Race and ethnicity

Authored by: Chris Gilligan

Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  October  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415476256
eBook ISBN: 9780203845493
Adobe ISBN: 9781136927577


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The distinction, or commonality, between race and ethnicity is a recurring problem in ethnic and racial studies. Attempts to try and separate the two and treat them as distinct categories continually run into theoretical and practical difficulties, but using the terms interchangeably is also unsatisfactory. Confusion over the use of the terms is compounded by the different, sometimes inconsistent, meanings given to them. The term race is also a morally and politically charged one. Given these difficulties it is perhaps understandable that scholars who study ethnic conflict, for the most part, avoid using the term ‘race’ at all. There is, however, something lost when this approach is taken. In terms of intellectual resources, for example, there is a rich and extensive literature on race and racism which scholars of ethnic conflict rarely, or only superficially, engage with. Using the term ethnic instead of race might appear to be more enlightened, but it can easily be used to evade the difficult moral and political issues associated with the use of the term race or, worse, to pretend that they have no relevance to the study of ethnic conflict. In this chapter I aim to help students of ethnic conflict to engage with the broader literature on race and ethnicity, by providing some guidance to help grapple with the slippery concepts of race and ethnicity.

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