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Anthropological approaches to ethnicity and conflict in Europe and beyond

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image of International Journal on Minority and Group Rights

It is widely assumed that the spread of civil wars since the late 1980s has been due to ethnic loyalties resurfacing after the cold war. The paper argues that this is a misleading and misinformed point of view. The academic discipline which has been most important in developing the concept of ethnicity is anthropology. Few anthropologists understand ethnicity as something that explains conflict in itself, and most perceive it as an aspect of social interaction rather than a set of cultural characteristics associated with a particular group. Anthropologists reject the idea that ethnicity is given in nature, although they recognise that its power is linked to the fact that is can appear to be so. Various models and theories of ethnicity are discussed under the headings of essentialist, instrumentalist and relationalist approaches. The paper ends by discussing some of the specific issues raised by anthropological studies among populations in Europe and North America, and draws attention to the dangers of conflating ethnicity with biological conceptions of race.

Affiliations: 1: Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics, and Roehampton Institute London


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