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Mit der Pioneer-Plakette sollte 1972 die Kunde von der Menschheit in den Weltraum getragen werden. … und diese Europäerin in den mehr und mehr industrialisierten und globalisierten Zivilisationen der Erde Die meisten Ethnien, Völker und Nationen in Amerika, Eurasien und Australien leben wie diese beiden Jungen aus Südostasien … 60% der Menschheit leben heute von intensiver- marktorientierter Landwirtschaft wie dieser US-amerikanische Farmer In Afrika und Zentralasien existiert bei einigen Ethnien noch die Tierproduktion aus traditioneller Fernweidewirtschaft Zur Bedarfsdeckung in Subsahara-Afrika wird heute noch großteils traditioneller Feldbau betrieben Viele ehemalige Jäger und Sammler – wie etwa die australischen Aborigines – ergänzen ihren Lebensunterhalt damit Manche indigenen Ethnien wie einige isolierte südamerikanische Waorani leben heute noch wildbeuterisch Bis rund 9000 v.Chr. lebte der Mensch ausschließlich als Jäger und Sammler: Archaischer Homo sapiens vor rund 300.000 Jahren
The species Homo sapiens has produced an unmanageable number of ethnicities and cultures → mouse pointer on the individual images shows explanations ...

Ethnic group ( pronunciation : [ ɛtˈniː ], [etˈniː] , also [ˈɛtni̯ə] ; from ancient Greek ἔθνος éthnos " people , tribe , ethnic group ") or ethnic group denotes in the social sciences (especially ethnology ) a delimitable social group that, due to its intuitive An identity as an ethnic group is assigned to self-image and a sense of community as an ingroup . This ethnicity can be based on a common denomination, language, descent , economic order , history, culture , religion or connection to a specific area .

An ethnic group does not have to be a common descent group (across families), self-attribution of belonging arises with the upbringing of a child (family-wide) and there does not have to be any clear demarcation (membership of several ethnic groups possible). The historical, social and cultural process of the formation of an ethnic group is called ethnogenesis .

The approximately 1,300 ethnic groups recorded worldwide include a large number of indigenous peoples ( Latin for “native, original”; see the list of indigenous peoples ). In German , the term “ people ” is used in common language with the same meaning as ethnicity , while scholars tend to avoid it or understand it as a generic term for society as a whole made up of several connected ethnic groups.


The ancient Greek word ἔθνος éthnos describes the demarcation through self and external assignment. The expression was initially only used as a foreign assignment. Its meaning and use are subject to rapid change. Ethnic groups are usually defined by a common past. The common ground is often shown in historical transmission (tradition), customs, language, religion, clothing, diet and lifestyle.

The concept of ethnicity is partly related to that of ethnicity and partly to that of the cultural nation. At Max Weber , an ethnic group is defined as follows:

"We want groups of people who, due to similarities in their external habitus or customs or both, or memories of colonization and migration, harbor a subjective belief in a community of descent in such a way that this becomes important for the propagation of communalizations, if they do not represent ' clans ', call 'ethnic' groups, regardless of whether there is an objective blood community or not. "

"Ethnicity" or almost synonymous with "ethnic group" are ambiguous terms from a wide field of related expressions, they are used within and between different sciences with different basic meanings:

Many social scientists reject the existence of ethnic groups regardless of social ascription; this is the fault of essentialism . This approach contradicts concepts of the more scientifically oriented anthropology and human genetics , according to which ethnic groups can actually have common characteristics or a common ancestry. The respective ethnic group can be equally delimited according to both schools of thought, but is justified radically differently, from which different conclusions can also be drawn in political action. Social science terms are also not completely self-sufficient technical terms, but are co-shaped in their definition of terms used in everyday language and have an effect on them ( called "double hermeneutics " after Anthony Giddens ).

Overlapping terms for the term ethnicity / ethnic group include tribe , race , people and nation . Each of these terms has its own field of terms, which is also not the same in different languages, translations of the meaning can occur. A “people” (the German term is shaped by the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder ) is, for example, an ethnic group that has an idea of ​​a common origin, culture and language; Via the constitutional concept of popular sovereignty , it can be the bearer of a state. If an ethnic group is referred to as a people, there are unspoken conclusions about its identity and form of organization. The term ethnicity , synonymous with people group , is used more for subgroups of a larger unit within a nation or state. Due to the racist ideologies of Völkisch Nationalism and National Socialism , the adjective “ völkisch ” is historically loaded and can hardly be used as a neutral descriptive expression, while the corresponding adjective “ethnic” does not have any such connotation.

The terms “ethnicity” and “ ethnicity ” originally came from American social researchers (ethnic group, ethnicity) and were coined in modern usage by an influential work by Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1975, the term ethnic group in America already has a longer history.

Demarcation Ethnos and Demos

The total number of members of a people in the ethnic sense (an ethnos ) is not identical to the number of eligible voters in a state (with its demos ). Not all citizens of Finland , France , Germany etc. are also ethnic Finns, French, Germans etc., and not all members of a people or an ethnic group live in their national state , in which they make up the majority of the population. There are peoples and ethnic groups without “their own state” (e.g. Tamils and Kurds ) or those who share a state with other peoples and ethnic groups (in Europe e.g. Switzerland and Belgium ).

In German, the term ethnic group is common. Different ethnic groups often live in one national territory. For example, the multi-ethnic state Austria-Hungary consisted of different ethnic groups in the 19th and 20th centuries (mainly Germans , Hungarians , Czechs (Bohemians), Slovaks , Slovenes , Bosniaks , Croats and Italians ). This still applies today to Switzerland, which does not form an ethnic unit, but consists of different ethnic groups (German, French, Italian, Rhaeto-Romanic and Yenish-speaking Swiss) and due to various ethnic minorities in Germany and Austria ( e.g. Danes, Frisians, Sorbs, Sinti, Roma, Croats, Hungarians) to a lesser extent for these two countries. In general it can be said that there are hardly any ethnically homogeneous states. Particularly heterogeneous are states whose existence and arbitrary demarcation date back to the colonial era, for example the states of South and Central America , Africa , Asia and Polynesia (e.g. Indonesia ), or are characterized by immigration, such as the United States of America , Canada , Australia , and South and Central America.

Demarcation Ethnos and language community

In some countries, especially in classic immigration countries such as the USA or Canada, different ethnic groups use the same language as a common lingua franca , even as their mother tongue. The same applies in Germany to members of national minorities . On the other hand, there are strong dialect differences within the language of many ethnic groups, which over time can lead to the formation of two different languages; in this case the question arises whether their speakers can be members of two different ethnic groups. Conversely, there are cases in which dialects are not used as a distinguishing feature: Not only are people who grew up with High German or a Middle or Upper German dialect as their mother tongue, but also people with Low German as their mother tongue. Many people also count themselves as belonging to a certain ethnic group, although they do not speak its language or only speak it brokenly (e.g. many Russian Germans who only speak Russian fluently see themselves as a German national ). For nationality entries in official documents that are z. B. in the successor states of the Soviet Union , the question of whether someone speaks the language of his nationality is not asked. Instead, when determining a person's nationality, their descent and , if applicable, their commitment to a nationality are used as criteria for allocation. The census in Turkey has not asked for the mother tongue since 1985, so that based on this criterion there is no exact information on the number of Kurds in Turkey .

Ethnicity and religion

In the Ottoman Empire and later Yugoslavia , religion was often used instead of language as a criterion for differentiating nationalities or ethnic groups. For a long time, the term “ Slavic Muslims ” was common and in some cases it still is in Serbia and Montenegro . In connection with the Yugoslav Wars , the term “ ethnic cleansing ” came into the German language in 1992 .

By the end of the 18th century, the Jewish religion and belonging to ethnic Judaism were equated. Since then, this principle has also been discussed in the course of Jewish emancipation and secularization. The topic has received public attention since 1962 at the latest, when courts in Israel dealt with membership of Judaism. Affected are people who converted to Judaism, but not with an Orthodox rabbi, and people whose fathers are Jews while their mothers, at least according to the Orthodox Jewish view, are not Jewish.

The Nuremberg Laws and the First Ordinance on the Reich Citizenship Act of November 14, 1935, also linked Jewish religious affiliation with a “Jewish race”.

"Indigenous peoples" as ethnic groups

In accordance with English usage , those cultures and cultural elements that are alive in a western or global civilization as remnants of indigenous peoples and their traditions are also called ethnic . Example of indigenous peoples ( Latin Indiges "indigenous") are the Indians of North America , which as members of an "Indian nation" (Indian Nation) understand and therefore a common ethnicity. The same applies to the Aborigines in Australia, the South African Bushmen ( San ) and the Eskimos in the northern polar region (see also indigenous peoples of the world , indigenous peoples in wilderness areas , isolated peoples ).

Ethnic group

Most of the time, self-identification with one's own ethnic group is so strong that it appears completely natural to the acting individual. It is this collective feeling of belonging to one another or of being different that determines the constitution of an ethnic group. The concept of cultural differentiation between the “we” and the culturally “other” is called ethnicity . The feeling of belonging to a certain ethnic group does not change automatically when new national borders are drawn: The Stuttgart Labor Court ruled that former GDR citizens and their descendants are not an ethnic group within the meaning of the General Equal Treatment Act , because within 40 years had not developed a separate history, language, religion, tradition and culture, no sense of solidarity and no specific eating habits. Even 40 years after the founding of the GDR, GDR citizens demonstrated in large numbers in 1989 under the motto: “ We are one people! “, Which suggests that the majority of citizens of the GDR saw themselves as Germans and always as part of the whole of Germany .

Ethnic groups are not unchangeable phenomena, but are defined by the internal and external view of collectives . There are a multitude of ethnic " we-groups " in the world that contrast with a multitude of other ethnic groups. However, these groups and their relationship to the "others" are not biological conditions. Ethnic groups are socially constructed and their boundaries change over time. This is what distinguishes the concept of ethnicity from the outdated concept of race theory , which is based exclusively on a physical, biological differentiation of humanity. Ethnic groups can, for example, merge with one another (see mestizos in South America) or split off due to a conflict.

The relationship between ethnic groups can be different due to the respective political, economic and social circumstances. In a society that is never ethnically homogeneous, the ethnic affiliation of its members can be secondary or it can be of essential importance for the social position of the individual. Cultural and ethnic identities emerge in contrast to the "others". This can also lead to ethnocentrism (interpretation of the environment by the standards of one's own group) and xenophobia (hostility towards strangers). Ethnocentrism and xenophobia often come into play in the context of political debates on migration .


Ethnic groups are not always as homogeneous as they are perceived. The affiliation of an individual to an ethnic group is complex and sometimes not clear in connection with migration and diasporic realities. New ethnic groups can form, for example, in the course of conflicts or through emigration / immigration ( ethnogenesis ). A more recent example in history is North American Afro-Americans , a very heterogeneous ethnic group that could only have emerged as a result of events over the past 500 years. Similar to the Maroons living on the Caribbean island of Jamaica , whose origins can be traced back to slaves who had fled to the Caribbean from West Africa .

Ethnic classification

The smallest conceivable group of people from an ethnic point of view is the local group : These are so-called “face-to-face communities” such as hordes of hunters , nomad camps or village communities . All ethnicity criteria mentioned at the beginning apply to them : common denomination, language, descent, economy, history, culture, religion and the connection to a certain territory.

Example: The individual family groups of the ! Kung-San

One ethnic group is made up of several local groups . Have developed at large, clearly differentiated ethnic groups, despite their common self-understanding regional differences in lifestyles, values and norms, are again sub-groups which are sold as Subethnien be called.

Example: The seeds of Lapland are divided into the coastal seeds (sea fishermen), mountain seeds (reindeer herders) and forest seeds (formerly hunters).

The same applies in the “other direction”: If several ethnic groups understand themselves as historically belonging together after their voluntary decision , some authors use the term people as an umbrella term. The term super-ethnicity is rarely used for this .

Example: The three ethnic groups Lakota , Nakota and Dakota together make up the Sioux people (Sioux nation).

Neighboring ethnic groups or peoples with certain common characteristics are sometimes combined into abstract ethnic groups regardless of their actual relationships with one another (not to be confused with the term ethnic group ).

Examples: Papua is the name given to the curly-haired inhabitants of New Guinea, who form very many completely different ethnic groups; Germanic peoples are called the historical peoples with Germanic languages ; Plains Indians are the name given to the North American equestrian cultures whose subsistence base was the bison.

This division only has a classifying value as a collective term and in the rarest cases has it corresponded to the so-called people.

Example: The " Eskimo peoples group" is characterized by a largely uniform culture and this is exceptionally also reflected in the self-image of these people, who together set themselves apart from the Indians.

If the division on a global level combines cultural and geographical similarities, the ethnological cultural areas must also be mentioned.

Example: “Eurasian steppe” - khanates, estates, tribal confederations, mainly cattle farming; "Amazonia" - semi-sedentary horticulture, shifting cultivation, hunting and fishing; "Horn of Africa" ​​- clan systems in states, agropastoralism .

It should be noted that there are seldom uniform classifications in the sciences: some authors speak of subgroups, others of ethnic groups; some use the term people, others generally do not, and so on.



  • Museum Five Continents , Munich, July 5, 2018 to June 30, 2019: Questioning looks. Nine approaches to ethnographic photographs.

Web links

Commons : Ethnic groups (ethnic groups)  - Images and media files
Wiktionary: ethnicity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Lexicon of geography: ethnicity. In: . 2001.
  • Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek: Ethnic group / ethnicity. (PDF: 227 kB; 39 pages) (No longer available online.) In: Introduction to the forms of social organization (Part 5/5). Institute for Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Vienna, 2011, pp. 218–225 , archived from the original on October 4, 2013 (documents from her lecture in the 2011 summer semester).;

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden-Online : Ethnic group. Retrieved October 27, 2019.
  2. Charlotte Seymour-Smith: Dictionary of Anthropology. Hall, Boston 1986, ISBN 0-8161-8817-3 , pp. 95-96: “Ethnic group: any group of people who set themselves apart and are set apart from other groups with whom they interact or coexist in terms of distinctive criterion or criteria which may be linguistic, racial or cultural. [...] ethnicity may be objective or subjective, implicit or explicit, manifest or latent, acceptable or unacceptable to a given grouping or category of people. Paradox and ambiguity often characterize ethnic designations, tying such designations to ideas about culture, society, class, race, or nation. "
  3. ^ Georg Elwert : Ethnicity. In: Christian F. Feest , Hans Fischer , Thomas Schweizer (Hrsg.): Lexikon der Völkerkunde. Reimer, Stuttgart 1999, pp. 99-100.
  4. Walter Hirschberg (Gre.), Wolfgang Müller (Red.): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005, pp. 99–100.
  5. The Ethnographic Atlas by George P. Murdock now contains data sets on exactly 1,300 ethnic groups (as of December 2012 in the InterSciWiki ), of which often only samples were evaluated, for example in the international HRAF project .
  6. a b Wolfgang Fikentscher, Manuel Pflug, Luisa Schwermer (eds.): Acculturation, Integration, Migration. Utz, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-8316-4137-6 , p. 268.
  7. Walter Hirschberg (Gre.), Wolfgang Müller (Red.): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005, pp. 99, 400.
  8. Martin Sökefeld: Problematic terms: "Ethnicity", "Race", "Culture", "Minority". In: Brigitta Schmidt-Lauber (Ed.): Ethnicity and Migration. Introduction to science and fields of work. Reimer cultural studies. Reimer, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-496-02797-3 , pp. 31–50 ( doi: 10.5282 / ubm / epub.29311 ; PDF: 1.1 MB, 11 double pages on epub.ub.uni-muenchen. de).
  9. ^ Friedrich Heckmann: Ethnic minorities, people and nation: Sociology of inter-ethnic relations. Friedrich Enke, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-432-99971-2 , pp. 30-59.
  10. Cf. for example Friedrich Heckmann: Ethnic minorities, people and nation: Sociology of inter-ethnic relations. Friedrich Enke, Stuttgart 1992, p. 49.
  11. ^ Nathan Glazer, David P. Moynihan (Eds.): Ethnicity: Theory and Experience. Harvard University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-674-26856-3 , pp. ?? (English).
  12. ^ S. Zalman Abramov: Perpetual dilemma. Jewish religion in the Jewish State. Associated University Press, Cranbury (New Jersey) 1976, chap. 9: Who is a Jew, p. 271.
  13. Lawrence H. Schiffman: Who Was a Jew? - Rabbinic and Halakhic perspectives on the Jewish-Christian Schism. Ktav Publishing House, 1985, Foreword, p. IX.
  14. See e.g. B. Ephraim Tabory: The Israel Reform and Conservative Movements and the Market for Liberal Judaism. In: Uzi Rebhun, Chaim Isaac Waxman (ed.): Jews in Israel. Contemporary Social and Cultural Pattern. 2nd Edition. Brandeis / University Press of New England, Lebanon, NH, 2004, pp. 285-314, here pp. 296 ff.
  15. legal text: First Regulation to the Reich Citizenship Law of 14 November 1935. In: , Accessed on October 27 of 2019.
  16. Labor Court Stuttgart : Compensation claim in the so-called "Ossi case" rejected. (No longer available online.) Baden-Württemberg State Labor Court, April 15, 2010, archived from the original on July 20, 2013 ; accessed on October 27, 2019 .
  17. Walter Hirschberg (Gre.), Wolfgang Müller (Red.): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005, pp. 236–237.
  18. Bettina Beer : Culture and Ethnicity. In: Bettina Beer, Hans Fischer (ed.): Ethnology. An introduction. 7th revised and expanded edition, Dietrich Reimer, Berlin 2012, p. 68.
  19. Homepage: Questioning looks. Museum Five Continents, accessed February 21, 2019 .