Nicholas S.M. Matheou deposited Towards a Historical Materialist Critique of Ethnicity: Armenianness between the Caucasus and Medieval New Rome in the group Medieval Studies on Humanities Commons 6 years, 2 months ago
In this paper I outline a historical materialist framework for the transhistorical critique of ethnicity, providing a case study in the shaape of Armenian settlements in medieval New Rome. This is necessary since constructivism – the dominant theoretical tradition of the last forty years or so – has failed to dethrone common sense, methodologically nationalist assumptions over the ‘formation’ and ‘survival’ of apparently ‘constructed’ ethnic groups. The purpose is not to reject non-Marxist social theory, but rather to take certain principles as a given and situate them as the mechanisms of social dynamics in a broader materialist framework. I identify the pitfalls of previous approaches, and take the two most astute constructivist theorists – Rogers Brubaker and Andreas Wimmer – as the bases from which to develop a new historical materialist approach. Brubaker’s seminal 2004 Ethnicity Without Groups sounded the call for re-theorisations of ethnicity without recourse to groupist essentialism, and Wimmer’s 2012 Ethnic Boundary Making points towards a systematic understanding of ethnicity – not least by covering under that broad term the more specific phenomena of race and nationhood. Problems remain, particularly with Wimmer’s methodologically individualist and modernist positions, but his systematic model nevertheless forms the general outline of a systemic critique. This critique restores central roles to contingency, the conjuncture, and praxis, developing a framework for social systems that situates different causative factors at different structural levels – with a detour through Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory to describe the micro – arriving at a model for the instantiation across time and place of different but linked ethnic discourses and cultural stuff. Ultimately, therefore, this paper argues that the issue is not so much the construction of ethnicity as its reproduction.