HomeIn current migrations: New ethnic issues

HomeIn current migrations: New ethnic issues

In current migrations: New ethnic issues

En migrations actuelles : nouvelles questions ethniques

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Published on Tuesday, September 08, 2020


The issue of ethnicity has always raised complex questions. In the 1980s, some wanted to radically turn away from it in order to create a break with representations perceived as contingent on colonization. If for thirty years researchers have made significant theoretical contributions and shown that ethnicity, instead of designating only a subaltern reality, accompanies, expresses, signals the fluidity of our contemporary worlds, it still arouses a lot of mistrust. Is it possible today to update the debate, in a context of globalization that enhances the movement of people while preventing others? In relation to this paradoxical context of circulation and strengthening of national borders, which populations and individuals claim to belong to an ethnic group, for what purposes, according to which values or modalities (cultural, political, customary, etc.)? Who are those who reject it, in favor of other types of belonging, minority or majority?



Is Ethnic Gone? Does it belong to the past, to a pre-state, colonial, even decolonial mode, is it a survival, an archaism which is reactivated through the political instrumentalization of the old imperialist powers, of the new national domination? In France, this trial was largely undertaken by ethnology, in particular Africanist ethnologists (Amselle and M’Bokolo, 1985) or by those who have claimed to promote a contemporary anthropology, taking a radical turn from colonial ethnology, and opted for an analysis in terms of social relations of domination where the ethnic is mobilized only to negatively show “the production of the foreigner” (Althabe, 1983) in the French suburbs. Furthermore, we know that the ideological context favoring assimilation or integration has influenced the still delicate use of this concept, including in social science research. However, “it is under the title immigration that research on interethnic relations was born, without knowing it, that is to say without having theoretical tools and without knowledge of external knowledge”. (DeRudder, 1997: 81). Starting in the 1990s, however, anthropologists and sociologists of another generation, freed from certain theoretical paradigms, began to question the concept of ethnicity and to show its heuristic value (Poutignat and Streiff-Fenart, 1995, and their translation of Barth; Martiniello, 1995; De Rudder, 1997; Cuche, 1997; Raulin, 2000; Palomares, 2019; Bertheleu, 2002; Crenn and Kotobi, 2012). Twenty years later, the debate is still not closed: some believe that the term ethnicity should be abandoned and returned to those of otherness or difference, while some politicians charge negatively the use of terms such as ethnicization or racization attesting to the close relationship between epistemological evolution and societal and political context. These semantic tensions are also linked to the social issues that dominate the news, but this should not prevent the social sciences from observing the reality of the social facts linked to ethnicity, in various contexts very distant from each other, and from considering its potency as a vernacular category. If there are problems, those that the anthropologist intends to study in priority are the problems posed by the people who refer to them, just as should be integrated into the analysis the way in which they pose them and the solutions that they are considering.

Can we then remove this social component by removing the term, as was done with race in some official texts? What then can be said of the individuals and groups who refer to it, for whom the name of what they call “their ethnic belonging” carries some sense of self. It is these points of view, both emic and etic, that this dossier will seek to make heard from field work in full topicality, that of economic globalization, international migration, the sustainability of diasporas and minorities, transformations of the relationship between rural and urban, and the shrinking of the planet through the circulation of ideas, goods, values, infections and pathologies.

Why ethnic? Because we think that it is a “modality of being” and not a “totality of being”. The adjectival form better accounts for this modal, non-encompassing, variable character according to situations, life cycles, historical events (Raulin, 2000). Many fields of research have opted for this linguistic form in order to distance themselves from overly dogmatic or fixed conceptualizations. Let us think only of the “religious” (Hervieu-Léger, 1993) term which makes it possible to go beyond the circumscribed framework of the sociology or anthropology of religions and to integrate its observation into constantly changing contexts, where the ‘ethnic’ holds its place (Tersigni, Vincent, Willems and Raulin, 2019).

If we deviate from any essentialist approach, we do not adopt a posture that would make the ethnic dimension of collectives or individuals “parodies” or “pastiches” as certain authors (Butler and Jameson, 2005) have tended to qualify them for gender. Even in the absence of “essence”, “original”, “true”, or “authentic”, there is a referent, a “corpus of references” which keeps being reinterpreted according to the times, groups and persons. Everyone plays with the freedom of interpretation, as a way of positioning themselves in relationship to a cultural and social heritage (as reinvented as it was) and of sorting out these elements according to their position, aspiration, sense of self and others. Because if ethnicity continues to combine with other “sections” such as social relations of race, gender, class, age, nationality, and also imposes an intersectional analysis (Palomares, 2010), it may differ from by its more discreet than continuous dimension, in the philosophico-mathematical sense of the terms. John and Jean Comaroff underline: “We have long argued that ethnicity is neither a monolithic ‘thing’ nor, in and of itself, an analytic construct: that ‘it’ is best understood as a loose, labile repertoire of signs by means of which relations are constructed and communicated, through which a collective consciousness of cultural likeness is rendered sensible; with reference to which shared sentiment is made substantial. Its visible content is always the product of specific historical conditions” (2009: 38).

This is why it seems a necessity to question anew the notion of “ethnic style” already present in Leroi-Gourhan (1965), by emphasizing the importance of learning, not only inculcation through education, but also acquisition of “ethnic skills” throughout life, allowing for multiple learning a bit in the way multilingualism is practiced. These ethnic know-hows are therefore not mutually exclusive, and mastering “other-ethnic” codes can be a source of pride. The “cutting principle” (“principe de coupure”, Bastide, 1954) should be discussed in this perspective, like that of “performance” (Chomsky, Goffman, Schechner, Turner, Butler) because the implementation and staging of these styles depend from the contexts.

It is also important to identify the synergies, short or long-term, which reactivate ethnic aspects of life. It’s heard: former colonial powers played this role, with their famous formula “divide and conquer” or that of the indirect rule, which is perpetuated in the postcolonial management of immigration (Joly, 2012). Today, we would no doubt have to look in the practices of social distinction, pertaining to the sociology of food, aesthetic, musical tastes. Appearances and the uses of cosmetics are also to be questioned, in particular with regard to the multiplication of "tutorials" disseminated by the internet for people with not only the same physical traits but also the same care, body, self techniques.

This new positioning does not aim to oppose or go beyond an analysis in terms of domination, hierarchy of social groups, genders, classes, discrimination by one another, but to articulate the ethnic dynamic with these terms, by considering its conception and functioning from an endogenous point of view as at the scale of societies, but always as close as possible to the individuals who refer to it, caught at certain moments of their existence in social relations where ethnic categorization imposes itself in the face of sociological majorities. It is also important to grasp the migratory phenomenon in its entirety, and to consider the ethnic component both in emigration and in immigration, or even in the back and forth (Crenn, 2019) which are no longer three moments of migration, but which merge into the journeys of the individuals themselves (Martiniello, Puig and Suzanne, 2009), thus contributing to the contemporary “cultural complexity” (Hannerz, 2010).

The ethnic variable does not oppose but accompanies, expresses, signals the fluidity of our contemporary worlds, which reformulate the interactions between local and global cultures (Warnier, 1999), initiate processes of deterritorialization and then re-territorialization (Appaduraï, 2001), destabilize the North/South relationships (Cunin, 2006). It seems particularly compatible with economic globalization, by its integration into the world market in all its forms, including tourism, and more generally to the commodification of culture (Comaroff, 2009). It breaks down and recomposes, whether in the private and public, rural and urban areas, work, commerce, consumption, religion, personal, family and friendly relationships, virtual relationships. It can be experienced as a resource, claimed as a right, part of a dynamic of empowerment, or on the contrary be perceived as a limitation and thus be contested. It contributes to city making in many ways (Raulin, 2000, 2008 and 2009, Caglar and Glick-Schiller, 2018), without this reality justifying a return to the monographic method, which by isolating forces the identity trait.

Within the framework that we propose, the articles will be able to approach in a very diverse ways the following questions: Who claims to be ethnic, in what form of valorization? Who denigrates it and in what situations? Who completely ignores it at certain times to value it at others? Who rejects it on behalf of another so-called regional, national or transnational affiliation? Is it linked to a minority or majority status? How do national contexts seriously influence the understanding of these terminologies, by instrumentalizing them, by censoring them? What are the semantic evolutions according to the periods, even the reversals within the same national space? In ethnic expressions, what is today the relationship of popular culture, customs, with learned culture (in particular anthropology, literature, music, dance, cinema, gastronomy) (Aterianus-Owango, Djebbari and Salzbrunn, 2019)? And above all, how do migratory movements, whatever the scales, in intra-national or extranational spaces, individual or collective, old or recent, forced or chosen, affect this feeling of ethnicity, by restoring, erasing, reinforcing or questioning it?


  • Start of call: 01st September 2020
  • Texts due: 01st January 2021

  • Selection process and reply to authors: 01st April 2021
  • Final articles accepted for publication: 01st September 2021
  • Publication: 01st December 2021

Submission Modalities

Articles submitted for publication should be sent by email to Chantal Crenn (crenn.girerd@wanadoo.fr) and Anne Raulin (araulin@parisnanterre.fr).

Articles can be in French, English or Spanish.

Texts need to conform to house style (https://journals.openedition.org/remi/5848)

Selection Committee/Coordination

  • Chantal Crenn (Professor in anthropology at the University Paul Valéry of Montpellier and researcher at the UMR SENS Montpellier and Passages Bordeaux)
  • Anne Raulin (Professor Emeritus of Urban Anthropology at the University Paris Nanterre, Sophiapol)



Althabe G., Douville O. et Sélim M. (2003) Ethnie, ethnicisme, ethnicisation en anthropologie et en clinique : échange épistémologique, Psychologie clinique, 15, pp. 177-193.

Althabe G. (1985) Production de l’étranger, xénophobie et couches populaires urbaines, L’Homme et la société. L’étranger au quotidien, 77-78.

Amselle J.-L. et M’bokolo E. (1999 [1985]) Au cœur de l’ethnie. Ethnies, tribalisme et États en Afrique, Paris, La Découverte.

Anderson E. (2011) The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, New York, W.W. Norton & Company.

Appaduraï Arjun (2001) Après le colonialisme : les conséquences culturelles de la globalisation, Paris, Payot.

Aterianus-Owanga Alice, Djebbari Elina et Salzbrunn Monika (2019) Pour une anthropologie des performances musico-chorégraphiques en contexte transnational, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 35 (3-4), pp. 15-32.

Barth Fredrick (1969) Introduction, in F. Barth Dir., Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. The Social Organization of Cultural Difference, Bergen-Oslo, Universitet Forlaget; Londres, George Allen and Unwin

Barth Fredrick (1995) Les groupes ethniques et leurs frontières, in P. Poutignat et J. Streiff-Fenart, Théories de l’ethnicité, Paris, PUF, pp. 203-249.

Bastide Roger (1968) Les études et les recherches interethniques en France de 1945, Études préliminaires, CERIN, 1, pp. 7-28, repris en 1971 dans Ethnies, 1, pp. 37-54.

Bertheleu Hélène (2002) Idéologie urbaine et relations interethniques : quelques remarques, Cahiers du Cériem, 9, pp. 79-92.

Caglar Ayse and Glick Schiller Nina (2018) Migrants and City-Making. Dispossession, Displacement and Urban Regeneration, Durham, Duke University Press.

Comaroff Jean and Comaroff John (2009) Ethnicity, Inc., Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Crenn Chantal et Kotobi Laurence, Du point de vue de l’ethnicité : pratiques françaises, Paris, Armand Colin.

Cuche Denys (1998) Relations interethniques et migrations internationales, Bastidiana, 23-24, pp. 5-10.

Cunin Elisabeth (2006) « Introduction », La globalisation de l’ethnicité ?, Autrepart. Revue de Sciences sociales au Sud, 38, p. 1.

De Rudder V. (1999) Jalons pour une histoire sociopolitique de la recherche sur les relations interethniques en France, in I. Barouh et V. De Rudder Dir., Migrations internationales et relations interethniques, recherche politique et société, Paris, L’Harmattan.

Fassin Didier et Memmi Dominique (Dirs.) (2004) Le gouvernement des corps, Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS.

Fontaine Laurence (2014) Le marché. Histoire et usages d’une conquête sociale, Paris, Gallimard, NRF Essais.

Hannerz Ulf (2010) La complexité culturelle. Études de l’organisation sociale de la signification, Bernin, À la croisée.

Hubert Annie (2000) Cuisine et politique : le plat national existe-t-il ?, Revue des Sciences sociales : révolution dans les cuisines.

Joly Danièle (2012) Race, ethnicity and religion: social actors and policies, FMSH-WP, 24.

Leservoisier O., Giraud M.-O. et Pottier R. (1998) Les notions clés de l’ethnologie, analyses de texte, Paris, Armand Colin.

Lars Meier and Sybille Frank (2016) Dwelling in mobile times: places, practices and contestations, Cultural Studies, 30 (3), pp. 362–375, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09502386.2015.1113630

Gellner Ernest (1989) Nations et nationalismes, Paris, Payot.

Martiniello M. (1995) L’ethnicité dans les sciences sociales contemporaines, Paris, PUF.

Martiniello M., Puig N. Suzanne G. (2009) Éditorial : Créations en migrations, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 25 (2), pp. 7-11.

Min Zhou (2004) Revisiting Ethnic Entrepreneurship: Convergences, Controversies, and Conceptual Advancements, International Migrations Review, 38 (3), pp. 1040-1074.

Palomares Élise et Testenoire Armelle (2010) Indissociables et irréductibles : les rapports sociaux de genre, ethniques et de classe, L’Homme et la Société, 2-3, pp. 15-27.

Poutignat Philippe et Streiff-Fenart Jocelyne (1995) Théories de l’ethnicité, Paris, PUF.

Raulin Anne (2000) L’ethnique est quotidien. Diasporas, marchés et cultures métropolitaines, Paris, L’Harmattan.

Raulin Anne (2008) Utopies locales et laboratoire social, L’Année sociologique, 58 (1), pp. 47-70.

Raulin Anne (2009) Minorités urbaines : des mutations conceptuelles en anthropologie, Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 25 (3), pp. 33-53.

Spivak Gayatri (2006) Les subalternes peuvent-elles parler ?, Amsterdam.

Tersigni Simona, Vincent-Mory Claire et Willems Marie-Claire (Dirs.) (2019) Appartenances in-désirables. Le religieux au prisme de l’ethnicisation et de la racisation, Paris, Petra.

Thoraval Joël (1999) L’usage de la notion d’« ethnicité » appliquée à l’univers culturel chinois, Perspectives chinoises, 54, pp. 44-59.

Tibère Laurence (2018) La construction sociale de « l’en commun » par la consommation. Les sociétés réunionnaise et malaisienne, Hommes & Migrations, 1320 (1), pp. 31-39.

Warnier Jean-Pierre (1999) La mondialisation de la culture, Paris, La Découverte.



  • Friday, January 01, 2021


  • migration, ethnicité, ethnique, marché ethnique, intersectionnalité, historicité, complexité culturelle, concept, catégorie vernaculaire, politique publique


  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Audrey Brosset
    courriel : remi [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


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