Beyond ethnicity

Reflections on Beyond the ethnic lens: Locality, globality and born again incorporation by Nina Glick-Schiller, Ayse Caglar and Thaddeus C. Guldbrandsen, American Ethnologist, volume 33, number 4, November 2006.

Nina Glick-Schiller is a bit of a guru in my little piece of the academic world. She’s done a lot of very good research around transnationalism (basically relationships and communities that extend across national boundaries).

I liked the way this article started. Glick-Schiller et al. set out to do away with what they call the ‘ethnic lens’ of lots of research on migration:

Research on migrant settlement has focussed on bounded ethnic populations with a shared identity and mode of incorporation.

Whereas they set out to do something a little bit different:

The central concern of this article is to develop a conceptual framework for the study of migration, settlement, and transborder connection that is not dependent on the ethnic group as either the unit of analysis or sole object of study. In its place, we suggest an ethnographic approach to locality

I like this. I can see how easy it is for each of us – but especially researchers – to reinforce social categories by assuming they already exist and framing our conversation/research around predefined groups. So, I’ve started wondering if it would be more productive to work with churches that bill themselves as ‘multicultural’ or ‘international’. Or just to pick a diverse suburb/locality in Melbourne and do my best to work with all the churches in that area.

Although the research contains clear indications that many worshippers emphasize a community in Christ without an ethnic suffix, scholars persist in categorizing the worshippers by their ethnicity.

Despite the fact that my experience in Australia has been that ethnicity and congregational life can be pretty deeply entwined, I want to work hard not to enter the field with assumptions about people’s ethnic or national identity.


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