The Constructionist Theory of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

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The Constructionist Theory of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

Race, ethnicity, and culture are terms in which resonate throughout American society. Sometimes these words are often overlooked and thrown out due to their negative historical background. Joane Nagel takes the plunge in an effort to determine the true essence of ethnicity and culture in her work, “Constructing Ethnicity: Creating and Recreating Ethnic Identity and Culture.” She says the constructionist view is that “the origin, content, and form of ethnicity reflect the creative choices of individuals and groups as they define themselves and others” (Nagel, 237) This idea is far different from that of Omi and Winant’s essentialist theory that race is socially constructed theory. Nagel would argue that individuals and ethnic groups are at the core of the true meaning of ethnicity and the construction of race and ethnicity is in the hands of the individuals themselves. The question remains, what are the ethnic boundaries to which we indentify people? How can culture be used to describe ethnicity? Have we underestimated the power of social forces throughout the construction and reconstruction of ethnic identity?

The fluid nature of ethnicity as described by Nagel, makes it a constantly changing force on culture, as opposed to Omi and Winant’s idea of ethnicity as a constant that is molded once and for all by societal forces. Ethnicity is constantly being molded by people whether they are in the ethnic group or not, and there are no permanent boundaries to where ethnic identity can go. Nagel writes, “Ethnicity is created and recreated as various groups and interests put forth competing visions of the ethnic composition of society and argue over which rewards or sanctions should be attached to which ethnicities” (Nagel, 239) It is not uncommon for people to reap the benefits of different ethnic groups. For example, I myself am Caucasian by appearance yet I have a Cuban last name and my heritage...
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