Does Primordialism Best Explain the Formation of Identity Groups?

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Courtney Rogers
Comparative Politics
Writing Assignment #1
February 12, 12

Do you agree with the following statements?

The theory of primordialism best explains the formation of all identity groups (based on nation, race, ethnicity, or religion) or identity politics (groups tied to a nation, race, ethnicity, or religion and who get involved in politics in order to achieve certain goals for one’s identity group) within countries. Furthermore, identity groups within a country always engage in violence with each other on a grand scale and demand the partitioning of a country (a new country forming out of a larger country in order to satisfy the demands of a group).

Identities and identity groups have been around since the beginning of time and there has been constant debate as to how and why these groups are formed. Although we know that humans are social beings who tend to create relationships, we struggle to determine how and why these relationships are formed. More importantly, we are going to focus on how do we decide who should be in our identity group or to which group we wish to belong to? Do we decide based on our culture, as primordialism would say? Do we join groups simply because it makes sense when it comes to getting the work done as described in the rational-theory? Or is it that we favor some and create a group to receive that reciprocal feeling back? In the statement above the author assumes that primordialism is the best theory in explaining the formation of identity groups and therefore violence and partitioning a country is the only way to solve conflicts between any two identity groups. As we compare opinions we will see that not only is primordialism not the best theory in explaining the formation of identity groups but also violence and partitioning enemy lines it not the only solution for conflicting groups.

Primordialism refers to the belief that “identity groups are in some sense ‘natural’ or God given, that they have existed since ‘time immemorial’ and that they can be defined unambiguously by such clear criteria such as kinship, language, culture, or phenotype” (DO, 147). Therefore primordialism believes that identity groups are created through cultural identities, most of which are unchangeable. Although this theory is the oldest approach to explaining identity groups, it is still very relevant today. Samuel Huntington explains how primordialism is the best explanation for identity groups in “The Clash of Civilizations”. Although he looks at identity groups as groups of people who will inevitably conflict with groups unlike themselves, he attributes these differences to be purely cultural. Huntington lists six reasons as to why these groups are formed and why they will clash with different identity groups around the world. Some of these reasons include economic identities, cultural characteristics being immutable, and the world becoming a smaller place. All of these factors coincide with Huntington’s belief that religion is a cultural characteristic that is of the utmost importance to people all around the world. The 2009 Gallup pole supports this: “religion continues to play an important role in many people’s lives worldwide” (Gallup, 1). Although Huntington provides a valid argument that is quite compelling, Habyarimana provides a more realistic approach to the formation of identity groups in “Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable?” Habyarimana argues against Jerry Muller in his article “Is Ethnic Conflict Inevitable?” by explaining how ethnic conflicts and identity groups are not as pervasive as he has previously stated. Habyarimana believes that people from different cultures can not only live together without killing one another, but they can form their own identity groups. Habyarimana gives credit to primordialism but points to studies that have proven that although people from the same cultural usually work with one another, it is not their cultural aspects that always formulate...
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