chapter  4
28 Pages


The conceptual and theoretical terrain

The prolific use of the term ethnicity to refer to diverse socio-cultural phenomena in the last two to three decades has resulted in considerable disagreement about the nature of ethnic groups. What is ethnicity, and how should it be defined? In the human sciences, definitions of ethnicity have been influenced by a variety of factors which intersect with one another. These include: • the impact of different theoretical and disciplinary traditions (such as neo-

Marxism or phenomenology, psychology or anthropology); • the particular aspects of ethnicity being researched (ranging from the

socio-structural dimensions of ethnicity in a plural society, to the cultural construction of ethnic difference, to the effects of ethnic identity on individual performance in education, and so on);

• the region of the world where research is being conducted (e.g. the highlands of Papua New Guinea, American inner cities, the former Soviet Union);

• the particular group that is the subject of research (e.g. the Australian Aborigines, migrant Turkish workers in Europe, or the Jewish people (see Bentley 1983; Isajiw 1974)).