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Ethno-nationalism and the Constitutive Power of Cultural Politics

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A discussion of Sinhalese ethno-nationalism in Sri Lanka and indigenous Fijian ethno-nationalism in the Pacific island state of Fiji shows how the volatility of ethnic conflict can be affected by the particular manner in which collective identities are constituted. A distinction is drawn between a reconstructive process aggressively focussed against "the other," and the routine living of identity in established social relations and cultural practices. The Sinhalese ethno-nationalism which gave rise to violent conflict with the Tamils has been characterised by a rivalrous volatility in the political uses of culture that derives from deep disjunctions in social and cultural experience under colonial rule. This profound dissonance of social and cultural milieux had no parallel in Fiji. Conflict between indigenous Fijians and immigrant Indians, though strongly based in economic and socio-cultural differences, has not been intensified by acquiring a function in the reconstruction of identities previously suppressed. Manipulation of ideals and symbols by Fijian leaders to secure popular support has tended to reaffirm established frames of routine social and political life within Fijian groups, rather than being an innovative assertion of distinctiveness in opposition to "the other."

Affiliations: 1: School of Behavioural Sciences, MacQuarie University, N.S.W. 2109, Australia


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