Ethnic Norms and Their Transformation through Reputational Cascades
Ethnic norms are the ethnically symbolic behavioral codes that individuals must follow to retain social acceptance. They are sustained partly by sanctions that individuals impose on each other in trying to establish good credentials. This essay analyzes the "ethnification" process through which ethnic norms become more demanding. The argument hinges on interdependencies among individual behaviors. These allow one person's adjustments to trigger additional adjustments through a reputational cascade--a self-reinforcing process by which people motivated to protect and enhance their reputations induce each other to step up their ethnic activities. According to the analysis, a society exhibiting low ethnic activity generates social forces tending to preserve that condition; but if these forces are overcome, the result may be massive ethnification. One implication is that similarly developed societies may exhibit very different levels of ethnic activity. Another is that ethnically based hatreds constitute by-products of ethnification rather than its mainspring. Copyright 1998 by the University of Chicago.
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