Re: Re. Culture, Identity, Exile

thomas fuller carter (tcfuller@UNM.EDU)
Wed, 21 Feb 1996 12:53:06 -0700

Ben- just a quick comment on ethnicity. I've been out for a few days so
if i am parroting another, apologies beforehand.

Ethnicity is a slippery concept; there is no doubt about that. What I
have found very intriguing is the Comaroff's conception of ethnicity.
They argue that ethnicity arises out of specific conditions and as a
response to certain situations where other social identities may not have
as much salience. the conflicts that predominated in the U.S. in the
nineteenth century gave rise to the immigrant "ethnic identities" of
Italians, and Irish who were vilified by those who had been in the U.S.
for at least a generation or two and, as such had the cultural capital to
negotiate other identities and access to capital within the U.S. The
recent immigrants did not.
Today, of course, in the U.S. these ethnic identities have essentially
disappeared (or at least the perjorative aspects of them have). They
have become part of the encompassing identity of "white".
the exiles you are interested in, (i think, I am not familiar with your
discussion on exactly which group you are talking about)
also have very limited cultural resources to pull from in their new
environment and those with the cultural capital have the power of
naming. they can resist this naming by calling themselves something else
which I would argue, in many cases is an ethnic identity.

Please note the above is my thinking, not the Comaroff's. if I have
misrepresented their ideas I make apologies in advance.
The Comaroffs have a couple of good tomes for elaborating on this. Try
"Ethnography and the Historical Imagination" or the introduction to "Of
Revelation and Revolution."

Ciao for Niao