Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 239–270 | Cite as

The Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism Needs Better Categories: Clearing up the Confusions that Result from Blurring Analytic and Lay Concepts

  • Francisco J. Gil-WhiteEmail author


It has been difficult to make progress in the study of ethnicity and nationalism because of the multiple confusions of analytic and lay terms, and the sheer lack of terminological standardization (often even within the same article). This makes a conceptual cleaning-up unavoidable, and it is especially salutary to attempt it now that more economists are becoming interested in the effects of identity on behavior, so that they may begin with the best conceptual tools possible. My approach to these questions has been informed by anthropological and evolutionary-psychological questions. I will focus primarily on the terms ‘ethnic group’, ‘nation’, and ‘nationalism’, and I will make the following points: (1) so-called ‘ethnic groups’ are collections of people with a common cultural identity, plus an ideology of membership by descent and normative endogamy; (2) the ‘group’ in ‘ethnic group’ is a misleading misnomer—these are not ‘groups’ but categories, so I propose to call them ‘ethnies’; (3) ‘nationalism’ mostly refers to the recent ideology that ethnies—cultural communities with a self-conscious ideology of self-sufficient reproduction—be made politically sovereign; (4) it is very confusing to use ‘nationalism’ also to stand for ‘loyalty to a multi-ethnic state’ because this is the exact opposite; (5) a ‘nation’ truly exists only in a politician’s imagination, so analysts should not pretend that establishing whether something ‘really’ is or is not ‘a nation’ matters; (6) a big analytic cost is paid every time an ‘ethnie’ is called a ‘nation’ because this mobilizes the intuition that nationalism is indispensable to ethnic organization (not true), which thereby confuses the very historical process—namely, the recent historical emergence of nationalism—that must be explained; (7) another analytical cost is paid when scholars pretend that ethnicity is a form of kinship—it is not.


ethnic groups nation race kinship categorization classification Walker Connor 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PsychologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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