Re: Culture, Identity, and Exile

Thomas Brunton (brunton@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 13:49:04 -0500

On Tue, 13 Feb 1996, John H. Stevens, Jr. wrote:

> 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.
> 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.
> 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.?

I generally agree with you but you left out 'history' which makes the
'cultural container' view even more problematic. I think every 'ethnic
group' has a selected and/or invented 'folk history' and/or written
history which may ignore or invent previous ethnic identities. (Is that
sentence ambiguous enough to avoid offending anyone?)

I'm currently reading Susan Parman _Scottish Crofters: a historical
ethnography of a Celtic village_ and I'm supposed to be writing a paper
on a similar topic, though I'm not very familar with the ethnic
literature. (I've read some history.) I'm an archaeologist who believes
there is 'real' history.

Anyway, Scottish ethnic identity (national folk costume etc) is often
based on an 18th century Highlands ideal, while Scotland has been
occupied in historic times by at least 5 ethnic/language groups. And the
Highlanders were often despised and degraded by the more populous and
'modern' Lowlands. (And sometimes deported by their own clan chiefs.) So
what does that say about ethnicity, when people can 'choose' a certain
ethnic identity? (I'm personally drifting into Practice Theory as my
theoretical identity.)

Tom Brunton
1st year graduate student