What Is Ethnicity and Does It Matter? Case Study

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction: The Search for Ethnicity Definition and the Associated Issues

The problem of ethnic and national belonging is not new; in fact the process of ethnicity definition is only a part of one’s search for one’s self, though an admittedly large one. The search for one’s ethnic identity is, however, often results in questioning the very phenomenon of ethnicity. Indeed, the definition of ethnicity is extremely hard to conjure, since an ethnic group bears a range of unique characteristics that pertain to different aspects of people’s lives, including not only cultural, but also economic and political ones. In her study What is ethnicity and does it matter?, Kachan Chandra attempts at defining the phenomenon, and she does so very successfully by introducing the religious influence onto the process of ethnicity shaping into the definition of the subject matter; however, the lack of attention to the political and economical components of the definition make the study somewhat incomplete.

Thesis Statement

Because of the number of aspects that the concept of ethnicity embraces, starting from the cultural one to the geographical religious and political aspects, defining ethnicity becomes rather difficult. Judging by the complexity of the concept of ethnicity, its definition must be not only based on national identity of a person, but also meet such requirements as being the imagined community, being a section of the population rather than the whole and inclusion of siblings and the qualifying attributes. However, even with the aforementioned requirements met, because of the need to consider other factors that define one’s ethnic identity, the study conducted by Chandra is limited to the analysis of cultural factors and does not consider such important elements as political and economic aspects.

Ethnic Identity Definition in the XXI Century and How It Matters

In the globalized world of the XXI century, the question of ethnic heritage and belonging to a particular ethnicity seems to have become the major issue on the global agenda. Because of globalization and its effects, including acculturation, culture clash and cultures fusion, the safety of a number of ethnicities is in jeopardy. Immigration is another source of concern for researchers of ethnicity and the methods of its retention in every single member of a particular society. Also resulting in a possible acculturation, it has reached incredible rates in 2013 and is most likely to become the phenomenon of an even grander scale in the future.

Finally, the effects of modern media on people’s ethnic identity seems to have become much stronger and may possibly lead to people defying their ethnic heritage for the sake of crossing cultural barriers in their communication. A further research of the issue will help not only evaluate the scale of the problem, but also mark the key avenues to be used for addressing the problem in the future.

Research Limitations: As Far as the Study Can Stretch

Naturally, the research has its limitations, and Chandra knows it well, seeing how she provides particular cases to prove her point. Like any qualitative research, the given study tends to use generalizations, which affects a fair description of the situation concerning ethnicity definition problems. First and foremost, evidence to be used in the research must be mentioned as the key limitation. Indeed, it is practically impossible to embrace every single case of ethnic identity evolution; the same is applicable to listing all existing ethnic identities, since there are too many of them. Thus, Chandra’s research, though clearly very insightful, is still restricted by the amount of facts that could be incorporated into the paper.

Another obvious obstacle in Chandra’s way of denoting the phenomenon of ethnicity with greater precision, the number of factors that affect shaping one’s ethnicity should also be listed. While Chandra does a huge overview of the key factors in shaping one’s ethnic identity, she still could not have possibly taken all of them into account, especially in the light of the technological breakthrough of the XXI century and the effect of new media on the evolution of culture within a particular society. Therefore, the effects of media on shaping and changing ethnic identity can also be viewed as a major limitation to the study.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Study: Attempting to Embrace the Unknown

The many faces of culture: religious issues and their effect on shaping ethnicity

An attempt – and a rather successful attempt, at that – to incorporate religious beliefs into the research is definitely one of the key strengths of Chandra’s research. Another obvious factor in defining ethnicity, religious beliefs might seem, understandably enough, the issue that allows for a more precise definition of the phenomenon in question. Indeed, according to the works of a number of researcher, religion is often associated with a particular ethnic group: “ethnicisation of religion is coupled with a shift toward a “symbolic religiosity,” where religion comes to the foreground not as a fixed set of socially binding norms, behavioural rules, and rituals, but rather as a contributor to ethno-cultural identity building” (Eid, 2003, 33).

However, when it comes to drawing parallels between religion and ethnicity, one must keep in mind that in a number of ethnic groups, their members choose different religions; more to the point, some ethnicities are literally split apart by religions conflicts and similar issues. The situation regarding the Nigerian religious conflict can be considered the prime example of religion being the block on the way of members of a particular ethnic group to reach compromise.

Because of the lack of understanding between the Muslim Nigerian “settlers” and the Yoruba (religiously mixed population), as well as Igbo (Christians), “Jos Muslims often accuse the local administration of facilitating the process for Christians, but not for them” (Campbell & Harwood, 2013, July 10). The given situation begs the question whether people that have the same national identity yet do not share the same religious ideas and engage in unceasing conflicts because of the latter, can be considered the members of the same ethnic group. For example, Chandra mentions the “split between Bengali Muslims and others, resulted in the creation of the separate state of Bangladesh for Bengali Muslims” (Chandra, 2006, 405), which resulted in the emergence of other ethnic groups within Pakistan, such as “Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans, and Baluchs” (Chandra, 2006, 405).

Nevertheless, Chandra’ definition of religion as an attribute of a certain ethnicity seems quite legitimate and is worth defining as one of the key research strengths. Moreover, the existence of such notion as “ethnic religion” also shows that Chandra’s statement regarding religious beliefs being one of the factors that define one’s ethnicity is absolutely correct: “A tightly controlled and highly scripted version of ethnic religion is accepted and even promoted as a vital part of the identity of China as a multi-ethnic state” (DuBois, 2010, 352).

Therefore, religion seems to be both the block in the process of defining ethnicity or one’s ethnic belonging, and a marker of one’s ethnicity and, hence, a major positive aspect in ethnicity definition provided by Chandra. Finally, busting the myth of common ancestry (Chandra, 2006, 404) is one more reason to give Chandra credit for her study.

Economical and Political Aspects: What Must Be Kept in Mind

Unfortunately, the study also has several downsides to it, the key one being the author’s decision to disregard the effect of the political and economic aspects of a specific nation to shape their ethnic identity. The given omission would have been understandable as long as the author had considered the problem of ethnicity outside of the context of a particular example. However, Chandra does provide a specific situation, describing the problem of acculturation and the search of ethnic identity of a young West Indian immigrant into the realm of New York.

By defining Helen’s ethnic identity as “Black,” the researcher plants her work into a particular political setting, since both a political and an economic situation of the Black people in the New York suburbs differs from the ones of the Black community in other states, such as South Africa, for example (Wilson, 2011). Thus, an obvious disregard of the political and economic factors and their role in defining ethnicity are clearly a major problem with Chandra’s paper.

Concerning cultural fusion: acculturation and the associated issues

Sadly enough, Chandra’s research also has its problems, her ignoring the phenomenon of acculturation being the key one. With the advent of the XXI century and the integration of the concept of globalization into people’s everyday life, not to mention the economic and business aspects of people’s existence, it has become obvious that breaking the boundaries between different nations presupposes that there should be impressive cultural fusion.

Whether the given phenomenon is going to result in the assimilation of the inferior cultures by the superior ones, or the formation of specific Diasporas, which will help cultural minorities retain the key features of their culture, the fact that people’s cultural identity is going to shape cannot be denied. Since, according to Chandra, key cultural features of a particular group of people are also to be identified as the markers of a person’s ethnicity, it is reasonable to suggest that in the globalized environment, the phenomenon of ethnicity is going to shrivel. In fact, Chandra also recognizes the fact that cultural features are not necessarily attributed to the concept of ethnicity: “a common culture, common history, common territory, and common language, which are only sometimes associated with the identities that we think of as ethnic” (Chandra, 2006, 398) seem to define people’s ethnicity in specific cases rather than be the markers of ethnic identity.

The aforementioned example is often related to the problem of acculturation and the process of cultural fusion. The recent data shows that in 2013, the international migration data stock reached 231.5 million people, with the sped of migrant stock increasing by 100% compared to the previous decade (OECD, 2013, 1). Although it is too early to question the possibility of ethnic identity existence at the beginning of the XXI century, the effects of acculturation as the key downside to the definition of ethnic identity provided by Chandra should be brought up.

True, a number of immigrants belong to specific Diasporas created for the people of their nationality in the foreign country. However, it should be noted that immigrants, though admittedly creating very strong cultural ties to their ethnic community, still have to live in the realm of the foreign state most of the time and, therefore, accept the behavioral patterns and cultural elements of the foreigners, which may easily interfere the process of defining their ethnic identity. There is no secret that, when forced to choose between acculturation and being ostracized within the foreign community, most people will pick the former option.

However, the instances when a person can accept both cultures and switch from one to another when entering the corresponding environment show that acculturation does not presuppose loss of ethnic identity. In fact, the acculturation results may “represent preferences and behaviors that represent half-and-half of each culture” (Berry, 2005, 706). The given example shows that, though the definition of ethnicity includes cultural factors as well, it definitely could have shed some light onto the issue of acculturation and comment on the retention of ethnic identity by immigrants. As a result, Chandra’s negligence of the immigration issue and the following loss of ethnic identity as a result of acculturation is definitely one of the key problems with the case study. Even though Chandra mentions Waters’ study of West Indian immigrants in New York briefly, she still leaves a huge chunk of the process of the process of shaping or losing ethnicity out of her research.

Conclusion: Solutions and Suggestions

The definition of ethnicity provided by Kachan Chandra is, therefore, limited to outlining the key anthropological and cultural characteristics of a particular ethnicity, as well as defining the territorial belonging, while such important factors as religion, as well as the changes done to people’s culture by the effects of globalization or due to the acculturation process in a different state are left out of the scene. While the elements included into the definition that Kachan Chandra offers are crucial to nailing down the essence of ethnic identity, it is still necessary to admit that, in the XXI century, the concept of ethnicity is shaped by a number of external factors, including economic and political ones. Although the latter two are quite hard to incorporate into the definition, they are still crucial to exploring the nature of ethnicity, which means that Chandra’s study lacks a proper economical and political insight into the phenomenon in question.

Reference List

Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25(6), 697–712. Web.

Campbell, J. & Harwood, A. (2013). Why a terrifying religious conflict is raging in Nigeria. The Atlantic. Web.

Chandra, K. (2006). What is ethnicity and does it matter? Annual Review of Political Science, 9, 397–424. Web.

DuBois, T. D. (2010). Eligion and the Chinese state: Three crises and a solution. Australian Journal of International Affairs 64(3), 344–358. Web.

Eid, P. (2003). The interplay between ethnicity, religion, and gender among second-generation Christian and Muslim Arabs in Montreal. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 35, 30–55. Web.

OECD (2013). World migration in figures. Web.

Wilson, W. J. (2011). Being poor, Black and American: The impact of political, economic and cultural forces. American Educator, 35(1), 10–46. Web.

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