Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture

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Physical or biological anthropologists, however, are still struggling to define the meaning of some of the differences they find, especially when comparisons between different past skeletal populations have policy implications in the present. A central story of ethnicity in anthropology is its labored disentanglement from now discredited biological and evolutionary notions of "race," ideas that continue to contribute to the general public's conceptualization of the "ethnic" as a physically distinct type of person.

In the mid-nineteenth century the terms ethnic and racial first came into common use, employed by pre-and post-Darwinian scientists, and later anthropologists, to construct human racial and cultural taxonomies. As the social corollary of race, "ethnic" ethnicity as a unique term does not emerge in the United States until the s initially served to reinscribe physical notions of racial, and in some cases national, identity onto groups of people often naively assumed to have a shared cultural, historical, or even evolutionary past.

Throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, race, was the dominant concept for the scientific, social, and political classification of human groups in the Western world. Though scientific and popular ideas of what makes a race, who embodies race, and what being of a certain race means have changed drastically through time, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment ushered in a very specific scientific classification of human beings, particularly the ordering of non-European and colonized peoples. Before the scientific community accepted the theory of evolution by natural selection in the nineteenth century, human races were thought to be the product of divine creation.

Books - Culture, Race & Ethnicity - LibGuides at Ithaca College

Following the Adam and Eve story closely, monogenists believed in a single creation from which all people and consequently all races arose. Polygenists, though, believed that there was a separate creation for each major race. Furthermore, proponents of both of these pre-evolutionary models used continental labels for creating physical races as bounded groups.

Anthropologists assumed that all Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Native Americans were naturally distinct from each other — even on the level of the species — through differentiation over time monogeny or through natural, created difference polygeny.

Cultural Fundamentalism and Instrumental Ethnicities

Cultural-historical notions of identity as essentially unchanging and the delineation of fixed anatomical categories also served to determine a certain people's "racial type. The adoption of an evolutionary framework for understanding human difference, however, did little to transform early anthropologists' fixed ideas of race and racial connections to ethnic identity. Instead, scientists quantified human variation through morphology, mostly using erroneous comparisons of skull size and shape.


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These practices became the basis for the development of methodology in physical or biological anthropology in the United States and Europe. Based on misinterpreted and even falsified anthropometric data, physical anthropologists wrongly assigned labels of either "less evolved" or "degenerated" to nonwhite peoples. Evolutionary ideas initially applied to global racial taxonomies were also used to classify people on other physical, behavioral, or cultural scales. Anthropologists also considered white women, European and European-American people of lower socioeconomic classes, convicted criminals, disabled people, and people who practiced homosexual or other seemingly scandalous sexual practices such as adulterers and prostitutes lower on natural scales of evolution and development.

Similarly, nonwhite people were wrongly thought to be more naturally susceptible to various behavioral and cultural vices, damaging stereotypes that persist among racists and cultural isolationists in the United States in the early twenty-first century. Likewise, until ethnicity's emergence in the s and s as a term describing more fluid social processes of identity formation, social scientists used ethnic to describe a natural or fixed category of person.

In the United States, especially during the intense debate over Eastern European and Mediterranean immigration in the early portion of the twentieth century, an "ethnic" was a person of a marked, lower, category, opposed to a bourgeois white identity. Ethnics, in this context, became lower-class whites, Jews, and nonwhite, colonized, or indigenous peoples. Ideas of ethnicity have, therefore, consistently been relational; that is, one's ethnic identity, either physical or cultural, is defined through both assumed similarities within a group and assumed differences between groups.


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Franz Boas's study of cranial plasticity in American immigrants, however, was the first and arguably most influential anthropometric contestation of the fixed physical nature of ethnicity and racial identity. Among some anthropologists, though, fear of the negative or racially degrading influence of a large ethnic presence in America was used to argue against Boas's conclusions, and for increasingly strict immigration policies and the establishment of eugenics programs across the nation.

Moreover, after the devastating results of such "Aryan" hysteria in Europe during World War II , greater anthropological use of the term ethnic group coincided with a general repudiation of biological determinism and racism within the social sciences as a whole, as well as with a particularly anthropological recognition of the emergence of anticolonial nationalism outside the First World. Specifically, anthropologists replaced tribe or tribalism with ethnic group, especially when describing African migrants to colonial urban centers.

Still, all these early uses of the term ethnic in anthropology imply a bounded set of cultural traits, historical commonalities, or mental similarities between people of the same ethnic group, even if they later became delinked from physical or racial characteristics.

Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture

Disengaging race and ethnicity from biology, though, does not automatically imply equality under the law or in all aspects of political, economic, and social life. As theorists rejected race biology in the mid-twentieth century, a new "cultural fundamentalism" emerged in many places in the world. Anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena eloquently describes this shift: "The academic repudiation of biological notions of race was significant for anthropology, as it meant the emergence of the concept of 'ethnic groups' to explain human differences … it implied the reification of culture, which thus potentially prolonged the naturalization of sociohistorical differences earlier contained in the European notion of biological race" p.

In the twentieth century, ethnicities were just as stable and unchanging whether they were formed out of biology or culture. As well, the initial glosses of ethnic described above were also etic in nature. That is, most ideas of ethnicity in anthropology before the late twentieth century served as theoretical or methodological techniques of classification from outside the group being classified.

Anthropologists and other social scientists were not alone, though, in reifying or naturalizing ethnic groups and ethnicity. From approximately the end of World War II to the s, "ethnics," nonwhite and other marginalized or oppressed people across the world fought for and won greater sovereignty, more influential voices on regional or national political stages, and generally more civil and political rights to self-representation.

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Traditional archaeologists, whose field developed in the same racialized and colonial context as the rest of anthropology, were typically concerned with tracking the material remains of contemporary groups into the past. This cultural historical approach and the search for ethnicity in the archaeological record often led archaeologists to uncritically project modern and national identities into the past.

Prominent examples include French claims to Roman and Gallic identities, Nazi projections of past "Aryan" peoples onto much of Northern and Western Europe , and general European continental claims to the material heritage of ancient Greece and classical Egypt see Jones. New approaches to identity in archaeology, though, are leading to more accurate and complex reconstructions of past peoples.

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This is a good example of how the word is used. The word in the example sentence does not match the entry word. The sentence contains offensive content. Cancel Submit. Your feedback will be reviewed. Ethnicity is not considered when reviewing applications. Our students have many different nationalities , religions , and ethnicities.

Ethnicity - Sociology - Chegg Tutors

See ethnic. The differences in parent income and education by ethnicity are startling. He was a Trinidadian of Indian ethnicity. He writes on ethnicity and other topics for an online journal. Statistical information by ethnicity was available. This can help people of different ethnicities and backgrounds to understand one another. I would never discriminate against someone from another ethnicity. Examples of ethnicity. As such, ethnicity as ideology provides a psychological formula which mitigates the uncertainties of state- society relations.

From Cambridge English Corpus. The roles of ethnicity and school context in predicting children's victimization by peers.

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Ethnicity and Race: Anthropology

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Her minority affairs beat focuses on diversity and ethnic communities. Richard Clarke in August of a comprehensive review of Special Operations Forces' culture and ethnics. Civil rights groups are worried. Gedamu, Washington Post , "Ethiopia just pardoned political prisoners.

Could that signal a shift to real democracy? First Known Use of ethnic Adjective , in the meaning defined at sense 2 Noun , in the meaning defined above. Learn More about ethnic. Resources for ethnic Time Traveler! Explore the year a word first appeared. Dictionary Entries near ethnic ethmolith ethnarch ethnarchy ethnic ethnical ethnic cleansing ethnicism. Phrases Related to ethnic ethnic minorities. Time Traveler for ethnic The first known use of ethnic was in See more words from the same year. Kids Definition of ethnic. Comments on ethnic What made you want to look up ethnic?