Ethnicity and Everyday Life (New Sociology) (New Sociology)

Karner, Christian
Routledge, London
0415370663 (pb)

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Cover of book The author's basic intent in this book is to emphasize the urgent need for a sociological grasp of everyday ethnicity in the contemporary world. Karner's view of ethnicity is that it is a cultural group that is seen by itself and seen by others as distinct from other groups. Everyday life refers to experiences most people encounter in their daily life- the repeated, familiar and often daily events, which are seen as normal. Ethnicity in everyday life is interdisciplinary in nature, involving the application of not only sociology, but also anthropology and history, as well as literature and investigative journalism. The author uses a number of case studies to pinpoint the relationship of ethnicity and everyday life.

The identities of Gypsies are the product of external classification and surveillance, control and exclusion. Their internal group identification is based on culturally shared ideas, values and practices. There is, however, no single Gypsy culture. Historical context and local circumstances have made and do make a great impact on its local forms. Individual Gypsy members are first of all individuals, involved in the negotiation of their cultural traditions.

Identities of British South Asians are influenced, but not determined, by their cultural and ethnic traditions, nor by those of the dominant society in which they reside. Identities are continually influenced by their input into their social position, in the context and under the influence of historical change and ideology. Each South Asian identity is thus complex and diverse, affected by ongoing negotiation within South Asian cultures, and those of the dominant society.

Karner notes the coexistence in Austria of both exclusivist and assimilationist strategies. The crucial role of everyday networking is the ongoing creation of diverse groups coexisting within the dominant ethnic majority. The dominant structures of action and social definition are therefore subject to continual debate and transformation.

In the post-Cold War world of global society dominated by consumerism and multinational corporations, there is a terrible tension and hostility toward those forced to migrate, both in their original homelands, and also in their destination. Hostile reactions of host societies by their ethnic majorities stems from fear and uncertainty, for instance in Western Europe, where the welfare state has in many areas been dismantled. Fears and uncertainties in this region is due to the increasing perception of risk by many in ethnic majorities. At the same time, there are members of ethnic majorities having compassion and concern for those seeking asylum.

The author relates ethnicity and everyday life in the tradition of the classic theorists. Karner follows the approach used by Thomas and Znaniecki in The Polish Peasant, linking ethnic influences with individual creativity in coping with change as immigrants move from rural Poland to urban Chicago. These authors note the great influences differentially affecting immigrants, as they are assisted by the Polish Church, work experiences, and interaction with their new environment. Karner also infers the approach of George Herbert Mead, stressing the role of the significant other and the generalized other, the I and the me. Simmel's concept of the stranger is applied as well. The author thus reinforces and adds to the crucial insight of these Symbolic Interaction theorists. Karner's conclusion, stressed in his Introduction and reaffirmed throughout this book, provides and emphasis sorely needed in a world ridden by conflict between and within ethnic groups and societies: the urgent need to respect and recognize as well as affirm the needs of others, both those different from as well as those similar to oneself. He points us to the example of Gilbert's book, The Righteous. This author notes how a core of brave individuals risked their lives in order to save Jews from extermination during World War II. The great challenge of our world is therefore to build a world characterized by solidarity, based on an ongoing mutual respect and concern for all. Here indeed is a serious challenge for all people, at all times and in all places.

William Cross
Illinois College