PLSC 437. The Politics of Ethnic and National Identity

Semester: Spring

Offered: 2019


Social identities matter because they inform our political preferences and views, and the way we behave politically. Two of the most salient social identities in our societies are ethnic and national identities. In ethnically homogeneous nations, these two identities are bound together. However, most nations today are made up of multiple ethnic groups (e.g. US), and some other ethnic groups spread across multiple nations (e.g. Kurds). One way or another, ethnic and national identity are not equivalent, and this may have sizeable political consequences. 


This course introduces students to the study of ethnic and national identity, their determinants and consequences in comparative perspective. To this end, the course focuses on two levels of analysis. At the aggregate level, we will examine for example the role the state had on the formation of national identities; why some ethnic identities have become politically salient while others remain dormant; and the conditions under which the ethnic demography of a country and the unequal redistribution of resources across ethnic groups may lead to conflict. At the individual level, we will study for example the socialization processes that shape ethnic and national identities, and how these inform voting decisions and other forms of political participation. 


The course is organized into three parts. The first part of the course (Sessions 1 to 7) will study how ethnic and national identities are conceptualized and measured; it will examine the interplay of ethnic and national identities in multi-ethnic contexts, and it will analyze how and when individual and group identities change. The second part (Sessions 8 to 16) will focus on the process of nation building, and will assess how failed experiences of national building make ethnic conflict more likely. The third and final part of the course (Sessions 17 to 26) will examine the relationship between ethno-national identities and major institutional and economic variables, e.g. the electoral system, preferences over redistribution, or corruption.