Ethnicity versus Nationalism

  • Eriksen T
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Abstract

The aim of this article is to identify some conditions for peaceful coexistence between the state and populations in multi-cultural societies. Initially, the concepts of ideology, nationalism and ethnicity are examined briefly. It is argued that a successful ideology, such as a nationalist or an ethnic one, must simultaneously legitimize a social order, i.e. a power structure, and provide a meaningful frame for the articulation of important, perceived needs and wishes of its adherents. A few empirical cases are then considered. These examples, ranging from the multi-cultural island-states of Mauritius and Trinidad & Tobago to the Saami (Lappish) minority situation in northern Norway, involve conflicts between nation- states and ethnic groups, and between different ethnic groups within the nation-state. Some conflicts, and the methods employed to resolve them, are compared. The uniqueness of nationalism as a modern, abstract 'binary' ideology of exclusion and inclusion, and its powerful symbolic as well as practical aspects, are stressed and contrasted with 'segmentary' ethnic ideologies. Finally, the article proposes a list of necessary conditions for the peaceful coexistence of culturally diverse groups within the framework of a modern nation-state. The conclusion is that the main responsibility lies with the state insofar as it possesses a monopoly of political power and the legitimate use of force. State policies should genuinely attempt to decentralize power while at the same time recognizing the right of being culturally distinctive, even in matters relevant for political discourse. State nationalism should not be symbolically linked with the collective identity of only one of the populations. The culturally homogenizing tendencies of nationalism must in other words be counteracted through institutional arrangements which secure some form of ethnic autonomy and encourage cultural pluralism. The alternatives are violent suppression and the enforced assimilation of culturally distinctive groups.

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Authors

  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen

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