ethnicity

ethnicity, ethnic group
Ethnicity defines individuals who consider themselves, or are considered by others, to share common characteristics which differentiate them from the other collectivities in a society , within which they develop distinct cultural behaviour.
The term was coined in contradistinction to race , since although members of an ethnic group may be identifiable in terms of racial attributes, they may also share other cultural characteristics such as religion, occupation, language, or politics. Ethnic groups should also be distinguished from social classes , since membership generally cross-cuts the socio-economic stratification within society, encompassing individuals who share (or are perceived to share) common characteristics that supersede class. The Jews in the United States thus constitute a typical ethnic group, since they include individuals of different racial origins (from East Europe to North Africa), social classes, mother-tongues, political beliefs, and religious commitment (from orthodox to atheist), yet still consider themselves to share a common Jewish identity that distinguishes them from, while not necessarily placing them in opposition to, wider American society.
Ethnic groups are therefore fluid in composition and subject to changes in definition. New ethnic groups are constantly being formed as populations move between countries. Indians in Britain, for example, constitute an ethnic group-although as individuals in India they would be seen to be members of quite different groups in terms of caste and language . The concept of ethnicity is particularly important when it forms the basis for social discrimination (as, for example, in the case of Jews in Nazi Germany) or for independence movements (as in the Soviet Union).
The relevant literature is voluminous. John Rex and David Mason's Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (1986) demonstrates the range and diversity of current approaches in the field. Michael Banton's Racial and Ethnic Competition (1983) is an excellent summary of the American and British substantive literature. For America see, Ethnic Dilemmas, 1964-1982 (1983).’s The Ethnic Revival (1981) demonstrates the importance of the concept to a sociological understanding of conflict and change in the modern world. Frank Bean and Marta Tienda's The Hispanic Population in the United States (1990) uses quantitative data in a case-study of ethnicity in modern America. Ira Katznelson's history of the urban politics of Northern Manhattan (City Trenches, 1981) is a case-study of the interaction of ethnicity and class. See also culture ; nationalism.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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