No more talking past each other

Ethnicities
October 24, 2003

The editors of this new journal state in their manifesto that ethnicity as a subject has become a major preoccupation of the human and social sciences. It represents a challenge to "existing social hierarchies and oppressive conceptions of citizenship" and, much more seriously, is generally associated with "new tribalism" across the globe.

Understanding ethnicity, however, traditionally has been characterised by disciplinary exclusivism in which different terminologies and different orthodoxies have reigned free. What is required therefore is an interdisciplinary approach. A central element of this effort is to establish a critical relationship between politics and sociology, the two disciplines that have dominated the concern with ethnic issues but have tended to "talk past each other" without engaging in meaningful dialogue about areas of common interest. Ethnicities , it is suggested, will provide a focus for this enterprise and "aim to bring together the more 'traditional' materialist... concerns of 'race' and ethnic studies, with wider theoretical debates on the (re)construction of democratic societies.

In so doing, it will... explore the interface between modernist and postmodernist debates on such issues."

While such declarations are likely to underwhelm many, particularly that rare breed of political sociologists that has done much to bring ethnicity-related issues into the academic mainstream since the 1960s, the journal's pitch certainly comes at the right time. The past decade has seen an explosion of political studies literature on nationalism, identity politics and minority rights, with the study of multiculturalism becoming a major subfield in political theory. At the same time, the sociological study of ethnicity has been overtaken by more fashionable fixations with globalisations and postmodernism. These developments have been only reluctantly recognised by the established policy journals. Ethnicities therefore aims to fill a significant gap in the market by providing a forum for new departures.

The editorial team, most of whom are attached to the University of Bristol's Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, has assembled impressive editorial and international advisory boards. (Geographically, it must be pointed out, the representation is heavily biased towards the UK and the US.) These include some of the leading scholars in the field - Stuart Hall, Will Kymlicka, Iris Marion Young, James Tully and Bhikhu Parekh - who have also made valuable contributions to the journal's output.

Ethnicities is reasonably successful in meeting its aims. The first issue opens with a useful discussion of the concept itself followed by three articles: one on the genocide in Rwanda, the second an assessment of the ethnic options of Asian-Americans and African-Americans, and the third on women and cosmopolitan Englishness. Also included is an interesting, if somewhat tame, review symposium on Parekh's Rethinking Multiculturalism . Reviewing the issues published so far, one cannot but be impressed by the high quality of most submissions and the amount of ground they cover, from cities and ethnicities to American Muslim politics. There is a slight imbalance in favour of discursive constructivist submissions, but this is perhaps to be expected given the commitment of the editors to introducing the reader to new theorisation. One hopes that in future an appropriate balance will be struck between the new and the familiar, perhaps by more frequent use of special issues.

A particularly attractive feature is the review symposium and debate. This brings together some of the latest major publications or themes with commentary or responses from leading scholars. The editors have done well to establish this format, and generally these discussions are not to be missed. Especially worth reading is the symposium on Brian Barry's Culture and Equality and the Gregor McLennan-led debate on critical multiculturalism. My only quibble is that these are too brief, but they do point the reader in the right direction.

This journal is essential reading for those teaching and researching in the general area of race, ethnicity, migration, nationalism and transnational studies. It provides clear, concise and engaging contributions from leading specialists and emerging scholars at the forefront of interdisciplinary research by bringing together some of the major concerns of ethnicity in political studies and sociology.

Gurharpal Singh is professor of inter-religious relations, University of Birmingham.

Ethnicities

Editor - Stephen May and Tariq Madood
Publisher - Sage, quarterly
Pages - -
Price - Institutions £283.00 Individuals £49.00
ISSN - 1468 7968

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