Emerging only in the mid 1950’s and early 1960’s as a distinct area of scholarly concern, ethnic studies has had an unsympathetic, and mostly neglected, history. The attention of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists and other humanists and social scientists has traditionally been focused on the “unique Americanness” of America. Captured symbolically by terms such as melting pot, Americanization, “American Dilemma,” “immigrant problem,” “Negro problem,” “new” and “old” immigrants and integration, the nation’s multi-cultural character has been, at once, viewed as a malady and celebrated as the socio-cultural richness that nurtured the “Great American Experiment.” Like the American people generally, scholars have had extraordinary difficulty in intellectually coping with the diversity of cultures and societies that have, in fact, determined the country’s priorities and fostered its growth.

Understanding ethnicity compels its consideration as both a concept and a process, that is, as a theoretical construct and as a system of behavioral and valuative decision-making with which individuals and groups organize life. Only in these terms is ethnicity’s separate integrity from nationality, religion, class, etc., discernable and the complexities of its relationships to these same forces revealed. Confronting ethnicity as a determinant influence also requires that its contemporary connotations and frequent misuse be comprehended. All too commonly, ethnic and blue-collar, “cracker,” racist and conservative are synonymously employed; ethnics condemned as obstacles to “enlightened” social policy; and ethnicity erroneously presumed to denote immigrant behavior, associations and value-orientations. Such simplistic notions only inhibit understanding; in fact, pose useless questions which are incapable of providing insight and clarity.

The essays compiled here examine ethnicity from many perspectives. The authors explore it conceptually–with periodic disagreement–and attempt to come to terms with its impact on American society. They serve as an introduction to this exciting and complex influence on American life. Each author raises serious questions, prods his colleagues to be increasingly sophisticated and precise, and makes a major contribution toward developing adequate methodology and scholarly perceptiveness in the study of ethnicity. The first section–Immigrants, Ethnics, Americans–combines four essays that explore the significance of ethnicity as an intellectual, scholarly tool in the study of America’s growth and development. R.A. Schermerhorn begins this section with an investigation of the relationship of ethnicity to cognition and the concomitant behavior that expresses this understanding, or knowledge. Andrew Greeley’s essay, which follows, addresses itself to the behavioral and attitudinal influence of ethnicity also, utilizing data compiled by the National Opinion Research Center. For him, the nation’s relatively placid development, when contrasted with that of other nation-states, is noteworthy, and he is convinced that the explanation for this lies in understanding both the nature of situations during which people call on ethnicity in order to cope and the circumstances under which ethnicity effects values, behavior and attitudes.

The two remaining essays examine American immigration and ethnic history. Agreeing on the need for sensitivity to the identities, institutions and communities of America’s peoples historically in order to adequately and accurately comprehend the nation’s growth, Carlton Qualey and Rudolph J. Vecoli disagree on the meaning and significance of ethnicity for explaining the lives and activities of Americans. For Professor Qualey, the dynamics of the American environment rapidly transformed immigrants into Americans whose behavior and outlooks were a function of the American experience, not European background. For Professor Vecoli, the influence of European experiences was not so transitory and the significance of ethnicity, differently conceived, is greater than Qualey would allow.

Section two–Ethnicity as Concept and Process–broadens the focus in a consideration of the nature and dynamics of ethnic influence on personal and group behavior. The five papers dissect ethnicity conceptually, explore its relationship to, for example, prescribing and proscribing behavior, intergroup relations, and raise the issue of the persistence of ethnicity over time. E.K. Francis and Joseph Fitzpatrick, the first two of this section, concentrate on the ethnic group as their approach to ethnicity. Employing the model of small group sociology as a strategy, Francis emphasizes the dynamics of group entrance and membership on behavior, values and attitudes. Fitzpatrick agrees with Francis on the fundamental significance of the group, and the sociological functions Francis describes. However, viewing the group as but one compenent of a larger entity, ethnic community, Fitzpatrick provides a broader perspective on ethnicity. Ethnic community as a cultural and affective context within which immigrants confronted a host society that was alien to them is his concern, and he closely scrutinizes community to learn its importance for identity and behavior.

Israel Rubin assesses the ethnic group as a viable context for the individual in coping with the complexities and serious issues of contemporary society. Exploring the origins and nature of ethnic group and inter-ethnic relationships historically, his conclusions-that this “frame” is incapable of satisfying the needs of individuals to any meaningful degree and that the American people, with few exceptions, appear unwilling to make the commitments which make ethnic community and behavior viable–strongly disagree with Francis and Fitzpatrick’s analyses. The “new ethnicity,” ethnic persistence, dynamics of ethnic group membership in terms of social relationships and political behavior are all approached pessimistically as Rubin questions the future of pluralistic society.

The two papers that follow approach ethnicity in terms of the mechanisms and consequences of identification. Daniel Glaser raises the essential issues of the process of ethnic identification. Discerning what he calls an “ethnic identity pattern,” he examines resultant attitudes and behavior in terms of an individual’s self-definition, those facets of a self-concept deriving from ethnic group membership, and the impact on identity stemming from inter-ethnic contact. The final study of this group investigates the nature of ethnicity beyond the first generation and the psycho-cultural-historical process of transmission. Vladimir Nahirny and Joshua Fishman challenge Marcus Lee Hansen’s famous three generation cycle and assert a new perspective.

Section three–Amalgamation, Acculturation, Assimilation–approaches ethnicity by examining the relationship of subcultural systems to a host society. Jonathan Schwartzi article introduces this unit by recalling an early 20th Century American idea about what constituted appropriate immigrant attitudes and behavior toward the United States. Focusing on Henry Ford’s attempt to literally transform, or “melt,” aliens into Americans, Schwartz illustrates both the simple-minded and intolerant perspective of many native-born people toward the complexities of inter-cultural contact situations. Immensely popular as an image, albeit often vaguely and contradictorily defined (see Philip Gleason’s excellent discussion, “Melting Pot: Symbol of Fusion or Confusion?,” American Quarterly, 16 (September, 1964)), the melting pot has been one of the most persistent descriptions of the nation’s cultural development in the 20th Century. Stanley Lieberson, author of the second essay, addresses many of the issues regarding the structure of socio-cultural organization and power relationships implicit in Ford’s efforts at “Americanization.” Attempting to create a societal formula for explaining multi- and inter-cultural contacts, he analyzes three types of experiences, assessing their dynamics to discover determinant factors and the potential for violence, repression and assimilation in each. The next essay explores what the authors believe is a necessary, but heretofore overlooked, dimension to an alien’s entrance into a host society. Broom and Kitsuse focus on the individual and assert that the relationship to the host society-acculturation and ultimately, they suggest, assimilation–is dependent upon “validation.” An individual must choose, “make an empirical test,” to be acculturated into the mainstream, they assert, and by implication no longer rely on the ethnic group for essential status, identity, norms, etc. Their’s is a challenging thesis, one with profound meaning regarding ethnicity as a persistent, fundamental influence on Americans’ lives. Walter Hirsch’s discussion raises the issue of definition. Historically reviewing the meanings, assigned to assimilation, he identifies where confusion, contradiction and ambiguity arose. Separating assimilation into two components, concept and process, Hirsch asserts a new definition he believes provides needed theoretical precision.

Section four–Ethnic Dynamics in American Society–examines the influence and expressions of ethnicity in politics, economics, and social institutions. Ethnicity’s relationship to political and other associational behavior is the concern of Michael Parenti. Criticizing scholars who would limit their study of ethnicity’s influence to searching for immigrant behavior, Parenti asserts a dynamic concept of ethnicity and stresses the need for new kinds of thinking and new questions. Ranging from politics to residential patterns to social and religious activities, his assessment is that ethnicity is not only a persistent societal force, but a determinant criteria with which people make choices and define their lives. Ronald Busch acknowledges the significance of ethnicity for political behavior, but his focus is on the qualitative nature and consequences of ethnic politics. The framework he employs in investigating the character of these politics is one that assesses the issues about which greatest concern is expressed: substantive, socio-economic considerations vs. the pursuit of and demand for recognition. For Busch, the latter defines ethnic politics and, he suggests, the consequences have been costly in allowing unsympathetic and hostile interests to rule. He proposes, also, that a new politics is rapidly emerging, one concomitant to what he perceives as an increasing rate of assimilation and focused on substantive matters. Clearly, the challenges of his analysis are many. Ethnicity’s relationship to the ability to achieve desires politically, ethnic politics as a means of manipulating constituencies, co-opting potential opposition, and hiding real issues, the persistence of ethnicity as a political liability, assimilation as the key to achieving and effectively utilizing political power are but some of the serious issues that Busch raises and which must be confronted.

Christen Jonassen adds a new dimension to the influence of ethnicity on behavior. Focusing on the spatial movement of a Norwegian community over many decades, he stresses the critical role of ethnicity in determining locations and maintaining the community’s integrity as a cohesive, identifiable entity. His analysis compels investigators to consider far more than the influence of “biotic,” or impersonal, natural, and economic forces on mobility. For Jonassen, there must be an awareness of the socio-cultural framework of a community which regulates competition over such things as housing, jobs, status, etc. and influences values and behavior.

The book closes with a very different kind of document than that which composes its bulk. Significant not for its historical breadth, nor for its analytical sophistication, Anthony Celebrezze’s personal comments underscore the premises upon which this compilation was developed. Like Mr. Celebrezze, the scholars in this volume and I are convinced that “ours is a nation which must be uniquely aware of that quality which has come to be called ethnicity.” It has been a fundamental, essential influence on America’s history, molding–often determining–the nature and intensity of behavior in religion, politics, family organization, occupation, education, and community development and character.


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