chapter  1
ETHNICITY AND EVERYDAY LIFE
Pages 33

I hope readers will forgive me for starting another chapter with a biographical snippet: my first self-conscious engagement with the concept of ethnicity occurred in the early 1990s to the backdrop of the collapse of former Yugoslavia, as the world watched in horror the unfolding of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The demise of communism, so a then widely circulating explanatory narrative went, had allowed suppressed but deep-seated identities and divisions to resurface; ethnic conflict and violence were, so such simplistic accounts continued, the inevitable result. While the oversimplifications inherent in these self-proclaimed ‘explanations’ have been revealed and challenged since (e.g. Gilliland 1995), they none the less contain a set of assumptions that provide a suitable point of departure and subsequent criticism for this chapter. First, these accounts assumed ethnicity to be an innate, deeply engrained determinant of people’s behaviour and loyalties that overrode both individual agency and alternative sources of identity. Second, these accounts reproduced the common association of ethnicity with conflict (Hutchinson and Smith 1996: 3). Third, they also contained some assumptions about everyday life, portraying ethnicity as a force disruptive and ultimately destructive of the previously largely harmonious lives shared by neighbours and citizens of a state that was no more; arguably, the accounts in question hence also implied that peaceful everyday routines were incompatible with ethnic identities

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assumed to be inevitably divisive. In what follows, I cast a critical eye on each of these assumptions: I discuss the much-debated relationship between ethnic groups and traditions on the one hand, and individuals’ lives, ideas and behaviours on the other; moreover, I question the very problematic conflation of ethnicity with conflict as well as the equally problematic association of the everyday with the supposedly trivial, apolitical and culturally insignificant. In other words, this chapter sets itself the task of working through complex bodies of literature on the two concepts at the heart of this book: ethnicity and everyday life. Rather than establishing easy-to-digest working definitions, I provide multi-dimensional conceptual frameworks for thinking about ethnicity and everyday life, which will guide the analysis of my empirical case studies in subsequent chapters. The theoretical groundwork presented here is rounded off by a brief mention of relevant methodological and ‘disciplinary’ questions: how might we study ethnicity and/in everyday lives, and which academic traditions and disciplinary approaches may guide us along the way?