What is ethnicity?

Tomorrow, I’m presenting the topic of ethnicity at a church with a few colleagues of mine.

Perhaps the most clear and useful definition I’ve found has been by John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith. They define ethnicity as a type of human community that shares most of the following characteristics:

  1. hutchinson-smith-ethnicity.jpga common or collective proper name,
  2. a myth of common ancestry or descent,
  3. memories of a common past or a shared history,
  4. elements of a common culture, which normally includes religion, custom or language i.e. a distinctive shared culture,
  5. a link with a specific homeland, and
  6. a sense of solidarity.

John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, Ethnicity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 6-7. In his book The Ethnic Origins of the Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986) Smith calls these the foundations of ethnic community.

Another good definition.

“Ethnicity is an aspect of social relationship between agents who consider themselves as culturally distinctive from members of other groups with whom they have a minimum of regular interaction. It can thus also be defined as a social identity (based on a contrast vis-a-vis others) characterised by metaphoric or fictive kinship.”

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives, (London: Pluto Press, 1993 (second, expanded edition 2002), page 12. Chapter 1 is available on-line at http://folk.uio.no/geirthe/Ethnicity.html#Chapter1

See also Eriksen – “The epistemological status of the concept of ethnicity”

Conference paper, Amsterdam (“The Anthropology of Ethnicity”), December 1993. Published in Anthropological Notebooks (Ljubljana, Slovenia) in 1996.


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