What is Ethnicity?
Ethnicity refers to ethnic groups and actually the terms can be used interchangeably. Ethnicity pertains to a group of people who share a common heritage, language, culture, religion, and ideologies. Oftentimes, ideologies pertain to customary ancestry.
Being a member of such group brings realization of belonging to ethnicity. Acknowledgement from different group’s uniqueness denotes ethnic identity. Recognition of such ethnic identity is a result of a process called ethnogenesis.
Ethnicity or ethnic group is derived from a Greek word ethnos. In English the Greek word ethnos is translated as nation. The term signifies people who belong to common ancestry sharing a well-defined culture. In English, ethnic was used to mean pagan from the 14th century up to the middle of 19th century. It was only in the 19th century when the modern meaning of ethnicity was used.
The modern meaning of ethnicity was used to convey the concept of ‘people’ or ‘nation’. However, it was only in the 20th century, in the 1950s when the term ethnicity was coined. At that time, the term nationality was used one and the same with ethnicity. At some point, the term was also used interchangeably with citizenship.
As the time changes, the modern use of the term ethnicity also changes. Overtime, industrialized states have encountered groups from the external location. Such groups refer to immigrants and indigenous people. From the perspective of national, ethnicity became a term referring to group of people identified through unique cultural identities. These people from different cultural majority became subjected to a nation.
This has led the first usage of the word ethnic group in the year 1935 and in 1972 the Oxford English dictionary included the term. The result is that today, the terms ethnicity and ethnic still connotes people characterized by exoticism, issues in minority and race relations. However, when it comes to the social sciences, the use of the term ethnicity generally refers to every group of humans, which openly identifies themselves or as identified by other groups as culturally distinguished.
Max Weber is a German sociologist who first brought the terms ethnicity and ethnic into the field of social studies. According to Weber, the terms refer to those people that consider a biased belief in their general ancestry due to resemblance of both substantial types and customs. Such similarities in beliefs are important in the formation of such groups. Moreover, blood relations do not matter as long as such belief exists.
Until now, the usage of the term ethnicity is still dependent, at some extent, on the exact meaning used. There had been so many connotations to the term ethnicity. Some explained that ethnicity is a basic factor in the lives of humans. However, although there are some sociologists claiming that the term ethnicity is universal, there are still some who opposes the idea. Eric Wolf and Fredrik Barth oppose the idea of the universality of the term ethnicity. Both sociologists argued that the term is merely a result of the interactions from particular inter-groups. They countered the belief that the term ethnicity is inherent in human experience.