Synopsis of ASEN Conference

ASEN Conference, in association with the British Academy and ESRC

Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities: Conceptualising Dominant Ethnicity

Today’s nations are experiencing an unprecedented degree of pressure from the forces of globalisation. In particular, the spread of liberal rights discourse since the 1960s has mounted an increasing challenge to the model of ethno-national congruence. Nations, nearly all of which were formed on the basis of a dominant, ‘core’ ethnic group, are thus facing pressure to shift their self-definitions from ‘ethnic’ to ‘civic’ criteria and to be open to multicultural influence. Meanwhile, norms of national self-determination are undermining the traditional link between dominant ethnic groups and ‘their’ nation-state. On the other hand, these same norms – combined with the end of the cold war – have prompted groups with claims to indigenousness to demand ethnic dominance in ‘their’ homeland region. Improvements in technologies of surveillance and control also allow for the more effective exercise of ethnic dominance within multi-ethnic states. Is dominant ethnicity resurgent or in abeyance? This is one of the critical questions that will be probed by our speakers with reference to a worldwide set of cases.

The conference begins with an introduction by conference host Eric Kaufmann which sets out the problematic to be explored, while Prof. Anthony Smith expands upon the linkage between dominant ethnies and ‘their’ nations. This introduction is followed by three sessions. The first session considers instances where dominant ethnicity appears to be resurgent or to have consolidated itself. This session will examine how dominant ethnic groups mobilize, how they come to control a political system as well as the ways in which such communities narrate their ethno-history and adapt group myths and symbols to changing circumstances. Cases as diverse as India, Iraq, Mexico and Switzerland will be used to highlight these processes.

The second session will address the decline of dominant ethnicity, past and present. In the past, conquest was the principal mode by which dominant ethnic groups lost power. Their attempts to narrate this loss and come to grips with it politically form one axis of concern. Another examines the impact of western (global?) liberalism and the fragmentation of modern society on dominant ethnicity in western Europe and its settler societies. We shall see that dominant ethnic decline can occur even in zones that are experiencing nationalist revival. But is dominant ethnicity really in decline, or merely in translation – and why? These questions will be addressed with reference to Britain, Quebec, the United States, India and elsewhere.

Our final session considers a part of the world where questions of dominant ethnicity are deeply implicated in nationalist conflict: Israel. Israel functions here as a prism through which we can examine the cross-pressures of cosmopolitan liberalism – in the guise of post-Zionism – and resurgent dominant-group ethnicity, represented by Judaization.

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