The role of ethnicity in my research

Ethnicity is just one of the many concepts and phenomena that characterize or can characterise a people, both in times of peace and war. This is true not just in my own research, but also within conflict studies in general – indeed, the term ‘ethnicity’ appears in one form or another in practically all disciplines within the social and even natural sciences. As with so many other terms and concepts, ‘ethnicity’ does not or hardly mean anything if it is not explicitly and sensibly defined, and put in a wider context of other human actions, actors and drives. If not done so, the term becomes hazy, overly abstract and indistinguishable from other terms, like ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘tribalism’.

In much of my research and analysis, I provide the reader or listener with the following definitions of such terms, whereby ‘ethnicism’ – not ethnicity per se – is or can be a particular variant or subset of nationalism, but can also stand apart from the latter:

Patriotism: the belief that it is one’s duty, irrespective of one’s motive – love, sense of obligation, sense of self-respect i.e. honour, or even self-interest and opportunism – to defend or otherwise maintain and secure the peace and prosperity of one’s home – ranging from one’s personal and family homestead to one’s village or regional community, all the way up to the homeland i.e. the (nation-)state one happens to live in, not necessarily one’s place of birth.”

Nationalism: the belief that a nation i.e. a (supposedly) homogeneous people with common characteristics – shared history, territory, culture, religion, language, ethnicity (actual or perceived common ancestry; tribal if dispersed, clannish if geographically concentrated), race, etcetera – should have its own state i.e. system of rule. When a national people attain a state, i.e. governing authority, its rights are paramount over any other people residing within its territory.”

Statism: the belief that the territory of a region, republic or any other unity should have its own state. Such a state does not necessarily have to be based on a homogeneous people of one race, ethnicity, or other common characteristic. Its citizens may belong to heterogeneous communities, yet they in principle hold the same rights of citizenship (‘Expansionism’ parallel to irredentism).”

Generally, the term ‘ethnicity’ plays so many, multifarious roles within the field of conflict studies and beyond – almost as many roles as there are individual researchers in this field – that it is undoable to summarize these roles here. Suffice to say here is, that this multiplicity is mainly due to a plurality of different definitions of, approaches to and views on ethnicity as a phenomenon in the real world.