Ethnicity is a category widely used in science, which denotes the existence of culturally distinctive (ethnic) groups and identities. In the social science, the term “ethnos” is more widely used in all cases when it comes to ethnic communities (peoples) of different historical and evolutionary type (tribe, nationality, nation). The concept of ethnos implies the existence of homogeneous, functional and static characteristics that distinguish this group from others that have different parameters of the same characteristics. The accepted definition of an ethnos does not exist, but its definitions are dominant as an “ethnosocial organism” or as a “biosocial organism”. The concept of ethnicity questions this view of cultural distinctiveness and pays attention primarily to its procedural (socially constructed) nature, the mobile and multicultural nature of modern societies, to the practical absence of cultural isolates. Among scholars, there is also no unity in the approach to the definition of the phenomenon of ethnicity, but there are some characteristics characteristic of communities that allow them to be considered ethnic or to speak of the presence of ethnicity as such:
- the presence of ideas shared by the group members about the general territorial and historical origin, the existence of a single language, the common features of material and spiritual culture;
- politically designed ideas about the country and special institutions, such as statehood, which can be considered part of what constitutes an idea of the people;
- sense of distinctiveness, i.e. awareness of the members of the group of their belonging to it, and based on this form of solidarity and joint action.
Weber retains the definition of ethnic community as a group whose members “have a subjective belief in their common origin because of the similarity of physical appearance or customs, or both, or because of the general memory of colonization and migration.” An important role in the understanding of ethics is played by the correlation of social and cultural boundaries, internal (empy) and external (ethical) representations, which is one or another group (F. Bart). The characteristics used to determine ethnic groups can’t be reduced to the sum of cultural material contained within ethnic boundaries. Ethnic groups (or ethnoses) are determined primarily by those characteristics that the members of the group consider to be meaningful (or this value is imposed from outside) and which underlie their self-awareness. Thus, ethnicity is a form of social organization of cultural differences.
Proceeding from this, the term “people” or “ethnos” in the sense of ethnic community is understood as a group of people whose members have one or more common names and common elements of culture, have a myth (version) of common origin and thus have a common historical memory, can associate themselves with a particular geographic territory, and also demonstrate a sense of group solidarity. The notion that ethnicity is formed and the ethnic community is built on the basis of an ethnic opposition between “we-they” is inadequate. Individual and collective ethnicity defines itself through fundamental links with other social and political communities, including state, and not necessarily built on the negative opposition. Thus, the ethnic community (people, ethnos) is a community based on cultural self-identification concerning other communities with which it is in fundamental relations.
Ethnicity is formed and exists in the context of the social experience and processes with which people are connected. Others identify some participants in these processes as members of a particular ethnic group. From the intra-group point of view, ethnicity is based on a complex of cultural traits that members of this group distinguish themselves from other groups, even if they are culturally very close. The differences that they can make with respect to others are usually quite definite and multilevel, while external representations of the group tend to generalize and stereotyped criteria when determining the characteristics of groups. In other words, both the objective and subjective criteria are present in the internal and external definitions of the ethnic group (people, ethnos). It often happens that blood relationship or other objective criteria do not play a determining role. Ethnicity presupposes the existence of social markers as recognized means of differentiating groups coexisting in a wider field of social interaction. These distinctive markers are formed on different bases, including physical appearance, geographical origin, economic specialization, religion, language and even such external features as clothing or food.
The intellectual history of the term “ethnicity” began in the 60s of the 20th century when the changes in postcolonial geopolitics and movements of ethnic minorities in many industrialized countries took place for their rights. The emergence of various interpretations of ethnicity concerned such phenomena as social and political changes, the formation of identity, social conflict, race relations, nazi construction, assimilation, etc. There are three basic approaches to understanding ethnicity: essentialist (primordial), instrumentalist and constructivist.
The first approach assumes that ethnic identification (in the domestic variant – “nationality”) is based on deep and fundamental links with a certain group or culture, and therefore on the existence of real, tangible foundations of this identification that can be considered either primarily as biological, or as cultural and historical factors. Evolutionism strongly influenced this approach with its interest in biological, genetic and geographical factors. The realization of group affiliation is, as it were, embedded in the genetic code and is a product of early human evolution. In extreme form, this approach regards ethnicity in categories of social biology as an extended form of related selection and communication, as an initial instinctive impulse (PL van den Berge). Similar constructions are also found in literature within the so-called the theory of ethnos, where social biologism, together with geographical determinism, serves as the basis for extremely vulnerable constructions of passionarity, “life and death of ethnoses”, etc., and the themes of exogamy of ethnoses as a sign and the conditions for their existence or “information theories of ethnos” are present in the educational literature.
The cultural variant of primordialism considers ethnicity primarily as a community shared by group members, which have objective unified characteristics: territory, language, economy, race type, religion, worldview and even a mental warehouse. Some believe that the ethnic community has a primary meaning as a social archetype and its disregard in sociology and politics is a deep delusion. Ethnicity is a social form of group loyalty and existential value, resulting from the human need to have a succession (J. De Vos, L. Romanunci-Ros). On the basis of “ethnic roots” a whole genealogy of modern nations is being created (E. Smith). Historically-linguistic classifications (E.Sapir, J.Grinberg) are widely used for group ethnic categorizations, historical-archeological and physico-anthropological reconstructions that are attached to the modern nomenclature of ethnic groups and to their historical and spatial mapping.
More modern approaches within the framework of this tradition recognize the subjective nature of ethnicity, like any other form of group social identity, only turned into the past and framed in modern life through cultural and linguistic characteristics. These characteristics are established through the geographical distribution and history of a particular group. In turn, cultural baggage and its continuity allow us to find the personal and social significance of human existence and answer why an individual behaves and acts following a certain tradition. The cultural-linguistic or psycho-cultural interpretation of ethnicity within the framework of primordialism also regards ethnic identity as an integral psychological part of the “I”, and its change as unnatural and imposed on a person. Such views on ethics are widespread in societies where ethnocultural differences are given special importance up to its official registration by the state and even building statehood on ethnic grounds (see Nationalism). Within the framework of this approach, the main works in domestic ethnography have been performed. Remain its authoritative supporters in foreign science (U. Konnor, D. Miller, R. Stavenhagen).
At the same time, the social significance of ethnicity also includes rational-instrumental orientations in addition to emotional moments. Ethics, usually in a latent (“sleeping”) state, are mobilized and used to increase the social mobility of this ethnic group, to overcome competition, domination and social control by other groups, to provide mutual services and solidarity within the group, to advance their political positions and so on. The instrumentalist approach, with its intellectual roots in sociological functionalism, regards ethics as the result of political myths created and manipulated by culture elites in their quest for privileges and power. Ethics arise in the dynamics of the elites’ rivalry within the framework determined by political and economic realities (R. Brass). Sometimes functionalism acquires a psychological color, and then manifestations of ethnicity are explained as a means of restoring lost collective pride or as a therapy for injuries (D. Horowitz).
All approaches to understanding ethnicity are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Integration of the most significant aspects into the whole theory of ethnicity is most promising on the basis of constructivist synthesis, in which there is sensitivity to the context. Ethicality in this case is considered in the system of social dispositions and situational dependence at different “levels” and “contextual horizons”: on a transnational level of world systems (I. Wallerstein), within the framework of nation-states from the point of view of “internal colonialism” (M. Hechter ) or “structural violence” (J. Galtung), at the intergroup level in the context of the theory of the cultural boundary (F. Bart) and on the intra-group – within the framework of psychological theories of reactive, symbolic and demonstrative ethnicity and stigmatized identities awns.