Ethnicity, Nationality, and Identity




Daniel Linger
University of California, Santa Cruz
331 Social Sciences 1 


This graduate seminar examines a cluster of topics centered on national and ethnic identity. Identity, currently a hot topic in anthropology, has long been of concern to anthropologists, psychologists, historians, and others. Scholars have variously stressed its social, cultural, psychological, and discursive (or narrative) aspects. Though particular studies are often enlightening, the profusion of approaches can be confusing. One problem is that “identity” is, in our common sense, an ambiguous term, with both an outer (i.e., outside-the-person) and inner sense. That is, from one angle an identity is a sociocultural category, and from another it is an idea or feeling. Most current studies, I think, assume an outer stance; some smudge inner and outer or reject the division; still others are concerned with subjectivity, with inner senses of self. Rarely have there been effective attempts to link narrated identity and experienced identity through concrete ethnography. One reason may be is that the link between narrative and experience necessarily runs through persons, and the explicit theorizing of persons is for many sociocultural anthropologists a highly controversial enterprise.

But in the past few years, some anthropologists have begun to question discursive or social approaches to identity precisely on the grounds that they tend to neglect agency, experience, and consciousness. Such anthropologists argue that an “outer” approach, interesting and valuable as it is, can never provide a convincing account of the experience of identity, and lacks the dynamism of a more interactive theory of the relation between social formations and subjectivity. This is my own current position. Of course, no single approach to identity can be considered “correct,” since any particular formulation highlights certain phenomena and obscures others. We will attend closely to what claims a particular formulation enables, what issues it opens or closes, and what claims it cannot convincingly make.

This course does not attempt a comprehensive survey of the vast literature on identity. Instead, I have selected readings that present assertive, for the most part clearly delineated, statements of important, often controversial, positions. I encourage you to explore the advantages and disadvantages of various perspectives, to relate theoretical formulations to specific questions, and to imagine broad theories that might connect different approaches. To bring theoretical abstractions down to earth, our readings explore in some detail the cases of Quebec, Burma, Japan, Macedonia, and Brazil, among others.


Students will lead the seminars. Seminar leaders will highlight key issues in the readings and initiate and sustain discussions of these and other questions that emerge. Each student will submit a substantial final paper. This may be a critical essay or an ethnographic research project.


The following books, available from The Literary Guillotine in downtown Santa Cruz, are required for this course.

Benedict, Ruth. 1946. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. New York: New American Library.

Cohen, Anthony P. 1994. Self Consciousness: An Alternative Anthropology of Identity. London: Routledge.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 1993. Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Pluto Press.

Field, Norma. 1993. In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: Japan at Century’s End. N.Y.: Vintage Books.

Handler, Richard. 1988. Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Karakasidou, Anastasia N. 1997. Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood: Passages to Nationhood in Greek Macedonia 1870-1990. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Leach, Edmund R. 1979 (1954). Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure. London: Athlone Press.

Olwig, Karen Fog and Kirsten Hastrup (eds.) 1997. Siting Culture: The Shifting Anthropological Object. London: Routledge.

Rapport, Nigel and Andrew Dawson (eds.) 1998. Migrants of Identity: Perceptions of Home in a World of Movement. Oxford: Berg.

Additional required readings include one book-length manuscript (Linger,No One Home) and various articles and book excerpts. I have also listed selected recommended readings.



Week 1: Introduction and organization


Week 2: Early studies of ethnicity, nationality, and identity

Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. N.Y.: Oxford University Press. (“The nation,” pp. 171-179).

Kuper, Adam. 1997. Anthropology and Anthropologists: The Modern British School. London: Routledge. (“Leach and Gluckman,” pp. 135-158.)

Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma

Mitchell, J. Clyde. 1956. The Kalela Dance: Aspects of Social Relationships among Urban Africans in Northern Rhodesia. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Rhodes-Livingstone Papers No. 27. (52 pp.)

Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. N.Y.: Ballantine. (“Culture contact and schismogenesis” [1935], pp. 61-72; “Morale and national character” [1942], pp. 88-106.

(See also:

Bailey, F. G. 1960. Tribe, Caste, and Nation. Manchester: Manchester University Press.)


Week 3: Later social-anthropological approaches

Barth, Fredrik. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Boston: Little, Brown. (“Introduction,” pp. 9-38.)

Eriksen, Ethnicity and Nationalism


Week 4: Representational approaches

Handler, Quebec

Linger, Daniel T. 1994. Has culture theory lost its minds? Ethos 22(3):284-315.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. The nation as human being- a metaphor in mid-life crisis? Notes on the imminent collapse of Norwegian national identity. In Hastrup and Olwig, Siting Culture, pp. 103-122.

(See also:

Anderson, Benedict. 1991 (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Delaney, Carol. 1995. Father state, motherland, and the birth of modern Turkey. In Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis.Sylvia Yanagisako and Carol Delaney, eds. Pp. 177-199. N.Y.: Routledge.

Domínguez, Virginia. 1989. People as Subject, People as Object: Selfhood and Peoplehood in Contemporary Israel. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.)

Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger, eds. 1983 The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)


Week 5: Experiential approaches


Cohen, Self Consciousness


Erikson, Erik H. 1968. Identity, Youth, and Crisis. N.Y.: W. W. Norton. (“Prologue,” pp. 15-43.

(See also:

Baldwin, James. 1984 (1955) Notes of a Native Son. “Preface,” pp. xxix-xxxvi; “Everybody’s protest novel,” pp. 13-23; “A question of identity,” pp. 124-137; “Stranger in the village,” pp. 159-175. Boston: Beacon.

Rapport, Nigel. 1997. Transcendent Individual: Towards a Literary and Liberal Anthropology. London: Routledge.)


Week 6: Transnational identities

Rapport and Dawson, Migrants of Identity

Olwig, Karen Fog. Cultural sites: Sustaining a home in a deterritorialized world. In Olwig and Hastrup, Siting Culture, pp. 17-37.

Friedman, Jonathan. Simplifying complexity: assimilating the global in a small paradise. In Olwig and Hastrup, Siting Culture, pp. 268-291.

Sørensen, Ninna Nyberg. The construction of Dominican identities. In Olwig and Hastrup, Siting Culture, pp. 292-310.

(See also:

Hannerz, Ulf

1992. Cultural Complexity: Studies in the Social Organization of Meaning.N.Y.: Columbia University Press.

1996. Transnational Connections. London: Routledge.)


Week 7: Case study: Macedonia

Karakasidou, Fields of Wheat, Hills of Blood

Schwartz, Jonathan. “Roots” and “mosaic” in a Balkan border village. In Olwig and Hastrup, Siting Culture, pp. 255-267.

Hart, Laurie Kain. 1999. Culture, civilization, and demarcation at the northwest borders of Greece. American Ethnologist 26(1):196-220.


Week 8: Case study: Japan

Benedict, Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Field, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor

(See also:

Befu, Harumi. 1993. Nationalism and Nihonjinron. In Cultural Nationalism in East Asia. Harumi Befu, ed. Pp. 107-135. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California Press.

Yoshino, Kosaku. 1992. Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan.London: Routledge.)


Week 9: Case study: Japanese-Brazilian transnational identities

Linger, No One Home


Week 10: Presentations of students’ work



Copyright © 2001 Daniel T. Linger

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