely urban (Hong Kong,
Shanghai and Singapore). The colonization of
Asia was largely ended in
the 20th century, with national drives for independence and
self-determination across the continent.
Ethnic groups in Europe
The Basque people constitute an indigenous ethnic minority in both
France and Spain.
Europe has a large number of ethnic groups; Pan and Pfeil (2004) count
87 distinct "peoples of Europe", of which 33 form the majority
population in at least one sovereign state, while the remaining 54
constitute ethnic minorities within every state they inhabit (although
they may form local regional majorities within a sub-national entity).
The total number of national minority populations in
estimated at 105 million people, or 14% of 770 million Europeans.
A number of European countries, including France, and Switzerland
do not collect information on the ethnicity of their resident
Russia has over 185 recognized ethnic groups besides the 80% ethnic
Russian majority. The largest group are the
Tatars 3.8%. Many of the
smaller groups are found in the Asian part of
Russia (see Indigenous
peoples of Siberia).
An example of a largely nomadic ethnic group in
Europe is the Roma,
pejoratively known as Gypsies. They originated from India and speak
the Romani language.
Main articles: Ethnic origins of people in Canada,
Ethnic groups in
Central America, Demographics of Mexico, and
Ethnic groups in the
Ethnic groups in South America
Human Genome Diversity Project
Ingroups and outgroups
List of contemporary ethnic groups
List of indigenous peoples
Race (human categorization)
Race and ethnicity in censuses
Race and ethnicity in the
United States Census
Race and health
Y-chromosome haplogroups in populations of the world
^ "ethnicity: definition of ethnicity". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford
University Press. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
^ People, James; Bailey, Garrick (2010). Humanity: An Introduction to
Anthropology (9th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage learning.
p. 389. In essence, an ethnic group is a named social category of
people based on perceptions of shared social experience or one's
ancestors' experiences. Members of the ethnic group see themselves as
sharing cultural traditions and history that distinguish them from
Ethnic group identity has a strong psychological or
emotional component that divides the people of the world into opposing
categories of “us” and “them.” In contrast to social
stratification, which divides and unifies people along a series of
horizontal axes on the basis of socioeconomic factors, ethnic
identities divide and unify people along a series of vertical axes.
Thus, ethnic groups, at least theoretically, cut across socioeconomic
class differences, drawing members from all strata of the
^ ἐθνικός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus
^ ThiE. Tonkin, M. McDonald and M. Chapman,
History and Ethnicity
(London 1989), pp. 11–17 (quoted in J. Hutchinson & A.D.
Smith (eds.), Oxford readers: Ethnicity (Oxford 1996),
^ ἔθνος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary Second edition, online version as of
2008-01-12, "ethnic, a. and n.". Cites Sir Daniel Wilson, The
archæology and prehistoric annals of Scotland 1851 (1863) and Huxley
& Haddon (1935), We Europeans, pp. 136,181
^ Cohen, Ronald. (1978) "Ethnicity: Problem and Focus in
Anthropology", Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1978. 7:379-403; Glazer, Nathan
Daniel P. Moynihan (1975) Ethnicity – Theory and
Experience, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press. The modern
usage definition of the
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary is:
2.a. Pertaining to race; peculiar to a race or nation; ethnological.
Also, pertaining to or having common racial, cultural, religious, or
linguistic characteristics, esp. designating a racial or other group
within a larger system; hence (U.S. colloq.), foreign, exotic.
b ethnic minority (group), a group of people differentiated from the
rest of the community by racial origins or cultural background, and
usu. claiming or enjoying official recognition of their group
identity. Also attrib.
3 A member of an ethnic group or minority. Equatorians
Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary Second edition, online version as of
2008-01-12, s.v. "ethnic, a. and n.")
^ ὅμαιμος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English
Lexicon, on Perseus
^ ὁμόγλωσσος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A
Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
^ I. Polinskaya, "Shared sanctuaries and the gods of others: On the
meaning Of 'common' in
Herodotus 8.144", in: R. Rosen & I. Sluiter
(eds.), Valuing others in Classical Antiquity (LEiden: Brill, 2010),
^ ὁμότροπος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A
Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus)
^ Herodotus, 8.144.2: "The kinship of all Greeks in blood and speech,
and the shrines of gods and the sacrifices that we have in common, and
the likeness of our way of life."
^ Athena S. Leoussi, Steven Grosby,
Nationalism and Ethnosymbolism:
Culture and Ethnicity in the Formation of Nations, Edinburgh
University Press, 2006, p. 115
^ "Challenges of measuring an ethnic world". Publications.gc.ca. The
Government of Canada. April 1, 1992. Ethnicity is a fundamental factor
in human life: it is a phenomenon inherent in human experience
^ Statistics Canada[permanent dead link]
^ a b Fredrik Barth, ed. 1969 Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social
Organization of Cultural Difference;
Eric Wolf 1982
Europe and the
History p. 381
^ Geertz, Clifford, ed. (1967) Old Societies and New States: The Quest
for Modernity in
Africa and Asia. New York: The Free Press.
^ Cohen, Abner (1969) Custom and Politics in Urban Africa: A Study of
Hausa Migrants in a Yoruba Town. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
^ Abner Cohen (1974) Two-Dimensional Man: An essay on power and
symbolism in complex society. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
^ J. Hutchinson & A.D. Smith (eds.), Oxford readers: Ethnicity
(Oxford 1996), "Introduction", 8-9
^ Gellner, Ernest (1983) Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ernest Gellner (1997) Nationalism. London: Weidenfeld &
^ Smith, Anthony D. (1986) The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford:
^ Anthony Smith (1991) National Identity. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
^ T.H. Eriksen "Ethnic identity, national identity and intergroup
conflict: The significance of personal experiences" in Ashmore,
Jussim, Wilder (eds.): Social identity, intergroup conflict, and
conflict reduction, pp. 42–70. Oxford: Oxford University Press'.
^ Banton, Michael. (2007) "Weber on Ethnic Communities: A critique",
Nationalism 13 (1), 2007, 19–35.
^ a b c d e Ronald Cohen 1978 "Ethnicity: Problem and Focus in
Anthropology", Annual Review of
Anthropology 7: 383-384 Palo Alto:
Stanford University Press
^ James, Paul (2015). "Despite the Terrors of Typologies: The
Importance of Understanding Categories of Difference and Identity".
Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. 17 (2):
^ Joan Vincent 1974, "The Structure of Ethnicity" in Human
Organization 33(4): 375-379
^ a b c (Smith 1999, p. 13)
^ Smith (1998), 159.
^ Smith (1999), 5.
^ a b Noel, Donald L. (1968). "A Theory of the Origin of Ethnic
Stratification". Social Problems. 16 (2): 157–172.
^ a b c Bobo, Lawrence; Hutchings, Vincent L. (1996). "Perceptions of
Racial Group Competition: Extending Blumer's Theory of Group Position
to a Multiracial Social Context". American Sociological Review.
American Sociological Association. 61 (6): 951–972.
doi:10.2307/2096302. JSTOR 2096302.
^ (Smith 1999, pp. 4–7)
^ Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983), The Invention of Tradition, Sider 1993
Lumbee Indian Histories.
^ Camoroff, John L. and Jean Camoroff 2009: Ethnicity Inc.. Chicago:
^ The Invention of Tradition, Sider 1993 Lumbee Indian Histories
^ O'Neil, Dennis. "Nature of Ethnicity". Palomar College. Retrieved 7
^ Seidner,(1982), Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a
Psycholinguistic Perspective, pp. 2–3
^ Smith 1987 pp. 21–22
^ Omi & Winant 1986, p. 15
^ Omi & Winant 1986, p. 58
^ a b c Omi & Winant 1986, p. 17
^ Omi & Winant 1986, p. 19
^ a b Omi & Winant 1986, p. 21
^ Gellner 2006 Nations and
Nationalism Blackwell Publishing
^ Anderson 2006 Imagined Communities Version
^ Walter Pohl, "Conceptions of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies",
Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings, ed. Lester K. Little
and Barbara H. Rosenwein, (Blackwell), 1998, pp 13–24, notes
that historians have projected the 19th-century conceptions of the
nation-state backwards in time, employing biological metaphors of
birth and growth: "that the peoples in the
Migration Period had little
to do with those heroic (or sometimes brutish) clichés is now
generally accepted among historians," he remarked. Early medieval
peoples were far less homogeneous than often thought, and Pohl follows
Reinhard Wenskus, Stammesbildung und Verfassung. (Cologne and Graz)
1961, whose researches into the "ethnogenesis" of the German peoples
convinced him that the idea of common origin, as expressed by Isidore
of Seville Gens est multitudo ab uno principio orta ("a people is a
multitude stemming from one origin") which continues in the original
Etymologiae IX.2.i) "sive ab alia natione secundum propriam
collectionem distincta ("or distinguished from another people by its
proper ties") was a myth.
^ Aihway Ong 1996 "Cultural
Citizenship in the Making" in Current
^ Nira Yuval-Davis, "
Gender & Nation" (London: SAGE Publications
^ Nira Yuval-Davis, "
Gender & Nation" (London: SAGE Publications
Ltd, 1997) pp. 12-13
^ Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis "Woman-Nation–State" (London:
Macmillan, 1989), p 9
^ Grosfoguel, Ramán (September 2004). "Race and Ethnicity or
Racialized Ethnicities? Identities within Global Coloniality".
Ethnicities. 315-336. 4 (3): 315. doi:10.1177/1468796804045237.
^ Banton, Michael. (2007) "Weber on Ethnic Communities: A critique",
Nationalism 13 (1), 2007, 19–35.
^ A. Metraux (1950) "United nations Economic and Security Council
Statement by Experts on Problems of Race", American Anthropologist
^ Griffith, David Craig, Jones's minimal: low-wage labor in the United
States, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1993, p.222
^ Eric Wolf, 1982,
Europe and the
People Without History, Berkeley:
University of California Press. 380-381
^ Wallman, S. "Ethnicity research in Britain", Current Anthropology,
v. 18, n. 3, 1977, pp. 531–532.
^ "A Brief
History of the OMB Directive 15". American Anthropological
Association. 1997. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
^ Cohen, Robin (1995). The Cambridge Survey of World Migration.
Cambridge University Press. p. 197.
ISBN 0-521-44405-5. Wickens, Gerald E; Lowe, Pat (2008).
The Baobabs: Pachycauls of Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Springer
Science+Business Media. 2008. p. 360.
^ Christoph Pan, Beate Sibylle Pfeil,Minderheitenrechte in Europa.
Handbuch der europäischen Volksgruppen (2002)., English translation
^ (in French) article 8 de la loi Informatique et libertés, 1978: "Il
est interdit de collecter ou de traiter des données à caractère
personnel qui font apparaître, directement ou indirectement, les
origines raciales ou ethniques, les opinions politiques,
philosophiques ou religieuses ou l'appartenance syndicale des
personnes, ou qui sont relatives à la santé ou à la vie sexuelle de
Abizadeh, Arash, "Ethnicity, Race, and a Possible Humanity" World
Order, 33.1 (2001): 23-34. (Article that explores the social
construction of ethnicity and race.)
Barth, Fredrik (ed).
Ethnic groups and boundaries. The social
organization of culture difference, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969
Beard, David and Kenneth Gloag. 2005. Musicology, The Key Concepts.
London and New York: Routledge.
Billinger, Michael S. (2007), "Another Look at Ethnicity as a
Biological Concept: Moving
Anthropology Beyond the Race Concept",
Craig, Gary, et al., eds. Understanding 'race'and ethnicity: theory,
history, policy, practice (Policy Press, 2012)
Danver, Steven L. Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of
Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues (2012)
Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (1993) Ethnicity and Nationalism:
Anthropological Perspectives, London: Pluto Press
Eysenck, H.J., Race, Education and Intelligence (London: Temple Smith,
1971) (ISBN 0-85117-009-9)
Healey, Joseph F., and Eileen O'Brien. Race, ethnicity, gender, and
class: The sociology of group conflict and change (Sage Publications,
Hartmann, Douglas. "Notes on Midnight Basketball and the Cultural
Politics of Recreation, Race and At-Risk Urban Youth", Journal of
Sport and Social Issues. 25 (2001): 339-366.
Hasmath, R. ed. 2011. Managing Ethnic Diversity: Meanings and
Practices from an International Perspective. Burlington, VT and
Surrey, UK: Ashgate.
Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, editors, The Invention of
Tradition. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
Hutcheon, Linda (1998). "Crypto-Ethnicity" (PDF). PMLA: Publications
of the Modern
Language Association of America. 113 (1): 28–51.
Kappeler, Andreas. The Russian empire: A multi-ethnic history
Levinson, David, Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook,
Greenwood Publishing Group (1998), ISBN 978-1-57356-019-1.
Magocsi, Paul Robert, ed. Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples (1999)
Merriam, A.P. 1959. "African Music", in R. Bascom and, M. J.
Herskovits (eds), Continuity and Change in African Cultures, Chicago,
University of Chicago Press.
Morales-Díaz, Enrique; Gabriel Aquino; & Michael Sletcher,
"Ethnicity", in Michael Sletcher, ed., New England, (Westport, CT,
Omi, Michael; Winant, Howard (1986). Racial Formation in the United
States from the 1960s to the 1980s. New York: Routledge and Kegan
Seeger, A. 1987. Why Suyá Sing: A Musical
Anthropology of an
Amazonian People, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Seidner, Stanley S. Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a
Psycholinguistic Perspective. (Bruxelles: Centre de recherche sur le
Sider, Gerald, Lumbee Indian Histories (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1993).
Smith, Anthony D. (1987). "The Ethnic Origins of Nations".
Smith, Anthony D. (1998).
Nationalism and modernism. A Critical Survey
of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism. London – New
Smith, Anthony D. (1999). "Myths and memories of the Nation". Oxford
Thernstrom, Stephan A. ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic
U.S. Census Bureau
U.S. Census Bureau State & County QuickFacts: Race.
Look up ethnicity, ethnic, nationality, or nation in Wiktionary, the
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ethnic groups.
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Ethnicity at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Ethnicity entry in the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology
Downloadable article: "Evidence that a West-East admixed population
lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age" Li et al.
BMC Biology 2010, 8:15. Biomedcentral.com
American Psychological Association's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs
Ingroups and outgroups
Ethnicity in census
Ethnic interest group
Ethnic theme park