The Politics of Ethnicity as an Extended Case

Thoughts on a Chiefly Succession Crisis

in Social Analysis

The crisis engendered by the appointment of a female chiefto succeed her father in southern Zimbabwe is used to discuss how anextended case can inform us about the politics of ethnicity and its conflicts. The formation of the case demonstrates a cross-section of socialand cultural dynamics through which the protagonists negotiated andpracticed their values and interests. Thus, the protagonists to the crisisinvoked histories and nationalisms, manipulated ethnic affiliation, andquestioned gender hierarchies to ground and substantiate their differentclaims. Through these optics, Fredrik Barth's constructivist understanding of ethnicity is critiqued. Ethnicity is not an elementary identity;instead, its form and substance must be related to other social phenomena and to historical changes that contextualize ethnic identification.This approach, no less social than that of Barth, does not obviate culture,which is referred to here as the ideas, experiences, and feelings thatinfuse persons through their existential practices.