Ethnic and National Identity

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 21A.226 (Spring 2005)
Course Title: Ethnic and National Identity
Course Level: Undergraduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Anthropology
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Jean Jackson
Course Introduction:

[Criteria for HASS CI Subjects. Communication intensive subjects in the humanities, arts, and social sciences should require at least 20 pages of writing divided among 3-5 assignments. Of these 3-5 assignments, at least one should be revised and resubmitted. HASS CI subjects should further offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. In order to guarantee sufficient attention to student writing and substantial opportunity for oral expression, the maximum number of students per section in a HASS CI subject is 18, except in the case of a subject taught without sections (where the faculty member in charge is the only instructor). In that case, enrollments can rise to 25, if a writing fellow is attached to the subject.]

This course is an introduction to the cross-cultural study of ethnic and national identity. We examine the concept of social identity, and consider how gender, language, religious, national, and ethno-racial identity components co-interact. We explore the history of nationalism, including the emergence of the idea of the nation-state, and discuss the effects of globalization, migration, and transnational institutions. We also look at identity politics and ethnic conflict.

This subject examines the concepts of ethnic and national identity, looking at the evolution of these concepts over time both in social science and common parlance. Students are introduced to the substantial cross-cultural variation in the meaning of personhood and forms of social identity. We explore the history of notions about what constitutes a "nation," in the sense of a "people," looking at what it meant prior to the nation-state and imperial projects in Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and what it means in the present era of multiculturalism, postmodernity, globalization, and transnational trends such as migration. We examine how both ethnic and state nationalism work to invent a homogenized past in attempts to address a heterogeneous present. We also look at the related concepts of race, religion, gender, and culture, seeing how constructions of one usually entail the others. We also study how ethnic and national identity are seen in the West to consist of shared biological legacies, shared histories, and shared cultural content conceived in terms of 1) shared patterns of behavior-music, dress, food styles, embodied habits (e.g., posture), etc., and 2) such inner qualities as character, personality, talent. Language ideologies are briefly discussed, focusing on the way linguistic features (lexicon, phonology) can serve non-linguistic purposes such as signifying ethnic and national identity.

RequirementsIn addition to written work, students are expected to keep up with all assigned readings (approximately 150 pp. a week for the books; 100 pp. a week for articles). Students must attend class and participate; this part of the course, coupled with Reader Responses, will account for 20% of the grade. Students who miss more than 3 classes will lose credit. You will write 3 papers, each counting 25%; your in-class presentation counts 5%. Topics will be given out by the end of the third week of class.

The grading for the course in a nutshell:

Grading criteria.ActivitiesPercentagesClass Participation + Reader Responses20%3 Papers25% eachIn-class Presentation5%Reader Responses

Reader responses consist of a few sentences describing your reaction to one of the readings for that session. Do not give an analysis or summary, give us your response to it. These should take no more than 10 minutes to write. While these are not graded, they will be factored into the evaluation of your performance. You will write six over the course of the term.

There is no final examination.


You will write three papers, 7-8 pages (roughly 2000 words) each. You must rewrite the first paper in light of the comments you receive. The revised draft is the version which will be graded. Rewriting the second and third papers is optional, but highly recommended.

You will also be expected to participate in class discussions and presentations. Having written Reader Responses prior to class, students for the most part have no difficulty with this. If a student does not regularly volunteer, she or he will be called upon to speak. At the end of the course, students will present a 10-minute presentation of their third paper (these will be timed, so rehearsing is advisable).

The first two papers are due in session 11 and in session 19. You will get the papers back one week after they have been handed in (session 13 and session 21), and must submit your rewrite one week later in (session 14 [delayed because the previous week is Spring Vacation] and session 22). If you plan on revising the third paper, the first version must be handed in by session 20, and will be handed back in the session 22. The final version of the third paper is due on session 24.

You will automatically pass Phase 1 of the Writing Requirement if you receive a grade of B or better.

Several videos will be shown.

One class hour will be lecture, followed by 1/2 hour discussion


Plagiarism comes in two forms. The first involves using the words of a source, exactly or in very close paraphrase, without quotation marks. It does not suffice to footnote the source; if you use the words of the original, or closely paraphrase them, you must use quotation marks. The second form involves taking ideas from a source without footnoting the source. Although sanctions for plagiarism depend on its severity, failing the subject is a distinct possibility (I have failed students in the past).