‘National study. To begin, it seems that ‘ethnic

identity is stronger when it is based on ethnic identity.’ Discuss.



What is nationalism?

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–   A belief in
an ‘imagined community’ with shared culture, history, and common goals (Anderson, 1991)

Kinship and attachment to this imagined community (the nation)


Cornell’s (1996) model of identity (see also Cornell and Hartmann 2007), groups
develop ties based on perceived collective interests, social institutions, and
shared norms, which both shape “what it is people within a particular
boundary share” and “constitute alternative potential bases of group
cohesion and action” (Cornell 1996:269-70). Here, the social organization
of identity (including identity content) shapes how people view the world and
provides a foundation for individual and collective behavior.


Salih and Markakis1
particularly connect ethnicity and nationalism by theorising ethnic identity as an influence
which takes on greater salience in a state vacuum. In contexts where states
collapse, or power distribution structures are unequal, conflict over resources
becomes a social conflict. So when the state fails to meet the needs of
citizens, its power and ideology is discredited. Other power distribution
models might contend (e.g. religion and democratisation, these have been major
influences in Egypt recently for example) but often ethnic identity will step
up as a power distribution model as well.


understand this question fully, we must first examine the other causes of
national identity. Frederick Solt found that the primary driver of nationalism
was economic inequality, showing a clear correlation between the two2.

The second most important factor in shaping national pride and emotional
attachment to the country (which has been cited by many as the most important
factor) was that of ‘war guilt’, namely the ‘decades of antinationalist
pressure’ which followed the Second World War in Axis countries. Other factors
which presented a strong influence on both national pride and emotional
attachment to the country were age, the presence of international conflict, and
whether the individual was married or not. However, Solt’s results clearly
showed that there was no correlation between ethnic diversity and either
national pride and emotional attachment to one’s country. Both results yielded
correlations that were within the margin of error3.

However, I am critical of this study. To begin, it seems that ‘ethnic diversity’
is not a perfect measure to understand whether ethnic identity strengthens national
identity. Countries with a large ethnic minority population may strengthen the
nationalism of the ethnic majority, which weakening that of the minority, thus
cancelling out the effect. Furthermore, it only examines 78 countries, many of
which are European, and this model seems not to be applicable to the rest of
the world. I contrasted this paper with Elliott Green’s paper examining how
ethnic and national pride shifted based on the leadership of Sub-Saharan
African nations. He argues that one of the key determinants of national
identification is whether or not the ethnic group that an individual belongs to
is in power. He gives the example of Uganda to show that, when the majority
ethnic group is in power, members of this group identify more with the nation,
but when it is not, members actually identify more with their ethnic group, to
the extent that the majority ethnic group being in power ‘adds on average 12%
to the percentage of people who identify with the nation’4.

Obviously, this shows a disconnect between the links of ethnic and national
identity in the West and Africa.

Nationalism in the West is very different to that of nationalism in states in
the more developing world. European countries have been evolving in their
statehood for thousands of years, enabling a stronger sense of civic
nationalism to overcome the ethnic nationalism we often see in newer
democracies. A clear example of this process took place in France as documented
extensively by Eugen Weber5,
who explained that economic growth, the extension of public services and
military conscription all led to the incorporation of ethno-linguistic
minorities into the French nation during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This
is simply not the case in countries such as Uganda, which have been fully
independent for only around 50 years. Furthermore, rather than ethno-linguistic
minorities being assimilated into the population over a period of hundreds of
years, this has been essentially impossible in many post-colonial states. Many
of the cultural cores of the national identity, such as language and religion,
derive not from the majority ethnic group, but instead from the former colonial
ruler. Not only do the majority of African countries have Christianity as their
majority religion, and a majority continue to use the language of their ex
colonial states as their official language, but the way that these countries’
borders have evolved over time has not been organically expanding and
assimilating the population over time such as in European history, but instead through
arbitrary colonial borders drawn in the last 150 years. In essence, this gives many
African countries a weak civic identity to be attached to, forcing them to
instead resort to ethnic nationalism.


To divert this essay away from purely African views of
nationalism and ethnicity, we can also focus on how the West has strong links
between the two. The 2013/14 ‘taking part’ survey that was done
throughout the United Kingdom found that ethnic minorities and white
participants gave significantly different answers to the question “What, if
anything, makes you most proud of Britain?”. White people were almost twice as
likely to cite British history, suggesting more of a focus on the colonial
past. However, ethnic minorities were much more likely to cite more
traditionally civic nationalist concepts such as the British Monarchy, legal
system, and education. This would imply that while ethnic identity can
influence nationalism, it does not ‘strengthen’ it as such, but merely divert
support for certain aspects of the national identity into less civic
nationalistic ideas. This discussion can be put into the context of modern politics,
with the rise of nationalist populism in the West. When examining the voters of
far right nationalist candidates, studies have consistently found a strong
correlation between support for these candidates and levels of racial
resentment. One paper found that voters’ levels of racial
resentment correlated much more closely with support for Donald Trump as
President in 2016 than economic dissatisfaction after controlling for factors
like partisanship and political ideology6.

Perhaps more significantly, another study found that if people who strongly
identified as white were told that nonwhite groups will outnumber white people
in 2042, they became more likely to support Trump7.

This would suggest that those with a strong connection to an ethnic identity
will strengthen their support for nationalistic candidates when they see their
ethnicity as being ‘under attack’, contributing to the wave of nationalism we
see in the West today.


Despite the fact that the majority ethnic group may strengthen
its national identity based on ethnic identity, this does not seem to be the
case for ethnic minorities.

De le Garza found that Mexican-Americans who were strongly attached to their
ethnic heritage were no less nationalistic than Mexican-Americans with weak
ethnic attachments8. Furthermore,
their data showed virtually no relationship between the strength of this ethnic
identity and core American values such as individualism9.




We must also consider sub-state nationalism, which while
often discussed in the context of ethnicity and its effect on nationalism, is
very rarely considered when discussing the views of ethnic minorities within
these sub-states. Focusing specifically on Scotland, there is a large body of research
that has shown a strong support for Scottish identity among ethnic minority
One study has said that ‘multiculturalism and sub-state nationalism have not
merely coexisted but actually interacted positively within Scotland’. Kymlicka argues that from the multinational
perspective this reflects successful integration in that ethnic minorities
exhibit the same mixture of political-constitutional positions as people in
Scotland more generally: that is (British) unionist, devolutionist and
secessionist11. This
is less the case in Wales, perhaps because of the importance of language and
culture in Welsh identity making it harder for ethnic minority immigrants to
properly connect to the national identity.


return to Solt’s research, while I may have somewhat disagreed with the overall
conclusion of his paper, it is still valuable for understanding how ethnic
identity arises and influences national identity to begin with. We must realise
that national and ethnic identity is fundamentally interlinked, and nationalism
is not simply a dependent variable in this equation. Members of majority ethnic
groups who have strong nationalist pride can be ‘nudged’ into xenophobic and
racist views far more easily than most12,
reinforcing their ethnic identity. These leads Solt to state that ‘by leading
to the creation of more national pride, higher levels of inequality produce
environments favorable to those who would inflame ethnic animosities.’13  Furthermore, the very concepts of both
national and ethnic identity are too complex to simply draw a line between the
two. We have found that in the West, the majority ethnic group seems far more susceptible
to being pushed towards nationalism by ethnic identity, and that minority
ethnic groups seem to focus more on civil nationalism and sub-state nationalism
in certain environments. But these rules do not necessarily apply to every
Western country, and certainly don’t apply to post-colonial nations. What constitutes
nationalism and the reasons for its support are far too varied and complex
across states and sub-states to simply state that ethnic identity strengthens

1 M.

Salih, J. Markakis 1998 “Ethnicity and the State in Eastern Africa” The Nordic
Africa Institute

2 Solt, Frederick. 2011.

“Diversionary Nationalism: Economic Inequality and the Formation of National
Pride.” The Journal of Politics 73(03): 821–830.


4 Green, Elliott D. 2017 “Ethnicity,
national identity and the state: Evidence from sub-Saharan Africa” British
Journal of Political Science

5 The Modernization of Rural
France, 1870-1914 EUGEN WEBER.

6 Explaining White Polarization
in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism Brian F.


The threat of increasing diversity: Why many White Americans
support Trump in the 2016 presidential election Brenda Major, Alison Blodorn, GregoryMajor
Blascovich Group Processes & Intergroup Relations First Published October 20, 2016

8 de la Garza, R.O., Falcon,
A., & Garcia, F.C. (1996). Will the real Americans please stand up: Anglo
and Mexican-American support of core American political values. American
Journal of Political Science, 40, 335-351.

9 Ibid.


10 Hussain, A., and W. Miller. 2006. Multicultural
Nationalism: Islamophobia, Anglophobia, and Devolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


11 Kymlicka, W. 2011. “Multicultural Citizenship within Multination States.” Ethnicities 11 (3): 281–302. doi: 10.1177/1468796811407813

Li, Qiong, and Marilynn B. Brewer. “What
Does It Mean to Be an American? Patriotism, Nationalism, and American Identity
after 9/11.” Political
Psychology 25, no. 5 (2004): 727-39.

13 Solt, Frederick. 2011.

“Diversionary Nationalism: Economic Inequality and the Formation of National
Pride.” The Journal of Politics 73(03): 821–830.