Attributes and Categories: A New Conceptual Vocabulary for Thinking about Ethnic Identity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter introduces a new conceptual vocabulary for thinking about ethnic identities as defined previously. The vocabulary is built on a distinction between "categories" and the "attributes" necessary for membership in them. In previous work, the term "identity" has often been used interchangeably for an "attribute" that signifies membership in a category but does not constitute it (e.g. dark skin), the "category" itself (e.g. African American), an "attribute-dimension," consisting of a "family" of attributevalues (e.g. the dimension of skin colour, on which values might include "dark" and "light"), or a "category-dimension" consisting of a "family" of categories (e.g. the dimension of race in the US, which has the categories of "Black," "White," and so on arrayed on it). This chapter shows why and how attributes and categories-and therefore attribute-dimensions and category-dimensions-are conceptually distinct, and what the stakes attached to this distinction are. Building on this distinction, it identifies two properties that can be intrinsically associated with ethnic identity categories -"constrained change" and "visibility"-and draws out the implications of these properties for building theories about the relationship between ethnic identity and political and economic processes and outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConstructivist Theories of Ethnic Politics
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199980079
ISBN (Print)9780199893157
StatePublished - Jan 24 2013


  • Attribute
  • Category
  • Constrained change
  • Descent
  • Dimension
  • Ethnicity
  • Identity
  • Properties
  • Stickiness
  • Visibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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