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The Making and Unmaking of Ethnic Boundaries



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The Making and Unmaking of Ethnic Boundaries A Multilevel Process Theory1 Andreas Wimmer University of California Los Angeles Primordialist and constructivist authors have debated the nature of ethnicity as such and therefore failed to explain why its characteristics vary so dramatically across cases displaying different degrees of social closure political salience cultural distinctiveness and historical stability The author introduces a multilevel process theory to understand how these characteristics are generated and transformed over time The theory assumes that ethnic boundaries are the outcome of the classificatory struggles and negotiations between actors situated in a social field Three characteristics of a field the institutional order distribution of power and political networks determine which actors will adopt which strategy of ethnic boundary making The author then discusses the conditions under which these negotiations will lead to a shared understanding of the location and meaning of boundaries The nature of this consensus explains the particular characteristics of an ethnic boundary A final section identifies endogenous and exogenous mechanisms of change TOWARD A COMPARATIVE SOCIOLOGY OF ETHNIC BOUNDARIES Beyond Constructivism The comparative study of ethnicity rests firmly on the ground established by Fredrik Barth 1969b in his well known introduction to a collection 1 Various versions of this article were presented at UCLA s Department of Sociology the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies of the University of Osnabru ck Harvard s Center for European Studies the Center for Comparative Research of Yale University the Association for the Study of Ethnicity at the London School of Economics the Center for Ethnicity and Citizenship of the University of Bristol the Department of Political Science and International Relations of University College Dublin and the Department of Sociology of the University of Go ttingen For helpful



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