Ethnic group

An ethnic group (also ethnic group) or Ethnos (from Greek ἔθνος ethnos, "people, an ethnic " ) is a group of people for whom a collective identity is awarded. Attribution criteria can be origin legends, descent, history, culture, language, religion, the connection to a specific territory and a sense of solidarity. The relevant science is anthropology or ethnology. In the German science, the word nation is now often replaced by ethnicity.


The Greek word ethnos describes the demarcation through self - and foreign assignment. The word was first used only as a foreign assignment. Its meaning and use is subject to heavy change. Ethnic groups are defined usually by a common past. The commonality is often seen in historical tradition ( tradition ), customs, language, religion, dress, diet and lifestyle habits.

The concept of ethnicity is partly related to the ethnic origin and partly to the culture of the nation. For Max Weber, an ethnic group is defined as follows:

"We want those people groups that entertain a subjective belief in a community of descent because of similarities of the external habit or customs or both, or of memories of colonization and migration, such that it is important for the propagation of Vergemeinschaftungen, then should they call not ' represent, ethnic ' kin groups, all the same, whether a blood relationship exists objectively or not. "

The term is highly problematic, because it is often the risk of essentialization. As it is used today, for example, instead of the term race and replaces this interchangeably, so therefore follows the same logic. However, it is important just to emphasize the constructed nature of groups and not just their naturalness. Group belonging and likewise features are subject, continuous change and are strongly influenced by mechanisms of demarcation.

Adjective ethnic

While the terms nation and ethnicity continue to occur in the current vocabulary, only the corresponding adjective has in worth freer relation to ethnic. The word " ethnic " has the historical use of the German language a different meaning obtained ( cf. Nationalist movement ). Thus, the dissemination of the concept of ethnicity has taken as equivalent to its adjective ethnic.

Demarcation " Ethnos " and " Demos"

The adjective " ethnic " is used to designate the ethnic or ethnicity of people who, regardless of their citizenship. The total number of members of a nation in the ethnic sense ( an ethnos ) is not identical to the amount of the eligible voters in one state ( with the demos). Thus, not all citizens of Finland, France, Germany, etc. also by ethnic Finns, French, German, etc., and not all members of a nation or an ethnic group inhabiting their nation-state in which they represent the majority of the population. There are nations and ethnic groups without " own state " (eg Tamils ​​and Kurds ), or those who share a state with other peoples and ethnic groups ( in Europe, for example, Switzerland and Belgium).

In German the term ethnic group is common. Often, different ethnic groups live in the territory. For example, consisted of multi-ethnic state in Austria-Hungary 19-20. Century from different ethnic groups ( Germans, Hungarians, Slovenes, Bosnians, Croatians, Italians, etc.). This is true even today for Switzerland, which is not an ethnic entity, but from different ethnic groups ( German, French, Italian, Romansh, jenisch speaking Swiss ), and due to various ethnic minorities in Germany and Austria ( and Others Danes, Frisians, Sorbs, Sinti, Roma, Croats, Hungarians ) to a lesser extent for these two states. In general it can be said that there is hardly ethnically homogeneous states. Especially heterogeneous are states go back to their existence and arbitrary demarcation of the colonial period, such as the countries of South and Central America, Africa, Asia and Polynesia (eg Indonesia), or are influenced by immigration, such as the USA, Canada and Australia.

Demarcation " Ethnos " and " linguistic community "

By the term " ethnic " people are not according to linguistic point of view, divided into groups according to their mother tongue. In some countries (especially in immigration countries such as the USA or Canada) using different ethnic groups the same language as the common language, even as a mother tongue. On the other hand, there is within the language of many ethnicities strong dialectal differences that can lead to the formation of two different languages ​​over time; In this case, the question arises whether the speakers can be members of two different ethnic groups. However, there are numerous cases in which the clearly not so: So not only people who have grown up with high German or a Central or South German dialect as their mother tongue, are considered " German ", but also people with low German as their mother tongue. The same applies in Germany for the persons belonging to national minorities. Also, many people belong to a certain ethnic group, although they do not speak or just broken (eg be felt by many German-Russians who only speak Russian fluently, as an ethnic German ). Whose language In Nationality entries in official documents that exist, for example in the successor states of the Soviet Union, the question of whether someone is speaking the language of their nationality, not provided. Instead, be there when determining the nationality of a person 's ancestry, possibly used its commitment to a nationality as allocation criteria. In the censuses in Turkey is no longer in demand since 1985 according to the mother tongue, so that there is no exact data on the number of Kurds in Turkey on the basis of this criterion.

Ethnicity and religion

In the Ottoman Empire and later in Yugoslavia, the religion was used as a distinguishing factor of the nationalities or ethnicities. That was a long time the term " Slavic-speaking Muslims " usual or is it in Serbia and Montenegro still partially. In the context of the Yugoslav wars came in 1992, the term ethnic cleansing in the German language area.

Indigenous peoples as ethnic groups

In analogy to the Anglo-American parlance as such cultures and cultural elements are called ethnic that are alive in a western or in the global civilization as remnants of indigenous peoples and their traditions. Example is the Native Americans of North America, who see themselves as members of an " Indian nation " (Indian Nation), and thus a common ethnicity. The same applies to the indigenous people of Australia.

Ethnic Group

Most self-identification with the own ethnic group is so strong that it even appears natural to the acting individual as completely natural. It is this collective sense of the mess - belonging -ness and otherness, which is crucial for the constitution of an ethnic group. The concept of cultural differentiation between "we " and the cultural "other" is called ethnicity. The feeling of belonging to a particular ethnic group, does not change easily, by providing new state borders be drawn: So the Stuttgart labor court ruled that former GDR citizens and their descendants were no ethnic group in the sense of the General Equal Treatment Act, because within 40 years had not developed a separate history, language, religion, tradition and culture, no sense of solidarity or of specific dietary habits. Even 40 years after the founding of the GDR demonstrated in 1989, GDR citizens in great numbers under the motto: "We are one people! ", Suggesting that has understood the majority of the citizens of the GDR as a German and always as part of a unified Germany.

Ethnic groups are not irreversible phenomena, but defined with the help of interior and exterior view of collectives. There are in the world, a variety of ethnic "we- groups ", which face a variety of other ethnic groups. However, these groups and their relationship to the "others " are not biological conditions. Ethnic groups are socially constructed and their boundaries change over time. This differs significantly from the Ethnizitätskonzept outdated concept of racial theory, which proceeds solely from a physical, biological differentiation of mankind. Ethnic groups can, for example, merge together ( cf. Mestizos in South America) or be removed by a conflict.

The relationship between ethnic groups may be different due to the different political, economic and social circumstances. The ethnicity of its members, in a society that never is ethnically homogeneous, be irrelevant or of essential importance for the social position of the individual. Cultural and ethnic identity are formed in contrast to the "other." This can also lead to ethnocentrism - the interpretation of the environment by the standards of their own group - and xenophobia - hostility toward unfamiliar - lead. Ethnocentrism and xenophobia often come into play in the context of political debates on migration.

Neighboring ethnic groups with common cultural characteristics are sometimes summarized by anthropologists, regardless of their actual relationship to each other to geographic culture areas.


Ethnic groups are not always as homogeneous as they are perceived. The membership of an individual to an ethnic group is complex and sometimes ambiguous in the context of migration and diasporic realities. New ethnic groups can, for example, in the wake of conflict or by migrating form ( ethnogenesis ). As a recent example of history one can mention the African-American, a very heterogeneous ethnic group that ever became possible only due to the events of the last 500 years. Also, to lead the Maroons living in Jamaica as an example, whose origins date back to fugitive slaves who were brought from West Africa to the Caribbean.