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The ‘rediscovery’ of ethnicity: Theory and analysis

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Theory and analysis.
  3. The context for the 'Rediscovery' of ethnicity.
  4. Classical theories and the marginalization of ethnic phenomenon in sociology.
  5. The period of transition: 1970s and 1980s.
  6. The 1990s and emergent research trends.
  7. Identity construction.
    1. Citizenship.
    2. National identities and nationalist movements.
  8. Advances and challenges.
  9. Conclusion.

The end of a millennium provides a rare opportunity to reexamine and assess achievements. In the sociological study of relations between diverse ethnic, racial and minority groups it marks a real, rather than a largely symbolic, watershed. There has been major transformation in the form and significance attached to these relations, both academically and in more popular discourse. Research on ethnic phenomena as disparate as immigrant incorporation, nationalism and indigenous human rights movements have moved from the margins of sociological relevance to mainstream debate and theorization as well as generating wider academic and political interest in a manner which is scarcely matched in other areas of sociology. ?Ethnicity' is not unproblematic for it has divergent conceptualizations ranging from ?primordial sentiment' to ?epiphenomenon'. However, it comes closest to encapsulating the many forms of ethnic phenomena considered in this chapter. All involve individuals by virtue of their membership in diverse ethnic groups. Common to definitions of ethnic groups is that they are social solitary groupings or collectivities which have a shared sense of people hood and a real or putative common ancestry based on distinctive attributes such as territory, nationality, language, religion, and/or physical appearance. When ethnic groups are also seen as socially constructed the nature of ethnic group membership and the processes involved in this, as well as the relations between ethnic groups, become inherently problematic.

[...] The main focus of the present chapter will be the developments of the last decade associated with the increasing international prominence of ethnicity as a phenomenon in social relations and often political life. The conceptual and institutional advances in understanding ethnicity coexist with a diverse range of challenges which confront sociologists working in this area. The changing nature of the sociological and academic enterprise, including especially the call for greater ?relevance' and accountability, inevitably effects the conceptual and theoretical developments. [...]

[...] While in some cases the demise of the established economic base has led to increasing poverty and disadvantage, elsewhere, as in Scotland or Northern Italy, economic prosperity has been an important factor in the emergence of regional nationalist or independence movements which are often justified by calls for the recognition by the state of the ethnic and national rights of the regional minority. Another major factor associated with the emergence of nationalist movements is the political disequilibrium resulting from the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the former USSR and other East European communist regimes since the late 1980s. [...]

[...] Theory and Analysis There has been a tendency in the United States of America and in England to assign discussions of ?ethnicity' or ?ethnic' relations to somewhat ?softer' or less important sets of intergroup relations based on ?culture' and values as distinct from the ?physical attributes' inherent in ?race relations' which are viewed as inherently more intractable, immutable and conflictual. Whatever the accuracy of this perception for the UK or USA, experience in the Former Yugoslavia, Spain, Northern Ireland and elsewhere, demonstrates that race has no necessary prerogative over conflict and violence. [...]

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