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Ethnicity as political, social and cultural constructions in terms of the specific historical contexts

Valentyna Bohatyrets
Yurii Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, Chernivtsi, Ukraine

Field: Political Sciences
Title: Ethnicity as political, social and cultural constructions in terms of the specific historical contexts
Paper Type: Research Paper
City, Country: Chernivtsi, Ukraine
Authors: V. Bohatyrets
Ethnicity, Ethnic identity, Political, social, cultural constructions, Public policy, Modern politics.
The article canvases the problem of ethnicity as political, social and cultural constructions,
persisting in Europe. In a globalized world, postmodern world, ethnic identity
becomes more relative. In the newer notions of ethnicity, conception of ethnic identity
has not lost hold of the place and ground from which it has come from or from which we
speak from, yet it is no longer constrained or contained within that place in essence.
Humanity tends to have multiple identities at any one point in time. Simultaneously,
it is possible to have a global, national, ethnic, national, neighborhood, class, status
identity at the same time. Due to the diversification of lived worlds people can have
multiple identities in an increasingly globalized world marked by migration. The modern
concept of Europe as a federation of communities is based on the concept of ethnic
pluralism that respects the interests and rights of peoples as ethnic and cultural communities.
Ethnic pluralism involves fundamental differences between peoples; those
are expressed not only in external features, but also spiritual and mental differences in
the different perception of reality and position according to it.
  1. Alter P (1985) Nationalism. London: Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, Anderson.
  2. Bloom A (1987) The closing of the American mind. Simon & Schuster, New York.
  3. Bowen J (1997) Ethnic conflict: Challenging the myth. Current, 389:16-21.
  4. Calhoun C (1993) Nationalism and Ethnicity. In: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 19: 211-239.
  5. Chávez A (2012) Racial and Ethnic Identity and Development. In: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No 84: 39-48.
  6. Dragunskii D (1995).Imposed Ethnicity. In: Russian Social Science Review, 36 (2): 71-82.
  7. Durkheim E (1964) The Rules of Sociological Method.  trans. S. Solovay and J. Mueller, ed. G. E.G. Catlin, 8th ed. New York: Free Press.
  8. Ethnicity & Ethnic Identity Anthropology and the Human Condition http://sc2218.wikifoundry.com/page/Ethnicity+%26+Ethnic+Identity Accessed 25 May 2014
  9. Fisher M (2014) What is the Ukraine crisis? http://www.vox.com/cards/ukraine-everything-you-need-to-know/what-is-the-ukraine-crisis Accessed 10 September 2014.
  10. Geertz C (1983) From the Native’s Point of View, in Local Knowledge, New York: Basic Books.
  11. Glenny M (1999) The Balkans 1804-1999: Nationalism War and the Great Powers. Granta, London.
  12. Horowitz D (1985) Ethnic Groups in Conflict. University of California Press, Berkeley.
  13. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnicity Accessed 5 March 2014
  14. Kaplan R (2014) A-look-at-Ukraine/s-internal-divisions/ www.cbsnews.com/news/ Accessed 10 June 2014
  15. Kovacs Z (1991) Ethnic Tensions in Eastern Europe. In: Geography Review, 4(4): 37-41.
  16. Ott S (1989) The Organizational Culture Perspective. Chicago: The Dorsey Press.
  17. Peter S (1999) Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 424p.
  18. Plokhy S (2014) The Roots of the Ukraine Crisis/ http://online.wsj.com/news/articles Accessed 17 May 2014.
  19. Poulton H (1994) The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict. Minority Rights Group, London.
  20. Rishikeshav E (2003) Ethnicity and Identity. In: Occasional Papers in Sociology and Archeology. Vol.VIII, Tribhuvan University Kathmandu, Nepal.
  21. Rostow W (1961) The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  22. Rothschild J. (1981). Ethnopolitics: A Conceptual Framework. Columbia University Press, New York.
  23. Rupasinghe K and Tishkov V (1995) (eds) Ethnicity and Power in the Contemporary World. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.
  24. Unander D (2000) Shattering the Myth of Race: Genetic realities and Biblical Truth. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
  25. Wacquant L (2004) Towards an Analytic of Racial Domination. In: Political Power and Social Theory 11: 221-234.
  26. Yash P (2000) Autonomy and Ethnicity: Negotiating Competing Claims in Multi-Ethnic States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  27. Yevtukh V (2009) Civil Society Relations Partnerships: Ethnopolitical Management. In: Education Policy and Minorities. Pilot Project – Ukraine. –Strasbourg, Roma in Ukraine: Ethnodemographical and Sociocultural Contexts. In: Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Social Sciences Eastern Europe. № 02: 57- 61.
  28. Yevtukh V (2012) Ethnicity: Encyclopaedic handbook. Kyiv: Dragomanov National Pedagogical University Publishing House, 396 p.
  29. Yinger J (1976) Ethnicity in Complex Societies. In. Coser L and Larsen O (eds.) The Uses of Controversy in Sociology. – New York: Free Press.
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“As long as our civilization keeps trundling along generally forwards, then there is the possibility of a future where ethnicity  is merely an interesting badge, not a uniform you can’t take off”

(David Mitchell)

 

  1. Introduction

Ethnicity is one of Europe’s outstanding geographical characteristics and it is entirely appropriate that this has been given due recognition in the science domain. However the negative aspects have often been emphasized in such a way as to suggest that discrimination and intolerance are normal occurrences. Problems have generally arisen when democracy and security have broken down and minorities have been unable to defend themselves against xenophobic excesses and territorial changes arising out of war on a local, regional or world scale.

Many key terms in the interpretative social sciences and history – ‘ethnicity’, ‘race’, ‘nation’, ‘citizenship’, ‘democracy’, ‘class’, ‘community’, and ‘tradition’, are equally categories of social and political practice and analysis. The ‘categories of practice’, let’s say, ‘native’, ‘folk’ or ‘lay’ categories – are considered the ones of everyday social experience, developed and deployed by ordinary social actors, as distinguished from the experience-distant categories used by social analysts (Geertz 1983). The basic contrast goes back at least to Durkheim’s Rules of Sociological Method, which criticized the sociological use of ‘pre-notions’ or lay concepts that have been created by experience and for it (Durkheim 1964).

It’s preferable to use the expression ‘category of practice’ to the alternative, for while the latter imply a relatively sharp distinction between ’native’ or ‘folk’ or ‘lay’ categories on the one hand and ‘scientific’ categories on the other, such concepts as ‘race’, ‘ethnicity’, or ‘nation’ are marked by close reciprocal connection and mutual influence among their practical and analytical uses (Wacquant 2004).

This paper aims at demonstrating theoretical framework of ethnicity as political, social and cultural constructions. It is an essential part of the vernacular milieu, especially in closed rural communities anchored in a specific language and culture where no other identity could be contemplated. People gain powerful community solidarity from such situation; for example, it might help the Ukrainians to survive in often hostile environment, reflecting a generally negative image. Yet this survival mentality is hardly in keeping with modern Europe: human rights’ equality is a basic requisite for progress to EU membership and the security that follows in its wake.

  1. Theoretical perspective

1.1 Ethnicity – an imperative concern in the modern world

According to Oxford dictionary ethnicity is “The fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition: the interrelationship between gender, ethnicity, and class” (oxforddictionaries)

Ethnicity is an important issue in the modern world. In each nation state some groups stand aside from the mainstream (Horowitz 1985) and seek power sharing and influence as part of the tension between the global and the local (Rothschild 1981; Rupasinghe and Tishkov 1995). Now here in Eastern Europe is the nation state ideal achieved whereby compact nations are contained neatly within their respective territorial cradles (Yevtukh 2012). It is extreme ethnic diversity that is invariably highlighted as characteristic of Eastern Europe in contrast to them or homogeneous societies of Western states. Ethnicity has been widely perceived as a source of stress rather than cultural enrichment (Kovacs 1991), if human resources are to be effectively harnessed for growth and prosperity this constraint has to be overcome. Ethnic issues maybe over-dramatized as a result of recent well-known cases of flagrant discrimination and even genocide resulting from states and minorities being in conflict (Poulton 1994). While modern Western society is regarded as the inevitable evolutionary outcome (Rostow 1961), other cultures must not be forgotten (Bloom 1987). Resistance from the periphery to any imposition of European culture will remain, with all its problematic implications (Glenny 1999).

Issues of race and ethnicity dominate the academic discourse of many disciplines, including the field of multicultural education, and the socio-political arena. Heightened interest in these issues is in response to the demographic reality of increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the whole globe (Yash 2000, Unander 2000, Peter 1999, Dragunskii 1995).

According to D. Dragunskii, the ethnic categorization and marginalization was the central cause of the Soviet Union’s state building ideology. After Soviet Union’s economic and political ideology declined, its breakup was not led by ideological conflict but by ethno-territorial conflict. According to the researcher, conflict tensions are divided primarily on ethnic lines as a result of the Soviet Union’s own ethnic policies and categorizations.

John R. Bowen challenges the common, popular notion that many international ethnic conflicts are age-old problems of cultural and ethnic differences which can never be cured. Instead, the author focuses on examples in Yugoslavia and Rwanda to demonstrate how colonial and post-colonial states create ethnic categorization and division for economic and political purposes (Bowen 1997).

 

1.2 Ukraine case study

In terms of the above-mentioned study it should be noted, that the question of Ukraine’s ethnicity crisis could be another case study. Ukraine is a Texas-sized country wedged between Russia and Europe. It used to be the part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and since then has been a less-than-perfect democracy with a very weak economy and foreign policy that wavers between pro-Russian and pro-European (Fisher 2014). The country is divided by ethnic heritage, language and politics. Broadly, the eastern half is more pro-Russia while the west has sought a closer partnership with Europe, a division at the heart of the protests that ultimately led to the ouster of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

The borders of what the world knows as modern-day Ukraine were only settled in 1945, after centuries of conflict and war. The western part of the country had a brief flirtation with independence between the two world wars, but was otherwise part of Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The eastern parts of the country were more closely aligned with the Russian empire for several hundred years before the Soviet Union annexed the entire area after World War II.

Political differences are less about ideology, and more about identity, People have tended to make their affiliations based on their location and heritage, which were reflected in the 2010 election (Kaplan 2014).

The roots of a present-day crisis go back to the last days of the Soviet Union, whose demise Mr. Putin has lamented as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. Moscow has long cast an acquisitive eye on Ukraine – now the second-largest Slavic state, previously a vast part of the Soviet Union and always Russia’s uneasy neighbor. The current Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s occupation of the Crimea are directly linked to Moscow’s project of taking advantage of ethnic conflict and reintegrating the space of the former Soviet Union into a comprehensive economic, political and military Eurasian Union.

When Ukraine voted for independence on Dec. 1, 1991, it sealed the Soviet Union’s fate. More than 90% of Ukrainian citizens voted in favor of statehood. Even in the Crimea, which then (as now) had an ethnic Russian majority, 54% voted for independence. In Sevastopol, the Soviet naval base in the Crimea, 57% were in favor. The Russians of Ukraine, in short, voted in large numbers for Ukrainian independence. Backsliding into dreams of Soviet empire isn’t something the world can afford just now (Plokhy 2014).

 

1.3 Ethnicity as a way of categorizing similarity and differences

Significantly, ethnicity is the use of culturally expressed characteristics as markers of similarity and difference. It refers to groups who share customs and language. Ethnicity is a more encompassing acceptable way of categorizing similarity and differences. The use of race to classify and categorize people is however, often viewed negatively. Ethnicity is a better concept than race as it reflects positive tendencies of identification whilst race is often thought of as label imposed by a dominant group in order to maintain a position of power over the subordinate/minority group. Hence race is associated with negative tendencies of dissociation and exclusion while ethnicity involves voluntary self-identification as it enhances one’s self-esteem and status in society. Ethnic identity refers to how individuals relate themselves to a particular ethnic group. Ethnic identity can be understood as individual identity. Individual identity can be looked at a few levels. It can be seen/ related to/as being sure of yourself ie; psychological understanding of oneself. Identity can also be seen as group identity. But an individual is always part of a social group. Henceforward, individual identity can be equated to social identity. Ethnic identity is yet another way of thinking of individual identity (Ethnicity 2014).

Assuming an outer stance; I reckon ethnicity manifestation is triggered most often by two conflicting social and cultural influences. First, deep conscious immersion into cultural traditions and values through religious, familial, neighborhood, and educational communities instills a positive sense of ethnic identity and confidence. Second, and in contrast, individuals often must filter ethnic identity through negative treatment and media messages received from others because of their race and ethnicity. Racial and ethnic identity is supposed to define and stress the importance of examining these concepts from a multidimensional frame. Furthermore, racial and ethnic identity is seen through developmental and descriptive lenses and highlighted the strengths and limitations of the models presented. Ethnic identity is often considered a social construct as well. It is viewed as an individual’s identification with “a segment of a larger society whose members are thought, by themselves or others, to have a common origin and share segments of a common culture and who, in addition, participates in shared activities in which the common origin and culture are significant ingredients” (Yinger1976). Ethnic identity seems most often to be a frame in which individuals identify consciously or unconsciously with those with whom they feel a common bond because of similar traditions, behaviors, values, and beliefs (Ott 1989). These points of connection allow individuals to make sense of the world around them and to find pride in ‘who they are’.

If, however, positive ethnic group messages and support are not apparent or available to counteract negative public messages, a particular individual is likely to feel shame or disconnection toward their own ethnic identity. Ethnic identity development consists of an individual’s movement toward a highly conscious identification with their own cultural values, behaviors, beliefs, and traditions. Ethnic and racial identity models provide a theoretical structure for understanding individuals’ negotiation of their own and other cultures (Chávez 2012).

 

  1. Ethnicity and ethnic identity

There is an element of primordiality to ethnic identity. However, as much as it can be primordial, ethnic identity can also be situational and instrumental. It can be latent and it can manifest itself when triggered with intrusions or faced with threat. In a globalized world, postmodern world, ethnic identity becomes more relative. In the newer notions of ethnic identity, conception of ethnic identity has not lost hold of the place and ground from which it has come from or from which we speak from, yet it is no, longer constrained or contained within that place in essence. Humanity tends to have multiple identities at any one point in time. Simultaneously, it is possible to have a global, national, ethnic, national, neighborhood, class, status identity at the same time. Due to the diversification of lived worlds people can have multiple identities in an increasingly globalized world marked by migration.

Recently, there have been talks and arguments of doing away with ethnic identity altogether from/by the post-modern perspective. Ethnic identity presents a person’s stance in the society. There is no way in which people can act or speak from the margins or reflect on their own experiences unless they come from some place, have some history or have certain cultural traditions. Ethnic identity establishes and structures social relationships and maintains an order in society. Ethnicity is what we require in order to make sense of ourselves and to think about the relationship between identity and difference. As long as it does not essentialize other ethnic groups and naturalize differences or lead to stereotyping or constraining individual agency, it is still an important and necessary way to organize society. These days ethnicity is much talked issues in the contemporary world, especially in the Third World, so called underdeveloped countries by developed western countries. Ethnic identity always materializes in relation to somebody else. Identity is contextual in both derivation and expression-that is easily manipulated and changeable is now well known and is surely expectable, for it shares these features with all that is cultural (Rishikeshav 2003). It is almost impossible to delineate the boundaries of one cultural identity and the beginning of another. The relationship between nationalism and ethnicity is complex. Neither is vanishing as part of an obsolete traditional order. Both are part of a modem set of categorical identities invoked by elites and other participants in political and social struggles.

These categorical identities also shape everyday life, offering both tools for grasping pre-existing homogeneity and difference and constructing specific versions of such identities. While it is impossible to dissociate nationalism entirely from ethnicity, it is equally impossible to explain it simply as a continuation of ethnicity. Numerous dimensions of modern social and cultural change, notably state-building, individualism and the integration of large-scale webs of indirect relationships all serve to make both nationalism and ethnicity salient. Nationalism, in particular, remains the preeminent rhetoric for attempts to demarcate political communities, claim rights of self-determination and legitimate rule by reference to ”the people” of a country. Ethnic solidarities and identities are claimed most often where groups do not seek “national” autonomy but rather an internal recognition to or cross-cutting national or state boundaries. The possibility of a closer link to nationalism is seldom altogether absent from such ethnic claims, however, and the two sorts of categorical identities are often invoked in similar ways (Calhoun 1993).

This suggests that even if ethnicity plays a role it cannot be a sufficient explanation. Furthermore, nationalism has largely been treated as a kind of second-order political movement based on a false consciousness which ethnicity helps to produce but cannot explain because the deeper roots lie in political economy not culture (Alter 1985). In each of these cases, it is critical that the topic of race and ethnicity receives continual examination.

Consequently, we can conclude, the ideology and myth of racial and ethnic differences cannot be confirmed to back or legitimate superiority, privilege, or conflict as has often been the case in both historical and global contexts. A more precise assessment is sure to challenge counterbalance of these dangerous misconceptions so that mere differences, in whatever form, are not constructed as a rationale for compel. Generally speaking, the most prominent twentieth-century analysts of nationalism have rejected the claim that nationalism can be explained by pre-existing ethnicity. According to the latest study, the crucial role of modem politics, especially the idea of sovereignty has been emphasized. Furthermore, another angle of the encompassed problem is seeing nationalism as a sort of religion. More recently, emphasis has been placed on the number of cases of failed or absent nationalisms: ethnic groups which mounted either little or no attempt to become nations in the modem senses.

  1. Findings and final conclusions

Summarizing, we found it quite difficult to cover and highlight all issues concerned, nevertheless, having studied the cluster of topics centered on ethnicity as political, social and cultural constructions in the historical context, several themes emerged that take our ethnicity awareness to a profounder extend.

Ethnic identity is neither permanent, nor is stable. Ethnic identity is multi- faceted and not cast in stone. It evolves overtime. Older notions of ethnicity can be viewed as somewhat narrower and far more restraining. Being more essential in nature and differences it would have been rejected. Ethnic identity can be conceptualized as a process of identification i.e.; as taken for granted, something happening over time and that is never undeniably constant. Instead it is subjected to play of history (understanding our roots, we cannot ignore our background) and the play of difference. It is not an end state and there is nothing tangible to it. It is a social process that involves mediation. Ethnic identity is also relational, in the sense that it signifies the bond between an individual and the ‘other’. Ethnic identity is a social construct. It is constructed overtime through the accumulation of many things over time.

The transition to democracy is a slow-moving and frail process. The advance of practical and rigorous public policies that are relevant, acceptable, and inclusive is vigorous for the democratic systems establishment. Such policies are reckoned to be pursued by citizens and supported by governments. To achieve this goal, initiatives must also overcome entrenched nativist attitudes if they are to be truly deep-rooted in the community. The issue is how to articulate and deliver such policies that will underpin the putting in the democratic ideal and which address the contexts unique to the countries undertaking this process.

First, racial differences become more aware in the mind than in the genes. Consequently, we conclude superiority and inferiority associated with racial differences are often socially constructed to satisfy the socio-political agenda of the dominant group.

Second, racial and ethnic categories are neither fixed across societies nor within a society. Racial and ethnic categories are fluid and changing depending on the socio-political context of a society at any given time.

Third, ethnic and racial differences do not inherently result in conflict. Instead, these differences can take on a social meaning of hierarchy leading to a conflict when split groups fail to negotiate. In such cases, the imbalance of power, not the racial or ethnic differences per se, is the underlying cause of the conflict (for example, current Ukraine conflict (the Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk) – Russia.

To be more precise, Ukraine crisis is not to simply be degraded to “yet another conflict” as each conflict has unique situations and terrible consequences. Yet still, it is another significant sign of how power struggles have imprints throughout the globe and throughout history.

References:
1. Alter P (1985) Nationalism. London: Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, Anderson.
2. Bloom A (1987) The closing of the American mind. Simon & Schuster, New York.
3. Bowen J (1997) Ethnic conflict: Challenging the myth. Current, 389:16-21.
4. Calhoun C (1993) Nationalism and Ethnicity. In: Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 19: 211-239.
5. Chávez A (2012) Racial and Ethnic Identity and Development. In: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No 84: 39-48.
6. Dragunskii D (1995).Imposed Ethnicity. In: Russian Social Science Review, 36 (2): 71-82.
7. Durkheim E (1964) The Rules of Sociological Method. trans. S. Solovay and J. Mueller, ed. G. E.G. Catlin, 8th ed. New York: Free Press.
8. Ethnicity & Ethnic Identity Anthropology and the Human Condition http://sc2218.wikifoundry.com/page/Ethnicity+%26+Ethnic+Identity Accessed 25 May 2014
9. Fisher M (2014) What is the Ukraine crisis? http://www.vox.com/cards/ukraine-everything-you-need-to-know/what-is-the-ukraine-crisis Accessed 10 September 2014.
10. Geertz C (1983) From the Native’s Point of View, in Local Knowledge, New York: Basic Books.
11. Glenny M (1999) The Balkans 1804-1999: Nationalism War and the Great Powers. Granta, London.
12. Horowitz D (1985) Ethnic Groups in Conflict. University of California Press, Berkeley.
13. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnicity Accessed 5 March 2014
14. Kaplan R (2014) A-look-at-Ukraine/s-internal-divisions/ www.cbsnews.com/news/ Accessed 10 June 2014
15. Kovacs Z (1991) Ethnic Tensions in Eastern Europe. In: Geography Review, 4(4): 37-41.
16. Ott S (1989) The Organizational Culture Perspective. Chicago: The Dorsey Press.
17. Peter S (1999) Race and Ethnic Relations in Canada. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 424p.
18. Plokhy S (2014) The Roots of the Ukraine Crisis/ http://online.wsj.com/news/articles Accessed 17 May 2014.
19. Poulton H (1994) The Balkans: Minorities and States in Conflict. Minority Rights Group, London.
20. Rishikeshav E (2003) Ethnicity and Identity. In: Occasional Papers in Sociology and Archeology. Vol.VIII, Tribhuvan University Kathmandu, Nepal.
21. Rostow W (1961) The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
22. Rothschild J. (1981). Ethnopolitics: A Conceptual Framework. Columbia University Press, New York.
23. Rupasinghe K and Tishkov V (1995) (eds) Ethnicity and Power in the Contemporary World. United Nations University Press, Tokyo.
24. Unander D (2000) Shattering the Myth of Race: Genetic realities and Biblical Truth. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
25. Wacquant L (2004) Towards an Analytic of Racial Domination. In: Political Power and Social Theory 11: 221-234.
26. Yash P (2000) Autonomy and Ethnicity: Negotiating Competing Claims in Multi-Ethnic States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
27. Yevtukh V (2009) Civil Society Relations Partnerships: Ethnopolitical Management. In: Education Policy and Minorities. Pilot Project – Ukraine. –Strasbourg, Roma in Ukraine: Ethnodemographical and Sociocultural Contexts. In: Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Social Sciences Eastern Europe. № 02: 57- 61.
28. Yevtukh V (2012) Ethnicity: Encyclopaedic handbook. Kyiv: Dragomanov National Pedagogical University Publishing House, 396 p.
29. Yinger J (1976) Ethnicity in Complex Societies. In. Coser L and Larsen O (eds.) The Uses of Controversy in Sociology. – New York: Free Press.
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