Ethnicity and Collective Identity


Distinctions and differences between “kinds” of people have always been central to social and political life; today, differences styled “ethnic”, “cultural”, “religious” or “racial” are at the heart both of systems of oppression, and of struggles for rights, autonomy, and dignity around the world. A large number of the Department’s faculty contribute to the anthropological understanding of these issues. Thomas Blom Hansen does research on “communal” identities in south Asia, as well as “Indian” ethnic identification in South Africa. Liisa Malkki has explored the development of “Hutu” ethnic-national consciousness among Burundian refugees in Tanzania. Kabir Tambar is doing research on the intersecting identities of sect, nation, and Islam in contemporary Turkey. Angela Garcia has explored the context and expression of cultural and biological formations of distress, especially among Latinos in the contemporary US. Paulla Ebron’s work addresses the construction of African-American identity also in the contemporary US. Sylvia Yanagisako has written about the gendered formation of Japanese-American and Asian American identities.

Barbara Voss uses archaeological and historical studies to investigate the emergence of modern identities in the 18th - 20th centuries, including racial transformation and ethnogenesis and social formation of gendered and sexual identities, most recently, a research on 19th century Chinese immigrant communities.

Duana Fullwiley is deeply concerned about what she calls the Molecularization of race. She has conducted extensive multi-sited research in the United States in laboratories where scientists study human diversity while focusing on people who identify as American Blacks, Whites, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans. Chronicling the paradoxes of the politics of inclusion, the history of mistreatment and neglect of minorities in medicine, and the powers of genetic models to differentiate human DNA by constructs of continental ancestry, she shows how collective identities infuse scientific practice in systemic ways.