Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

Theories of Ethnicity: A Classical Reader

Werner Sollors, Henry B. Cabot and Anne M. Cabot (editors)
Macmillan: Basingstoke
0 333 64296 1
£17.99 (pb)
liii + 502 pp.

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The question of ethnicity has become an issue of intense theoretical and political debate in recent times. Traditionally ethnicity and the study of ethnic boundaries has played a major role in some disciplines, such as anthropology and to a lesser extent sociology. Yet it is no exaggeration to say that in recent years social theorists and researchers of various hues and from a range of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences have become preoccupied by the need to develop a better understanding of the processes of ethnic identification. This renewal of interest in the study of ethnicity has been reflected in the burgeoning literature that seeks to explore in one way or another aspects of ethnic identity from either a theor etical perspective or in relation to specific historical situations.

Werner Sollors' new reader can best be understood as a product of this flowering of interest in ethnicity. Sollors has already produced an influential collection of papers on The Invention of Ethnicity, focusing specifically on contemporary debates about ethnicity in the USA. This new reader has a markedly different focus, since Sollors' main preoccupation here is to highlight the terms of debate that emerged from some of the main classical writings on ethnicity. The main classical readings include d will come as no surprise to those familiar with the literature on ethnicity, and range from Simmel and Weber to Park Lloyd Warner. In addition, however, Sollors has included extracts from some less well known American texts from the earlier part of this century, and this adds to the value of the reader as a whole. Another group of texts included includes some of the more influential anthropological writings in this field, including extracts from Mead, Barth, Cohen and Hannerz. The work of Barth and Hann erz has been particularly influential in some recent debates about ethnicity and it is therefore useful to see them included here. It is also worth mentioning that included here are an extract from Merton's classic study of 'insiders and outsiders' and Ga ns's study of 'symbolic ethnicity'.

The main appeal of this volume is that it provides students with an easily available collection of classical texts on ethnicity. It is likely to establish itself as a useful reference source for those who are not able to easily access the original classic al sources. But it needs to be said that it is by no means a good guide to the nature of more recent debates about ethnicity. Its very focus on 'classical' texts means that we get little coverage of certain themes. Although Sollors includes a discussion o f the interface between race and ethnicity in his own introductory essay there is surprisingly little coverage of this aspect of ethnicity in the volume as a whole. It would also have been good to see at least some acknowledgment of the literature on new ethnicities or the research on ethnicity influenced by cultural studies. In addition the choice of texts is heavily biased towards authors whose work has been influential in the United States, and as a result there is insufficient coverage of debates in o ther parts of the world. These gaps are not a problem in themselves, given the focus of this volume, but I am doubtful as to whether students do get a really rounded overview of this field from this reader on its own. It is important therefore to make sur e that this volume is used for didactic purposes as one of a number of texts rather than as the only text.

Taking these points into account, it is important to say that this is a useful addition to the existing literature in this field. There are some interesting pieces in this collection and it serves the useful function of bringing under one cover texts that have been published in a diverse range of books and journals. For this reason alone it can be highly recommended.

John Solomos
University of Southampton

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998