Ethnicity and _Identities_

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 16 Sep 1995 22:00:12 +0900

To those who are interested in how anthropologists
treat ethnicity, I heartily recommend the journal
_Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power_,
which used to be called _Ethnic Groups_.

The statement of purpose includes the following:

"_Identities_ responds to the paradox of our time: the
growth of a global economy and transnational
movements of populations produce or perpetuate
distinctive cultural practices and differentiated
identities. _Identities_ solicits material that
illuminates the relationship between culture and
power and transports the field of ethnic studies
beyond descriptions of cultural diversity. In
_Identities_ we critique the hegemonic processes by
which subordinated populations are distinguished as
exotic, foriegn, and alien, and by which nations are
imagined, built and deconstructed."

In the first issue, I was struck especially by Gerald
Sider's "Identity as History: Ethnohistory, Ethnogenesis
and Ethnocide in the Southeastern United States,"
which speaks directly to some of the issues we've
lately seen discussed here. Sider makes some striking
claims on which I would gladly hear comment, e.g.,

(1) "The historical dynamics of pre-contact Native
America can be found in the processes which made the
major centers of power and wealth (for example, the
great mound-building societies of the Missippi Valley)
so fragile....At the center of this durational fragility
were a number of irresolvable contradictions,
including a basic incompatibility between the intense
centralization (or, as there were multiple, coexisting
centers, perhaps 'nodalization') of trade, wealth, and
power, on the one hand and the continuing autonomy
of the village producers of much of the trade goods, on
the other. There was also a seemingly irresolvable
political tension between the increasingly intense
manifestations of inequality within each center, which
entrailed the degradation of daily life of ordinary
people (still visible in massively differentiated burial
practices) on the one hand and a lack of significant
barriers to an outward flow of population away from
these centers of monumental, labor-intensive mound-
building and the associated 'surplus' producing
agriculture, on the other."

Also, (2) "Three fundamental forms of native society
emerged in the post-contact period, all from much the
same basis in precontact networks of towns and clans:
(a) militarized trading, slaving and mercenary
confederacies, such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, and
groupings of Creek, located in the borderlands
between the colonial powers and themselves major
centers of power and wealth, and of violence against
smaller and more vulnerable native groups; (b) small
'settlement' and 'tributary' groups, nearer to or within
the Euro-American 'line of settlement,' that were
integrated into the colonial political economy in
profoundly different ways than the confederacies; (c)
autonomous native communities, whose autonomy lay
in a social 'invisibility' based on copying the outward
appearance and economic activities of small Euro-
American hamlets."

The identities of all three were, says Sider, negotiated
in a complex situation in which the larger categories
"Indian," "White," and "Negroes" were also being

John McCreery
Saturday, September 16, 1995