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  Ethnicity can be broadly defined as a collection of shared traits (both objective and subjective) which define a human collectivity in relation to other collectivities. Ethnic markers are perceptible physical or social characteristics displayed by persons—such as ‘race’, language, religion, customs, geographic origins, dialect—that identify them as members of a recognizable ethnic category. Someone is either a member of a certain ethnic category or he or she is not, although they may have overlapping membership of more than one ethnic category. Ethnic markers possess objectivity even if they are denied by individuals who inherit them. An ethnic group, as opposed to an ethnic category, consists of people who think of themselves as members of the group as well as being defined by others as members of the group. Endogamous marriage preserves the identity of the ethnic group, and ethnicity assumes (real or fictional) common descent amongst members of a group, although the doctrines used to define group membership vary between those which emphasize kinship or race, and those which stress an inherited shared culture, based, for example, on a common language, history, or religion. For the latter ethnicity is metaphorical or imagined kinship.

This division defines the basis for alternative theories of ethnicity. Primordialists, who may embrace the ideas of sociobiologists, define ethnicity as requiring actual common descent: ethnic loyalty, for them, is like nepotism, being loyal to those who share the same gene pool. They emphasize the ‘givens’ of ethnic identity: traits which have physical markers, such as skin colour, or phenotypical characteristics, like body shape. They believe that ethnic identity and emotional attachments are more powerful than those based on shared interests. Instrumentalists (or situationalists), by contrast, assume that shared culture, interests and self-definitions are of prime importance in defining a person\'s ethnic identity, which they think is much more flexible and the result of social invention than primordialists allege. They emphasize that ethnic groups can emerge and split, and even be invented complete with newly minted fictions about their ‘common origins’.

In 19th- and 20th-century political and social theory the belief was widespread that ethnic groups and identities would ‘wither away’ under the pressures of modernization (liberal integration theory) or advanced capitalism and socialism (Marxist theory). Today confidence about the withering away of ethnicity is less likely to be expressed. Indeed, some put the converse thesis that modernization (or capitalist or socialist industrialization) makes ethnic identity more important and more likely to be the cause of conflict because colonialism, imperialism, mass migration, and nation-building combine to bring ethnic groups into competition for scarce resources.

The relationship between ethnicity and nationalism is the subject of much dispute in anthropology, political science and sociology. Some argue that nationalists invent nations, constructing a myth of a common ethnic past, while others maintain that to be credible and successful nationalist movements must be built on a genuine sense of ethnic identity among the target-audience. The test-cases for such arguments are the extent to which multi-ethnic states are successful in forging shared national identities.

Ethnocentrism, the tendency of people to employ their cultural criteria as benchmarks for judging the worth of other communities, is held by some to be the primary source of ethnic conflict, whereas others stress economic or even genetic foundations for ethnic antagonism.

Ethnic conflict may seem ubiquitous in the contemporary world, but there are also many instances of relatively amicable relations between ethnic groups. A simple distinction can be drawn between states in which strategies are developed to eliminate relevant differences between ethnic groups (through policies like genocide, mass population-transfers, partition or secession, and integration or assimilation) and states which seek to regulate or manage ethnic differences without aiming to terminate or abolish existing ethnic identities (through policies like control, arbitration, federalism or consociationalism). BO\'L

See also community; conflict theory; ethnohistory; social closure; social conflict; social integration; social stratification; society; tradition; tribalism; typifications; urban anthropology.Further reading D. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict; , J. McGarry and , B. O\'Leary (eds.), The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation; , J. Montville (ed.), Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies; , A.D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations.



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