Culture, Identity, and Exile

John H. Stevens, Jr. (jhs14@CORNELL.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 19:40:50 -0500

In regards to Ben Rempel's combination observation/query:

>There has been a debate in anthropology for some time between (among others)
>those who approach ethnicity as a 'cultural container' (essentialist or
>primordialist perspectives) and those who take a more 'instrumentalist' or
>'situational' approach.
> Any comments?

It seems to me, IMHO, that we need to fuse the approaches (I love fusion!!!
Almost as much as synthesis!!). Ethnicity both reflects a body of
knowledges and experiences and provides a template for identity. In a time
when identity is very political, this means that the latter is accentuated,
but despite the honking of some conservatives, people generally do not wear
their ethnic identity like a cheap suit.

Of course, what is "ethnic?" We've chatted about this before, about a year
or so ago (and I got into muy trouble for making the cheap suit assumption,
which has been modified considerably. See, education works!!), but it is a
difficult question. Yeah, Barth is a good start, but what folks from
multiple ethnic backgrounds?? Or is that just hot air and can we only come
from one ethnic b.g.? What can we say about hybridity and selection, and
how do they complicate our idea of ethnicity?? What about ethnicity's
links to place, kinship, institutions, etc.?

Sorry, more questions than answers. But what do folks think??

Best regards,

John H. Stevens, Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University

Student Area Coordinator, Amnesty International (Central NY)
Co-Chair, Urgent Action Coordinator, and Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator,
Cornell Student Chapter

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