chapter  2
Power and classification, meaning and resistance
Pages 21

This chapter explores a defining characteristic of ethnicity: ethnic communities and identities rely on social processes of classification that simultaneously include some people and exclude others, and hence construct and reproduce social boundaries. Such boundary maintenance constitutes a form of both political and symbolic practice: it is profoundly political insofar as the construction and reproduction of ethnic identities needs to be understood in its wider contexts of unequally distributed power; and it is symbolic insofar as it makes use of repertoires of culturally shared meaning. Richard Jenkins, whose Rethinking Ethnicity (1997) will frame the discussion in this chapter, develops a crucial distinction that goes some way towards illuminating this two-sided process constitutive of ethnic identities. He distinguishes between social categorization and group identification: social categorization refers to acts of ‘external definition’ and processes of labelling by institutions and social actors with ‘sufficient power and authority’ to impose their classifications and allocate individuals to particular groupings (Jenkins 1997: 80); group identification, on the other hand, is a group-internal process, whereby individuals define themselves and others as belonging to the same community, make more or less conscious use of shared meaning, and profess experiences of collective ‘belonging’. Jenkins (1997: 23) emphasizes that though the two phenomena are ‘inextricably linked’, they constitute ‘two analytically distinct

processes of ascription’: while social categorization captures the impact of powerful outsiders on (the construction and/or reification of) ethnic groups, group identification refers to the shared experience of cultural meaning, history and solidarity.