Ethnic Boundary Making: Institutions, Power, Networks by Andreas Wimmer.

Author:Hoff, Samuel B.
Position:Book review

Wimmer, Andreas. Ethnic Boundary Making: Institutions, Power, Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. vii + 293 pages. Paperback, $22.95.

Sociologist Andreas Wimmer continues his research on nationalism and ethnic conflict in this text, of which several chapters are based on previous publications. Tapping sociological approaches to ethnicity, comparative studies of ethnic boundaries, a case study of ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Switzerland, and empirical analysis of national and international data sets, the author challenges common assumptions about how ethnicity and culture contribute to formation and revision of boundaries.

Wimmer presents the alternative views of ethnicity in sociological literature. On the one hand, the eighteenth-century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder envisioned the world as "made up of peoples each distinguished by a unique culture, held together by communitarian solidarity, and bound by shared identity" (p. 16). On the other hand are deviations from the Herder conception, such as the social anthropologist Fredrik Barth's notion that ethnic divisions ensue from maintaining a boundary irrespective of cultural differences. For those following this latter situationalist school, ethnic identities are viewed as relational rather than mutually exclusive. Wimmer recommends utilizing individuals, localities, class, and institutional fields to examine ethnic group formation.

Chapter three presents strategies that may be pursued in ethnic boundary making and identifies means of boundary making. For instance, actors may attempt to revise a boundary to a more inclusive or less inclusive level, labeled expansion and contraction, respectively. Another model focuses on nation building to incorporate or amalgamate ethnic groups. Further, transvaluation strategies endeavor to change the normative principles of stratified ethnic systems. Finally, positional strategies highlight individual or collective movement within a hierarchical system of ethnic categories. The means of making boundaries include the use of symbols, discrimination, mobilization, and coercion.

In Chapter four, Wimmer develops a theoretical framework for assessing ethnic boundaries. He claims that it differs from other approaches in several ways. First, his framework "does not follow the static logic of standard typologies in comparative ethnicity" (p. 111). Second, his multilevel process theory diverges from mainstream social science in that it...

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