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Ethnicity without labels?

Ambiguity and excess in “postethnic” Rwanda

Laura Eramian

Following the 1994 genocide, the government of Rwanda embarked on a “deethnicization” campaign to outlaw Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa labels and replace them with a pan-Rwandan national identity. Since then, to use ethnic labels means risking accusations of “divisionism” or perpetuating ethnic schisms. Based on one year of ethnographic fieldwork in the university town of Butare, I argue that the absence of ethnic labels produces practical interpretive problems for Rwandans because of the excess of possible ways of interpreting what people mean when they evaluate each other's conduct in everyday talk. I trace the historical entanglement of ethnicity with class, rural/urban, occupational, and moral distinctions such that the content of ethnic stereotypes can be evoked even without ethnic labels. In so doing, I aim to enrich understandings of both the power and danger inherent in the ambiguous place of ethnicity in Rwanda's “postethnic” moment.

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Against ethnicity

Ring composition and conflict resolution

Paul Richards

Ethnicity—once the preserve of anthropologists and folklorists studying disappearing tribal and peasant cultures—has become an important element in the models and explanations of a broader community of social scientists seeking to comprehend post-Cold War social disorder. But is ethnicity equivalent to variables such as resource competition or poverty? Ethnicity can be viewed as an epiphenomenon. The argument has major consequences for the way ethnic conflicts are analyzed and resolved. The article considers neo-Durkheimian conceptual tools for uncovering mechanisms generative of ethnic epiphenomena, and explores a neo-Durkheimian approach to conflict resolution. Specifically, Mary Douglas's ideas on ring composition are extended to include the ethnomusicological project of the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, and then applied to epiphenomena emerging from the protracted civil conflict in the West African country of Sierra Leone.

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Conceptions of Nation and Ethnicity in Swedish Children's Films

The Case of Kidz in da Hood (Förortsungar, 2006)

Anders Wilhelm Åberg

Swedish children's films frequently deal with issues of nation and ethnicity, specifically with “Swedishness”. This may be most obvious in films based on the works of Astrid Lindgren, which abound with nostalgic images of the national culture and landscape. However, films about contemporary Sweden, such as Kidz in da Hood (Förortsungar, 2006) address these issues too. Kidz in da Hood is about children in the ethnically diverse suburbs of Stockholm and it tells the story of a young fugitive, Amina, who is cared for by a young bohemian musician. It is, interestingly, a remake of one of the first Swedish children's films, Guttersnipes (Rännstensungar, 1944). In this article I argue that Kidz in da Hood is a contradictory piece, in the sense that it both celebrates and disavows “Swedishness”, as it substitutes the class conict of Guttersnipes for ethnic conflict.

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Avi Shoshana

This article proposes using the theoretical discussions of Deleuze and Guattari as a means of comprehending the various ways in which individuals speak about their ethnic identity. This is done through a case study of a state-run educational boarding school offered to subjects identified as 'ethnic' in Israel. The findings expose two ways of talking about ethnic identity: 'minor language' and 'major language'. What I term the 'major language of ethnicity' makes substantial use of state language and offers two hierarchical categories that serve as an archetype for classifying groups. The 'minor language of ethnicity', on the other hand, offers multiple local identifications and potential identity alternatives. The article suggests using dynamics at the foundation of these concepts to consider the position of the researcher and to expose existential 'lines of flight' and life inventions of subjects in everyday life.

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The Unfolding of the Tulip

From Ethnic to Religious Identification among Volga Tatars

Jesko Schmoller

In Tatarstan in the 1990s and early 2000s, a switch took place from an identity primarily based on ethnicity, to an identity more strongly informed by religious belonging. This happened in official political and scholarly Islamic discourse as well as in everyday Muslim life, and is linked to different variants of Tatar nationalism.

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Violence and Identification

Everyday Ethnic Identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Torsten Kolind

Structurally inspired anthropological analyses of war and violence tend to claim that conflicts have an inherent potential to create unambiguous identities. Based on ethnographic data from everyday life among the Muslim population of Stolac in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina the article shows that this is not necessarily the case. Instead of resorting to the politically created dichotomous categories of ethnic exclusion, the Muslims of Stolac favored ambiguous identifications highlighting coexistence and interethnic respect. In this way of refraining from exclusive ethnic antagonistic identifications they experimented with ways of inhabiting the world together with the ethnic others; mainly the Croat population of Stolac.

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Governing ethnic diversity in rainbow nations

The politics of citizenship and multi-culturalism in Peninsular Malaysia—the case of Penang

Christian Giordano

The present article analyzes how, after its independence in 1957, Malaysia has been able to manage the difficult coexistence among its three numerically most relevant ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian). This complex situation, a legacy of the British colonial-like plural society, has been governed via a specific model of multi-racial citizenship, which is significantly unlike the Western European ones in which, as a rule, the equivalence between nationality and citizenship predominates. Starting from the specific example of Penang in Peninsular Malaysia, the article intends to highlight two points. Firstly, that citizenship must be perceived as an agonistic process with competition, tensions and conflicts as well as permanent negotiations. Secondly, that the Occidental agenda, based on liberal principles, can no longer be regarded as the only valid one. Therefore, believing that the Western type of citizenship could be a universalistic institution exportable anywhere is misleading. Consequently, citizenship ought to be analyzed instead as a 'concrete abstraction' that is set up in strict correlation with the specific historical contexts and with particular circumstances of a sociological nature, relative to the characteristics of each society.

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Austerity against the Homo Sovieticus

Political control, class imaginings, and ethnic categorization in the Vilnius riots of 2009

Daiva Repečkait

This article analyzes the public discourse on the riots of 16 January 2009, in Vilnius, when protest against economic shock therapy ended in violent clashes with the police. Politicians and the media were quick to ethnicize the riots, claiming an “involvement of foreign influences” and noting that the rioters had been predominantly “Russian-speaking.” Analyzing electronic and print media, the article identifies a wider tendency, particularly among middle-class Lithuanian youth, of portraying the social class consisting of “losers of the post-soviet transition” as aggressive and primitive Others. A pseudo-ethnicity that combines Rus sian language and culture with lower-class background into a notion of homo sovieticus comes to stand for what is hindering the “clean up” of Lithuania and middleclass aspirations to form a new European identity. As such, the riots serve as a lens that illuminates the way ethnicity is flexibly utilized to shift political loyalties.

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Reverse, restore, repeat!

Class, ethnicity, and the Russian-speaking miners of Estonia

Eeva Kesküla

In this article, I look at Russian-speaking miners' perception of their position in Estonian society, along with their moral economy. Former heroes, glorified for their class and ethnicity, they feel like a racialized underclass in neoliberal Estonia. Excluded from the nation on the basis of ethnicity, they try to maintain their dignity through the discourse of hard work as a basis for membership in society. Based on the longer-term analysis of Estonian history, I argue that the current outcome for the Russian-speaking working class is related to longer historical processes of class formation whereby each period in the Estonian history of the twentieth century seems to be the reversal of the previous one. I also argue for analysis of social change in Eastern Europe that does not focus solely on ethnicity but is linked to class formation processes.

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The Politics of Ethnicity as an Extended Case

Thoughts on a Chiefly Succession Crisis

Björn Lindgren

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.