Thursday, June 16, 2005


That's right, me and simona just got our Soci III essays back, and we both got an A! So, I am exactly 1% ahead of her, mark wise. Chuckle. I like to win, especially when competing against her raw genius.

Anyway mine was about Race and Ethnicity, and why sociologists don't use the term race anymore, and why they find the term ethnicity more useful. Now I wont recreate my entire essay here - but I wanted to relate some things I found really interesting.

The first was that 'race' is actually a social construction (I seem to use that term a lot at the moment) rather than a biological fact. There is, in fact, no biological or genetic basis for 'race'. There is not one gene that is found only in one 'race' - so there are no genetic 'races' and the difference, genetically, between two people in different 'races' is smaller than the difference between two people within a 'race'.

Lets put that into concrete terms. Take a Scotsman and Nigerian. The difference in their genes is smaller than the difference between two Scotsman, or two Nigerian. Interesting eh! So, when people talk about 'blood' or being half something or quarter something, it's actually very meaningless. Or, completely meaningless.

SO this leaves us with ethnicity. And this is why it's so ridiculous to say "oh well so and so isn't REALLY Maori because he's only half Maori" or "they can't say they're Maori becuase they're half Pakeha" or whatever. Because what are you saying? As far as blood is concerned, nothing. Ethnicity is about identity and culture. Our heritage gives us certian cultural and ethnic resources, which we can choose to use or not - depending on our circumstances or what we value.

Anyway, these are just two interesting points that I thought I'd share.

Simona's was about White Collar Crime. VERY interesting. I actually probably did beat her anyway.


andrew brown said...

not trying to troll, but how little ethnicity does a person have to have to belong to a certain ethenic group? and could someone potentially join an ethenic group they have no direct blood relations with at all?

amy said...

U go girls!

Sharyn said...

What do you mean by "how little ethnicity"? You can't have a little or a lot of ethnicity, because it's not about biology, it's culture and identification. So, I don't fully understand your question.

People who are adopted, or marry into certian ethnic groups potentially can claim an ethnicity they haven't inherited from their biolgical parents.

andrew brown said...

not sure what i meant. can you claim an ethnicity that your parents didn't have but say your grandparents did?

and i meant, not marrying into, but just choosing to have a different ethnicity? im not up on these things. you have very interesting points though

Iain said...

Well, this all sounds a little confusing, Andrew.

If you take what Sharyn was saying and run with that, then Person A may happen to identify with any ethnicity they wish, should circumstances arise that way. Her point was that this is socio-culturally determined based on socialisation into particular mental attitudes and values that are ethnicity/culture specific. That is, it is dependant on mental state (how you think etc) and not genetic state (your skin colour etc).

So yes, you could claim an ethnicity different from one's parents but the same as one's grandparents.

for example:

John & Alice have Janine. John & Alice grow up in England, but move to Nigeria to raise Janine. Through socialisation and inculturation, Janine adopts the Nigerian way of thinking and behaving. In short, Janine feels like a Nigerian. Janine has many babies (Andrew, Sharyn and Amy) with another Nigerian called Kwame. Kwame & Janine move to England and have their children there. Andrew, Sharyn and Amy feel, think and act like British people.

John & Alice - English

Janine & Kwame - Nigerian

Andrew, Sharyn & Amy - English

In the real world, I have a white friend who is a missionary kid of Kiwi parents, and she tends to think differently due to having been raised in Africa.

SubversNZ said...

Well done on the essays!

What implications do you think this has for a working-out of a kiwi culture/enthnicity?

It is so weird how human beings are all so very close genetically, which only really makes sense if we are all descended from two people or a group of people.

andrew brown said...

okay then he's my question simplified.

can you choose/change your ethnicity?

Iain said...

I'll presumptuously answer on Sharyn's blog again, hopefully she doesn't mind.

A person can't change their ethnicity like they can get a new haircut.

Your cultural worldview is the thing that defines how you interpret the reality around you.

It shapes what you think about god/s, what you value in people, what is good or bad, honest or dishonest. It shapes how you marry, and what you enjoy. It shapes the food that you like eating, even the smells that you find pleasant.

It shapes how close you like to stand near people, how you sleep, how you treat your family, WHO IS your family.

It shapes what are sins, what is funny, whether arriving on time is important or not.

Somebody can learn to be aware of another culture and worldview, such as in a multi-ethnic marriage. They can pass through stages of clashing, acceptance and even, to a certain degree, adoption/assimilation.

But consider all those things above and many, many more core beliefs/perspectives, it's certainly not as simple as just 'deciding' to do it.

andrew brown said...

does answer my questions thanks :)

A. J. Chesswas said...


Lynne said...

Thanks Sharyn, I found that distinction really halpful and fall-into-place-ish. In a Oh Yeah sort of way.
(And congrats, you clever thing!)

Sharyn said...

Hmmm yes it is interesting isn't it!? Sociology is all about 'challenging the taken for granted' and, although sometimes that is uncomfortable, it's terribly interesting.

Iain and Andrew:
Ethnicity is of course as important and 'shaping' as Iain pointed out...however, there are elements of ethnicity that are choice. We may choose to emphasis certian 'ethnicities' (as most people come from multi-ethnic backgrounds) or cover others, depending on what situation we are in. This is kind of about the ethnic resources thing - that we inherit certian ethnic resources (by virtue of our family or situation) and we can choose to tap into them or not. So, in one sense ethnicity is like 'an old shirt'!

Now, the key thing is that this is taking about how ethnicity IS not how it SHOULD maybe you don't like it, but this is how people do use and construct their ethnicities....

Iain said...

My Cultural Anthropology Lecturer is a cool guy, he always has interesting stories from his time in Uganda.

He was working with an African national and another white Missionary this one time. The national did something to annoy the Missionary and so the Missionary got quite angry and yelled at the national.

It might be interesting to note that while Westerners go by the phrase, "I think therefore I am", Africans go by the phrase, "I am because we are."

Social offences such as anger are the worst kind in African society, traditionally speaking.

The African was aghast with the Missionary who got angry, and confided in my Lecturer, "he can't be a Christian if he gets angry like that."

The Missionary lost all credibility because of the one angry outburst.

Worldview / Ethnicity is a wondrous thing.

A. J. Chesswas said...