Discourse Theory and The Meaning of “Ethnicity” in Political Science (VIDEO)

Posted on | maart 1, 2012 | No Comments

DeSales Affigne (1997, p. 3) writes:’ [to explain the politics in America] we [need] to endorse multidisciplinary approaches’. The use of multi-disciplinary analyses to explain the role and the place of ethnicity in the Surinamese political landscape has up to now failed to push scholarly exercise on ethno-politics in Suriname beyond the description of the main ethnic political protagonists, anecdotal imagery and allegories about racial harmony and ethnic fraternization or as it is called in Suriname, Verbroedering (see for example: Dew 1978; Breeveld 2000; St Hilaire 2001 et al.). The majority of scholarly literature dealing with the Surinamese political system assumes ethnicity as an intricate part of social and political landscape, without actually analyzing its empirics, ascribing to certain logic. One of the major problems of the so called ascription methodology used by social scientist writing on transitional and developing societies such as Suriname is in the first place its failure to dissolve the causal relationship between historical complexities and the contemporary, and in the second place, its consistent quest to ‘match’ assumptions with models that perhaps will take shape in the future (Giddens 1971, p.246; Larrain 1989). For example Dew (1978; p. 199; ) persisted to argue that Surinamese style consensus equates the theoretical conception of ‘verzuiling as positioned by Lijphart (1968), despite argumentation to the contrary, presented by for example, Lijphart (1977).( note: see also Breeveld 2000).

Extensive empirical research done on the Surinamese style consensus demonstrates that inter-ethnic political co-operation in Suriname is confounded on exclusion and particularism, findings corresponding with seminal literature on the role of ethnicity in politics that typically reasons from the premise of ‘we -against-them’ antimonies that theorize race as tool for the building of political frontiers (Adama 2006, 2008). Norval (2000, p. 225) eloquently argues:

‘the general logic of individuation can and ought to be distinguished from the formation of political frontiers and the constitution of antagonistic forms of identity’.

Norval (ibid.) actually emphasizes the manner in which political frontiers are used to create by calling them ‘imagined identities’, or ‘we-against-them alliances’ as the basis for political legitimization (see also: Reilly 2003, p.3). Political science recognizes in fact, does not contest the building of antagonisms and friend-enemy dichotomies, because power in such instances can only come to fruition through the kindling of conflicting interests. Thus from the perspective of political science, frontier formation is a ubiquitous phenomenon, present in every political arena in every society (Simmel 1955; Lipset & Rokkan 1967, p. 94). The question that interests political science is when existing antagonisms become polarizing and conflicting. When are they polarizing, divisive and disintegrative to the extent that they invoke feelings of repulsion and hatred, henceforth violence? Political sociologists exemplified by Rokkan (1966) and Sartori (1968) argue that political parties merely reflect the political expressions of underlying social cleavages. Extrapolating, parties reflect the public will and provide a crucial linkage between citizenry and the state, in fact, they make conflicting interests more explicit (Lipset& Rokkan 1967, p. 92; Mair 1990, p.2). The problem is that Lipset & Rokkan (ibid) and Mair’s (ibid) hypotheses do not fit the model of the ethnically divided society in the throes of transition, change and transformation. Transitional societies typically deal with different social, political and historical complexities, complexities that need a different scholarly approach, based on knowledge of how ethnic conflict is expressed politically. Horowitz (1985) and Reilly (2003 p. 3) write that aspiring politicians in ethnically divided societies have a strong incentive to mobilize along ethnic lines (see also: Chandra 2004). Rival parties then tend to respond in kind, triggering a back and forth of responses to outbid the rival, a pattern of communication that pushes the parties to the fringes of the political continuum a proclivity that limits possible channels of dialogue and hampers equilibration of the political arena (Reilly 2003, p. 3; Chandra 2004, p. ).
What is the value of ethnicity as expression mechanism for political parties? Before answering that question, it is important to first ponder on the meaning of ethnicity and (ethnic) identity for political science.

Bayart (1996, p.8) cites Max Weber to underpin his argument that identities are self – created, while Kaufmann (2008) theorizes that political identities are based on optical metaphors. Bayart (ibid) and Kaufmann (ibid) both premise that ethnic identities derive their basis from either anthropology, psychology or primordialist- instrumentalist antinomies. The contrast between both premises is that Kaufmann (ibid, p. 5-6) clearly distinguishes between ideologies and identities, stipulating that in some cases ideology is used to showcase identity while simultaneously, attributing its symbolic resource; Bayart (ibid p.9) attributes a culturally strong influence on politics:

‘Understanding a social, economic or political phenomenon amounts to deciphering its cultural reason (….) its culture that constitutes utility’.

How does political science value the primordialist- instrumentalist antimony? How does this antimony fit into the quintessential conception of political science, which is power? Can one argue that racial origin, languages and culture or legacies from the old motherland, can provide any basis for getting and keeping political power? Is the method of a given political leader who uses ethnic rhetoric to draw support from his own ethnic category either primordialist or instrumentalist? Can this method be explained as the ‘tightening of the community as reassuring mechanism’ (Norval 2000, p.226)? Horowitz (1985, p.13) writes ‘In divided societies, ethnic conflict is at the center of politics.. (and)… virtually all political events have ethnic consequences’.

Oomen’ s (1997, p.13-19) conception of ethnification, presumes that political leaders in ethnically divided societies use a combination of both primordial symbols and sophisticated psychology as instruments to amalgamate a political support basis, which then becomes a tool to acquire and legitimize power. Norval (1996, p. 60) argues that ethnic politics is based on imagined communities

‘that cover over deeper, underlying objectives, objectives which might be revealed by drawing away the veil of manipulation which they seem to construct’.

In fact both Oommen (ibid) and Norval (ibid) suggest that certain racial and cultural territories foster ethnification of the political landscape or as Reilly (2003, p.3) puts it in more specific terms:

…in ethnically divided and multi-ethnic societies, political parties tend to form around ethnic allegiances, (…) particularly (….) [when] ethnic groups are not heterogeneously dispersed throughout the country.

The contention therefore is that political leaders have a stake in using ethno- geographical realities to set up a support market, a contention that automatically implicates the deciphering of ethnicity as political imaginary (to get the power). Taking this reasoning a step further, would mean stumbling upon a mishmash of both subjective and objective criteria of what actually constitutes ethnic politics, between that what is ascribed as ethnic politics and that what described as ethnic politics. Trapping into this specific angle can be avoided by clearly distinguishing between the subjective, symbols, notions, ideas, values and norms and the objective, and between the empirical, how does ethnicity becomes an instrument to get and keep political power.
AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
URL: http://natascha23.blogspot.com
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@] yahoo.com


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