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How Ethnic Identities Influence Social Behaviour

Ethnic identity and its role in the modern world.

An ethnic group is a group of people whose members identify with each other, through a common heritage, often consisting of a common language, a common culture and an ideology that stresses common ancestry.Within the social sciences, however, the usage has become more generalized to all human groups that explicitly regard themselves and are regarded by others as culturally distinctive.Among the first to bring the term “ethnic group” into social studies was Max Weber, who defined it as:Those human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration.Ethnicity shapes our self-concept and plays a role in shaping our self-esteem, our attitudes and behavior towards our own and other groups, as well as the way we are evaluated by others.Therefore more simply ethnicity is fundamentally about symbolism, group cohesion and personal identity. Thus, ethnicity is a cultural process used by individuals so as to affiliate themselves with some larger cultural group.

Though socially and discursively constructed, ‘ethnicity’ continues to be a key basis of social   division,inequality and identification within British society. Not only do many disparate ethnic minority groups continue to identify along ethnic and racial lines, but ethnicity and race continue to shape a variety of outcomes, such as employment, educational attainment, and senses of ‘belonging’. In this sense, ‘race’ and the recognition of difference, continues to matter.Ethnicity influences social behaviour to a large extent.There are several reasons for this.First, because humans are social animals and have an inbuilt desire to conform. Second, humans have an evolutionary predisposition to behave in the manner that has been most successful in whatever society we are born in.And finally although there are always exceptions to the observation, peer/parental pressure that is related to ethnicity play an important role in self development.

How ethnic identity comes around is explained in the following paragraph briefly.Functionalists say that ethnic differentiation reduces consensus,increases the chances of conflict, and threatens the equilibrium of a society, but it also promotes group formation and cohesion, functions as a safety valve through scapegoating, and helps maintain a democratic order.From a Marxist perspective ethnic conflict is seen in terms of political and economic power relationships.Ethnic inequality is viewed ultimately as a consequence of historical domination of one society by another.The argument is that when one ethnic group succeeds in conquering another,those colonised come to be looked upon and treated as inferiors.Interactionists say that the world we experience is socially constructed. In this view, ethnic groups are seen as products of social interaction. Ethnicity arises when communication channels between groups are limited and the different groups develop different systems of meanings.Many sociologist are also of the view that people from Asia and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds in the UK form an underclass, i.e a group of people denied access to the better jobs who are forced into poorly paid employment or unemployment and who have very much worse life chances than the rest of the population.

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