Ethnogenesis (From Greek: "ethnos" (polytonic|ἔθνος, group of people, nation) and "genesis" (polytonic|γένεσις, a coming into being)) is the process by which a group of human beings comes to be understood or to understand themselves as ethnically distinct from the wider social landscape from which their grouping emerges. By self-reinvention, ethnic groups are "present at their own creation", in the phrase of E. P. Thompson, setting traditional teleological nation-building narratives, once uncritically accepted as history, into the framework of legend.

Passive or active ethnogenesis

Ethnogenesis can occur passively, in the accumulation of markers of group identity forged through interaction with the physical environment, cultural and religious divisions between sections of a society, migrations and other processes, for which ethnic subdivision is an unintended outcome. It can occur actively, as persons deliberately and directly 'engineer' separate identities in order to attempt to solve a political problem - the preservation or imposition of certain cultural values, power relations, etc. Since the late eighteenth century such attempts have often been related to language revival or creation of a new language, in what eventually becomes a "national literature". In the twentieth century, societies challenged by the obsolescence of those narratives which previously afforded them coherence can fall back on ethnic or racial narratives, as a means of maintaining or reaffirming their collective identity, or "polis".

Language revival

Language is a critical asset for authenticating ethnic identities. The process of reviving an antique ethnic identity often poses an immediate language challenge, as obsolescent languages will lack expressions for contemporary experiences. In Europe in the 1990s, proponents of ethnic revivals are from Celtic fringes in Wales and nationalists in the Basque country. The revival of "Occitan" language in some activist groups in the 1970s in southern France is a similar attempt.

Similarly, the Fennoman in 19th century Grand Duchy of Finland aimed to intensify the language strife and to raise the Finnish language from peasant-status to the position of an official national language. The Fennoman also founded the Finnish Party to pursue their nationalist aims. The publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, "Kalevala", was a founding stone of Finnish nationalism and ethnogenesis. Finnish was recognized as the official language of Finland only in 1892. Fennomans were opposed by the Svecomans, headed by Axel Olof Freudenthal (1836-1911). He supported continuing the use of Swedish as the official language (it had been a minority language used by the educated elite in government and administration.) In line with contemporary scientific racism theories, Freudenthal believed that Finland had two "races", one speaking Swedish and the other Finnish. The Svecomans claimed that the Swedish "Germanic race" was superior to the majority Finnish people.


The set of cultural markers that accompanies each of the major religions may become a component of distinct ethnic identities, although one does not necessarily recover the others. Furthermore, the definition may be subject to change over time (for example, in 19th Century Europe it was commonplace to conceive of Jews and Arabs as one 'ethnic' bloc, the Semites Fact|date=March 2007). Powerful distinctions between - for example - Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim ethnicities arise on the basis of the languages which followers of each religion historically favoured:fact|date=March 2008 (Latin and Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Arabic, respectively). The sources of religious differentiation are contested among sociologists and among anthropologists, as much as between the faith groups themselves.

The line between a well-defined religious sect and a discrete ethnicity cannot be sharply defined. Sects which most observers would accept as constituting a separate ethnicity usually have, as a minimum, a firm set of rules censuring those who 'marry-out' or who fail to raise their children in the proper faith. Examples might include:
* Amish, or more controversially Mennonite Christians Fact|date=March 2007.


Geographical factors can lead to both cultural and genetic isolation from wider human society. Groups which settle remote habitats and intermarry over generations will acquire distinctive cultural and genetic traits, evolving from the information brought with them and through interaction with their unique environmental circumstances. Ethnogenesis in these circumstances typically results in an identity that is less value-laden than one forged in contradistinction to competing populations. Particularly in pastoral mountain peoples, social organization tends to hinge primarily on familial identification, not a wider collective identity.

pecific case I: the Amerindian North American Southwest

With the arrival of the Spanish in southwestern North America, the Native Americans of the Jumanano cultural sphere underwent social changes partly in reaction, which spurred their ethnogenesis, Clayton Anderson has observed. [See Clayton Anderson, "The Indian Southwest, 1580-1830: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention" (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press) 1999; a broader scope is included in the articles in Jonathan D. Hill (ed.), "History, Power, and Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Americas, 1492-1992", (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press) 1996.] Ethnogenesis in the Texas plains and along the coast took two forms: a disadvantaged group identified with a stronger group and became absorbed into it, on the one hand, and on the other hand, cultural institutions were modified and in a sense reinvented. The seventeenth-century Jumanano disintegration, a collapse in part a result of deaths due to introduced diseases, was followed by their reintegration as Kiowa, Nancy Hickerson has argued. [Nancy Parrott Hickerson, "The Jumanos: Hunters and Traders of the South Plains" (University of Texas Press) 1996.] Exterior stresses that produced ethnogenetic shifts preceded the arrival of the Spanish and their horse culture: recurring cycles of drought had previously forced non-kin to band together or to disband and mobilize, and inter-tribal hostilities forced weaker groups to associate with stronger ones.

pecific case II: creation of the Moldovan identity in the Soviet Union

The separate Moldovan ethnic identification was promoted under Soviet rule when the Soviet Union set up an autonomous Moldavian ASSR in 1924, set apart from the Ukrainian SSR on part of the territory between the Dniester and Bug rivers (Transnistria); Charles King concludes [Charles King, "The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture", Hoover Institution Press, 2000:54.] that this action was in part a prop to Soviet propaganda and help for a potential communist revolution in Romania. At first a Moldovan ethnicity supported territorial claims to the then-Romanian territories of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. After the Soviet occupation of the two territories in 1940, potential re-unification claims were offset by the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The recognition of Moldovans as a separate ethnicity, distinct from Romanians, remains today a controversial subject. On one side, the Moldovan Parliament (which had a Communist majority) adopted in 2003 "The Concept on National Policy of the Republic of Moldova", which states that Moldovans and Romanians are two distinct peoples and speak two different languages, that Romanians form an ethnic minority in Moldova, and that the Republic of Moldova is the legitimate successor to the Principality of Moldavia. On the other side, Moldovans are recognized as a distinct ethnic group only by former Soviet states. For instance, in the United States, no difference is made between Romanians and Moldovans.

In the 2004 Moldovan census, of the 3,383,332 people living in Moldova, 16.5% (558,508) chose Romanian as their mother tongue, whereas 60% chose Moldovan. While 40% of all urban Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Romanian as their mother tongue, in the countryside barely one out of seven Romanian/Moldovan speakers indicated Romanian as his mother tongue. [National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova: [ Census 2004] ]

Ethnogenesis in historical scholarship

Within the historical profession, the term "ethnogenesis" has been borrowed as a neologism to explain the origins and evolution of so-called barbarian ethnic cultures, [Walter Pohl. "Aux origines d'une Europe ethnique. Transformations d'identites entre Antiquite et Moyen Age". "Annales HSS" 60 (2005): 183-208, and Pohl, "Conceptions of Ethnicity in Early Medieval Studies" "Debating the Middle Ages: Issues and Readings", ed. Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein, (Blackwell), 1998, pp 13-24.( [ On-line text] ).] stripped of its metaphoric connotations drawn from biology, of "natural" birth and growth. This view is closely associated with the Austrian historian Herwig Wolfram and his followers, who argue that such ethnicity was not a matter of genuine genetic descent ("tribes"), as in Isidore of Seville's definition of "gens", ["Gens est multitude ab uno principle orta" ("a people ["gens"] is a multitude stemming from one origin") which, significantly, continues in the original ("Etymologiae" IX.2.i) "sive ab alia natione secundum propriam collectionem distincta" ("or distinguished from another people by its proper ties").] but rather, in Reinhard Wenskus' term "Traditionskerne" ("nuclei of tradition") [Wenskus' comparative study of German ethnogeneses is "Stammesbildung und Verfassung" (Cologne and Graz) 1961.] in which small groups of aristocratic warriors carried ethnic traditions from place to place and generation to generation. Followers would coalesce or disband around these nuclei of tradition - ethnicities were freely available to anyone who might want to participate in them with no requirement for being born into a "tribe". Thus questions of race and place of origin became secondary, and proponents of ethnogenesis will often claim it is the only alternative to the sort of ethnocentric and nationalist scholarship that is commonly seen in disputes over the origins of many ancient peoples such as the Franks, Goths, and Huns. [Michael Kulikowski (2006). "Rome's Gothic Wars". Cambridge University Press. Page 53]


ee also

*Imagined communities
*Y-DNA haplogroups by ethnic groups

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