September 27, 2021

Ethnicity and Structure

Outline

  • Why look at structures?
  • Exercise
  • Ethnic boundaries

Why structures?

How does ethnicity “work”?

  • not essential: identification

  • rational/strategic

  • psychological
    • ethnicity as cognitive
    • social identity theory

How does ethnicity “work”?

All of these perspectives presume:

  • relevant membership attributes
  • relevant ethnic categories
  • the “usefulness” of ethnic categories for understanding the world
  • the relative social status of ethnic groups

How do these attributes that shape the use of ethnicity constrained/changed?

Boundaries

Identification is only one part of how ethnicity. Helpful to think of ethnicity as a social boundary

  • helps us understand the set of ethnic choices available
  • helps us understand how hierarchical status is formed/sustained
  • helps us understand the paradox of ethnicity as identification, ethnicity as hard to change

Boundaries

social boundaries (Tilly, Wimmer)

1. categories for people and category rules

  • “labels” and “definitions” (Chandra)

2. real-world practices that use those categories

  • what we “do” with those labels
    • in thought and speech;
    • in action/in shaping our material world

Exercise

A fictional ethnic boundary

As you watch the following, think about the following:

  • what are the “ethnic identity categories”?
  • in what ways are those ethnic categories used in thought/speech/action? (be as specific as possible)

In small groups: share the ways ethnic categories are used

  • for each way ethnic categories are used in the story, think of a real world example that is similar

Exercise:

  • what are the “ethnic identity categories”?
  • in what ways are those ethnic categories used in thought/speech/action? (be as specific as possible)

In small groups: share the ways ethnic categories are used

  • for each way ethnic categories are used in the story, think of a real world example that is similar

Ethnic Boundary Practices

Ethnic Boundaries: Institutions

institutional use: the use of ethnic/racial categories by formal institutions to label people (not necessarily in a discriminatory manner)

  • examples: census forms, school forms, voting rules, government social service records

institutional separation: the presence of distinct formal institutions for people labelled as members of different ethnic/racial categories (not necessarily unequal)

  • examples: churches/houses of worship, stores, schools, private associations, voting constituencies, governments, political parties

Ethnic Boundaries: social closure

social closure: the use of ethnic/racial categories to separate or organize personal/informal interactions between people (not necessarily unequal)

  • examples of separation: neighborhoods, use of space (e.g. pools), marriage, reproduction (endogamy), friendship, the types of interaction (e.g. equal/unequal status)

Ethnic Boundaries: power

power disparity: the use of ethnic/racial categories to discriminate in access to goods, services, rights, recognition (e.g. in institutional use, institutional separation, social closure) that enhances/restricts the life choices

  • legal examples: property rights, marriage/inheritance, education, government jobs, government services, elected representation, criminal law, affirmative action

  • market: housing discrimination, job discrimination, restricting spaces (e.g. private clubs, gated communities)

  • interpersonal: employer/employee relations; customer/client relations; formal/informal modes of address; non-reciprocity in forms of interaction; status hierarchy

Ethnic Boundaries: cultural difference

cultural differentiation: the use of ethnic/racial categories to differentiate cultural practices (food, clothing, traditions), language, and religious belief.

Note: Sometimes cultural difference is used to define category membership. Sometimes cultural difference is a way to use categories:

examples: choice of alphabet/spellings; changing vocabulary (Hindustani vs Urdu vs Hindi)

Ethnic Boundaries: cognitive

marking: using category labels for some groups as distinct from a “reference” or “unmarked” category that is the unspoken default (e.g. in Canada, “white” is often an unspoken default)

groupness: using category labels to proclaim or invoke the existence and unity of a group (parades, mass performances, history/schooling)

Ethnic Boundaries: cognitive

explain behavior: using ethnic/racial category labels to explain behavior or outcomes (basically, stereotyping)

  • you are group X, you must believe/do Y
  • you did Y BECAUSE you are group X
  • you are in status Y because you are in group X

exemption: use of ethnic/racial categories to claim or identify exemption:

  • you are group X, but you are “all right” (implicitly group X is not “all right”)
  • I am an X, so I can criticize other people within X (implicitly outsiders cannot legitimately criticize)

Ethnic Boundaries: cognitive

behavioral scripts: use of racial/ethnic categories to differentiate the “proper” or “default” way of interacting with a person

Structure vs Individuals

Ethnic Boundaries

ethnic boundaries are structures in that they

  • order and constrain individual choices/actions
  • are durable/reproduced over time

They are often durable because:

  • categories/ways of thinking about ethnicity shape material world
  • material reality can reinforce categories/ways of thinking
  • e.g. race and crime; colonial regimes

But: there is a tension between ethnic boundaries and ethnic identification (Wimmer)

Ethnic Boundaries

social boundaries are intersubjective

  • \(S_2O\): two subjects (people), one object (material world)
  • mutual intelligibility and shared understanding of material world
  • people understand the categories, rules for membership, and how they are used, even if they DO NOT CONSENT/AGREE WITH these practices.

  • boundaries made up of and reproduced by individual interactions

Ethnic Boundaries

Because boundaries are made of individual actions, they are changeable

But because they involve understanding and coordination between many people, hard to change (not the same as slow to change)