Nationalism, Boundaries, and Violence

‘Nationalism, boundaries and violence’, Millennium. Journal of International Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 1999, pp. 553-584

DOI: 10.1177/03058298990280030901

full article

In an age of transient sovereignties, collapsing state frontiers, expanding hybridization, ethnic amalgamation, cultural mixing, and ever-increasing inter-communication, a remarkable interest in boundaries has sprung up. Typically, ‘boundary’ and related terms have been in use since the dawning of disciplines like geography and history, yet their conceptualization is relatively novel in other social sciences. This article will focus only on a particular, and increasingly important, variety of boundaries, those which ‘enclose’, ‘mark’, and signal ethic belonging or membership.

The concept of ethnic boundary was formulated roughly thirty years ago by the Norwegian anthropologist Frederick Barth. Accordingly, ethnic identities do not derive from intrinsic features but emerge from, and are reasserted in, encounters, transactions and oppositions between groups. In a nutshell, the crucible of ethnic identities are the ‘boundaries’ which particular aggregates of people establish for different purposes, or simply as a consequence of interaction. Since Barth’s milestone study, the concept has permeated anthropological research on the making and unmaking of ethnic identities. One of its key contributions was a focus on the subjective, self-experienced dimension, rather than on objective traits as perceived by the outsiders.

The opposition between ethnic boundaries and ethnic contents has been the central point of the Barthian approach. The former describe the perception of ethnic identity and its limits, the latter its substance or culture. As ethnic boundaries are directly related to subjective self-perception, they are more relevant to the study of identity formation than ethnic contents. This implies that culture can change, while ethnic boundaries remain simultaneously unchanged. It is the boundary, rather than the content, which forms a person’s or group’s identity. Historical records can testify to such discontinuity, i.e. that cultural elements (content) can vary considerably throughout the centuries, even in cases in which the homeland’s name or the ethnonym have persisted.

(WoK accession nr. WOS:000084386200005)

[ISSN 0305-8298].

(Scopus Code: 2-s2.0-0001089177)