Essay by PaperNerd ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's October 2001

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To discuss ethnicity and why it is important in the present day world, one must first have a suitable understanding of the word. Paramount to the concept of ethnicity are ideas about "˜race' and "˜culture'. Ethnicity is a concept that involves ideas about differentiating people through their beliefs, rituals, and general patterns of living. The word "˜ethnicity' is indeed one that has had a precarious history but in taking on board its weight and a clear understanding of it, much about society can be learned. Discussions about ethnicity often deal with the concepts of ethnic revival, ethnic conflict (new racism) and ethnocentrism To first answer the question of how ethnicity is significant today one must have a solid definition of what ethnicity is, and more specifically what ethnicity is not. Cohen (1974) points out that an ethnic group is an assemblage of persons who share standards of behaviour and form a bigger part of a population.

Miles and Small (1999) note that it is important to make a distinction between "˜race' and "˜ethnicity'. They suggest that the word race is highly contentious and state that it implies that groups are naturally formed from biological characteristics. Miles and Small (1999) are inclined to support a definition like Cohen's (1974) that considers ethnic groups to be formed socially and culturally, not by science. Cultural or social traits that form an ethnic identity can be Religion, language, dress, food, music and beliefs. From a sociological perspective, the bottom line is that to define a group by solely by their genetic make-up, whilst ignoring "˜cultural' factors is both dubious and ambiguous. Such an ideology (that people are grouped by race) is commonly rejected.

Smith (1981) suggests that early sociologists thought that the term "˜ethnicity' was unsuited to the constantly changing world; and those ethnic...