Ok, below is a complicate and attenuated definition of ethnicity by the classical sociologist Max Weber. Variations of this definition are found in many anthropology and sociological textbooks, though he is by far not the only source of wisdom. But be aware that as with most classical literature, it is often difficult to read. But for the purposes of this discussion with Population geneticists, I want to highlight Weber’s emphasis in beliefs about heredity and blood relationships in determining endogamy and exogamy. All ethnic groups encourage the youth to have babies with people who are “like us,” however defined. The result indeed is that in a rough way, genes are inherited within “ethnic groups,” or at least there are belief systems indicating that this happens. I wrote about this a bit earlier at Ethnography.com here. Note, this version is suitable for use with undergrads—it is easier to read than what follows.
Anyway, I like the broad brush analysis of blood alleles, and glotto-chronology that people like Cavalli-Sforza use to map deep history and very general relationships (OK I know that glotto-chronology is also known for its limitiations). This is the only effective way of studying such migrations, given the paucity of archaeological and historical data. Ok, so fine.
But we know a lot more from the studies of people like Weber (and his successors) about the overwhelming role that ideology, inequality, racism, etc. play in structuring mating habits. A sampling of Max Weber’s thoughts appears below in all its complexity. My question for the people following in Cavalli-Sforza’s tradition like Razib Khan is, how would you go about including such “variables” as Weber describes in mathematical models? My feeling is that given the inherently fluid nature of such definitions, and the compromises necessary to simplify research questions so that they fit into something that is “countable,” are a step too far. And as a result, you get the reactions of myself, and most social scientists that we should not depend too much on such quantitative data which inherently simplifies social complexity—ethnographic data is at least as important.
Anyway: Here is Weber’s description/definition of ethnicity. Links to the original articles are below. There version here is a translation I participated in, and appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal of Classical Sociology in 2010.
“When the most extreme consequences of stratification are pressed, the Stand evolves into a closed ‘caste’. That means, apart from the conventions and legal guarantees, rituals develop guaranteeing Stände-related distinctions. This is achieved by restricting any physical contact of members of higher castes with members of castes regarded as “lower,” and protects the higher caste …Therefore, the individual castes partly develop distinctive cults and gods.
As a result of these consequences, the Stände-related stratification only then lead to the development of castes where underlying differences can be found which are held to be “ethnic”. Particularly the “caste” is the normal form of Gemeinschaft communities which are the precursors of the Gesellschaft type-societies created who live along the lines of “ethnicity,” and therefore believe in blood relationship, and restrict both exogamous marriage and social intercourse. These aspects can be found among pariah peoples around the world….
Ethnic and caste segregation also differ regarding their effects. Ethnic coexistence, which implies mutual rejection and disdain, also permits any ethnic community to value its personal honor as the highest. However, caste stratification is accompanied by a ‘vertical social gradation’, and acknowledges a socially accepted higher “honor” to the benefiting privileged castes and Stände. This is typically explained by arguing that ethnic differences were transformed into differences of “function” within a politicized Gesellschaft-like social order (warrior, priest, and craftsmen who are politically important for war, and building trades, and so on). Even the most despised pariah people somehow cultivate what is peculiar to them, in the same manner that ethnic and ‘Stände’-related communities do. They especially continue to cultivate the belief in their own unique “honor” (as do the Jews).
However, Stände which are both despised and negatively privileged show a specific deviation regarding the “sense of dignity” …But to understand this, it is necessary to focus on the position of the privileged. Their “sense of dignity” is the subjective precipitation in social honor and of conventional demands which a positively privileged “Stand” requires for the deportment of its members. As a result, it can be said that the positively privileged ‘Stände’ sense of dignity, naturally relies on its “who they are”, they do not rely on transcending values, but they refer to their own “beauty and excellence”. Their kingdom is “of this world”, and they live for the present and justify their privilege by referring to a glorious past.
Naturally the negatively privileged status group can only draw its sense of dignity by referring to a future which lies beyond the present, and is temporal or transcendent. In other words, this sense of dignity is nourished from the belief in a providential “mission”, or a specific honor before God as the “chosen people”. Therefore, the idea arises that “the last will be the first” beyond this life, or that in the present life a messiah will arrive who will shine a light upon the honor of the pariah people (Jews) or ‘Stand’, which has before been concealed from the world. These simple facts are the source of a pariah ‘Stände’s’ character of religiosity. …
This is to say that the ethnic origin of Stände formation is by no means a normal phenomenon. On the contrary, since objective “racial differences” are not based on every subjective “ethnic” mutual feeling, a racialized justification for ‘Stände’-related stratification is ultimately tested with concrete individual cases. Quite frequently, the ‘Stand’ itself creates ‘pure-breds’ [or stereotypes] which are an anthropological type. The Stand functions on a highly exclusive manner and is based on a selection of individuals who are personally qualified for membership (e.g. the Knighthood), based on their martial, physical, and psychological eligibility.
So, from a practical point of view, the stratification by Stände goes hand in hand with a monopolization of ideal and material goods or opportunities, in a manner which we have come to know as typical. Besides the specific honor of Stand, which always bases itself upon distance and exclusiveness, there are all sorts of material monopolies”
Thank you for reading this far! It is work to read this far. (Now those of you who are mathematically inclined know how we feel when we deal with your elegant mathematical formulations!) Anyway, if you want to read more, please look at the entire translation of Weber’s work at the Journal of Classical Sociology (2010), as well as our commentary, which is also there. In my view, a meeting of minds between the population geneticists, and the sociologists/anthropologists would be useful for understanding such matters. I’m just not sure how it is going to happen.
An afterthought and a comment for Razib Khan:
Razib Khan over on one of Michael Scroggins posts linked two blogs of his from Discover Magazine. I read them, and appreciated that he was careful in his discussion of race, even though he did not cite the relevant anthropologists or sociologists (Note to Razib: Need Weber in there, or perhaps Cornell and Hartmann’s textbook Ethnicity and Race). I believe he even used the term “social construction” at one point, which hearkens back to the work of Weber and others.
“the biology is more interesting than the sociology, which can be decomposed pretty easily.”
Ok I will let him have his own opinion on what is “more interesting,” but I look forward to his deconstruction of a classical text like Weber, or even a more contemporary approach like Cornell and Hartmann. Weber of course is difficult to read, but generations of sociology undergrads have somehow gotten through. Cornell and Harmann though is well-written and hardl