September 22, 2021

Ethnic Choices

Rational vs. Psychological

  • Instrumental choice of ethnic identification
  • Are people actually rational?
  • Psychological approaches

How do ethnic identities change?

Forms of ethnic change

  • repertoire of descent attributes : structural
  • nominal ethnic identities : structural
  • operative ethnic identities : structural, psychological, strategic
  • passing : strategic, psychological
  • activating identities : strategic, psychological

Ethnicity as Strategic

Strategic Ethnicity

Many scholars attempt to understand ethnic politics by taking the choice of ethnic identity from a repertoire as a strategic/intrumental choice.

  • take “repertoire” of “operative ethnic identities” as given
  • choose one to maximize some utility/gain
    • political power
    • economic gains
    • personal well-being

Strategic Ethnicity

Posner (2005) formalizes/generalizes these arguments:

  • there are mutually exclusive sets of identities along the same dimension (e.g. language-, racial-groups)
  • these “sets” of identities form a “cleavage”… “cut” through society

Example 1: Posner (2004)

Language (1) Language (2) Language (3)
Tribe (a) YES no no
Tribe (b) YES no no
Tribe (c) no YES no
Tribe (d) no YES no
Tribe (e) no no YES
Tribe (f) no no YES

Nested Cleavage

nested cleavage: when multiple dimensions of ethnic identities are organized such that membership in a smaller group implies membership in a specific larger group

Example 2: Laitin (1985)

Religion (1) Religion (2) Religion (3)
City (a) YES YES YES
City (b) YES YES YES
City (c) YES YES YES
City (d) YES YES YES

Crosscutting

crosscutting cleavage: when multiple dimensions of ethnic identities are organized such that membership in a group along one dimension does not imply membership in one specific group along the other dimension

Strategic Ethnicity

Posner says, assume that…

  1. People emphasize ethnic identity to maximize resources
  2. Resources distributed by sole “winner” of election, only to members of winner’s group
  3. Winner decided by who gets most votes
  4. Everyone knows how many people in each ethnic category…

People ethnicity to form minimum winning coalition

  • choose to emphasize ethnic identity that is large enough to win but as small as possible to reap the most benefit

Strategic Ethnicity

Strategic Ethnicity

Result of this process may vary depending on the size of groups, nature of cleavage structure (nested, cross-cutting), argues there is underlying rational process driving ethnic identification.

  • Nested Example: Pakistan
  • Cross-cutting(?) Example: Punjab

Strategic Ethnicity?

Are you this rational in choosing ethnic identity categories in everyday life?

Are people in general this rational?

  • Digression: ultimatum games (Bowles and Gintis)

Strategic Ethnicity?

It may be that political elites/leaders use ethnic identification strategically

  • even if most people do not think strategically.

Begs the question:

  • “Why do the followers follow?”

Cognitive Ethnicity

Cognitive Ethnicity

Hale (2004) and Brubaker et al (2004) describe how to think about ethnicity as a psychological phenomenon.

Like rational accounts, psychological approaches to ethnicity focus on the individual

  • but people’s cognitive capacities are not always rational, prone to bias/taking cognitive shortcuts

Cognitive Ethnicity

Hale:

  • Humans are motivated to reduce uncertainty

    • need to feel greater certainty about the world around them
    • social categories that “group” people reduce uncertainty
  • Social categories more useful at reducing uncertainty if:

    • they are readily “accessible”
    • they “fit” reality well

Cognitive Ethnicity

Compared to other social categories ethnic categories may be…

more accessible:

  • attributes of membership are easier to see/detect…
  • e.g. physical features, language, correlation to real world experiences, accessibility of shared symbols

“fit” real-world situations

  • ethnic categories correlate with many other differences: e.g. economic/social status
  • sometimes these correlations are objective: they are an empirical reality
  • sometimes these correlations are “mediated”: - “fit” may be informed by representations of reality. (e.g., representations of crime)

Cognitive Ethnicity

Thinking “ethnically” may not be conscious

  • racial bias in threat-perception in first-person shooter simulations
  • racial bias in hiring experiments
  • framework for interpreting events

How do ethnic identities change?

Forms of ethnic change

  • repertoire of descent attributes : structural
  • nominal ethnic identities : structural
  • operative ethnic identities : structural, psychological, strategic
  • passing : strategic, psychological
  • activating identities : strategic, psychological