Ethnic identity and social structures in which race and ethnicity are embedded are key features of all societies, regardless of their commitment to equality and opportunity. While varying widely in how they have developed and in the social consciousness of nations, race-ethnic relations express themselves in both institutionally problematic and cultural-affirming ways. Semester at Sea provides an invitation to explore through the sociological perspective the reality that race and ethnicity are socially constructed and, in Benedict Anderson’s words, imagined communities – but with very real consequences. This course studies race and ethnicity in the United States today, using this understanding to compare and contrast race and ethnicity as a historical experience and sometimes vexing conundrum (e.g. as the basis for nationalism, xenophobia, and ethnic conflict) for the countries and societies visited on the voyage.
*Note: This class is delivered when lunch is served.
Field ClassCountry: Croatia
Date: October 7, 2019
Dubrovnik today is a major tourist site for people worldwide. It is also a city rich in history. From the attacks on Dubrovnik as a ‘second Venice’ where medieval powers shuffled wealth in and out of its banks to the bombardment by Serbia’s artillery during the war that dismembered Yugoslavia (1991-1995), it offers an ideal site for understanding ethnic conflict. Such wars are thought to be associated with the strong and personal sense of ethnicity and virulent animosity towards ethnic others. The popular notion that the wars in Yugoslavia were fueled by ethnic hatred, however, is both simplistic and unhelpful to understanding ethnicity (and race) as social constructs with very real consequences. In this field class we have an opportunity to dig deeply into ethnicity as the condition for determining national boundaries, official national culture, and deep personal identification. As importantly, we will be able to examine both the political manipulation of ethnic solidarity and the way people overcome the resentments and sense of victimization fostered by ethnic entrepreneurs and nationalistic ideology. We will be joined by a Croatian social scientist familiar with Croatia and Dubrovnik who has lived through the wars and understands ethnicity in the Balkans. Importantly, students will build on what they have learned up to this point and evaluate the power of ethnic identification and ethnic nationalism; the role ethnicity plays in structuring inequality; the intersection of ethnicity and gender/sexuality; and the resilience of a positive ethos of ethnic identity in a post-conflict environment.
1. Students will learn about ethnic identities new to them, to compare these historical, regional constructs to the more familiar ethnicities (and ‘races’) they do know.
2. Students will see the role of ethnicity in structuring personal identities, social relationships, community life, economic activity, and political process, and how it intersects with other statuses and interests.
3. Students will learn about ethnic conflict in such a way that they can reevaluate ethnicity as a causal force for conflict, and in so doing gain a better understanding of the consequential political and economic forces, often masked by the more visible expressions of ethnic victimization and solidarity.