Brubaker 2002

From Projecting Power

Main Argument: Ethnicity should not be seen in terms of groups; rather, we must re-examine our concept of ethnicity. Instead of thinking of ethnicity, race, and nation as tangible, we should instead think of them as relational and dynamic, with real consequences independent of their actual existence. Furthermore, we must think of groupness as an event, and distinguish between groups and categories–this distinction allows us to see group-making as a project with strategies for its perpetuation.

Beyond groupism[edit]

  • How to understand ethnic conflict not as conflict between ethnic groups?
  • Eight basic points and their implications; final section considers one empirical case

Rethinking ethnicity[edit]

  • We need to rethink what we mean by ethnicity itself
    • Not just agreeing on a definition, but critically examining how we conceptualize it
  • Ethnicity, race, and nation should not be thought of as substantive, concrete things, but as relational and dynamic
    • BruBaker argues that we should be not seeing the concept of ethnicity as something

rational, it does not come from preexisting or “established” groups but rather from social interactions that can even keep redefining since there are no fixed boundaries becuase we are constantly changing.

    • We need to think of them in terms of their institutions, “cognitive schemas,” events, political projects, etc.–in other words, as processes
    • Our basic analytical category is not the group but groupness

The reality of ethnicity[edit]

  • Thinking of ethnicity, race, and nationhood as processes is simply another way of capturing their reality
  • Their reality is not dependent on their existence–racial categorization, ideologies, and ways of thinking are all real and have real consequences, even if race is not real

Groupness as event[edit]

  • Treating groupness as “variable and contingent” allows us to note moments of extreme cohesion
  • Groupness may or may not happen, but it is not a given
    • Thinking of instances where it doesn’t happen allows us to steer away from bias towards studying instances of high groupness
    • Eliminating this bias can help us avoid overstating how common ethnic conflict and violence are, as well as explain why efforts at mobilization fail

Groups and categories[edit]

  • Groups and categories are not the same
    • Groups are a bounded collectivity with a sense of identity and ability to mobilize
    • Categories are at most a potential basis for groupness
  • Distinguishing between groups and categories allows us to examine their relationship
    • We can analyze how people and institutions operate within and utilize categories
    • We can also study how categories are formed and entrenched in government
  • Categories help us envision ethnicity without groups

Group-making as project[edit]

  • Treating groupness as variable and distinguishing between groups and categories allow us to see group-making as a social, cultural, and political project
    • Aimed at turning categories into groups or increasing groupness
    • i.e. Adopting a politique du pire to further crystallize the group through violence
  • While existing cultural structures and ways of thinking due to historical or political action constrain group-making, there are still many strategies for group-making
    • Dramatic events can serve to galvanize a group


In conclusion, BruBaker’s "Ethnicity without Groups" aims to persuade us in challenging the fixed conceptualization of ethnicity and to be conscious of its random nature. It dismantles the fixed notion we had by giving us a new view of the concept of ethnicity focusing on its complex and interesting structure as it relates to different situations.