Sociologický časopis
Czech sociological review


← Czech Sociological Review / Sociologický časopis 2/2009

Martin Kanovský:
Essentialism and Ethnicity: The Socio-cognitive Explanation of Representing Social Groupings [345]

Kanovský, Martin. 2009. „Esencializmus a etnicita: sociálno-kognitívne vysvetlenie reprezentovania sociálnych skupín .“ Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 45 (2): 345-368

Abstract: The aim of this article is to explore the various ways in which people represent social groups. The author shows that a prominent role in such processes is played by psychological essentialism. People represent some of their social identities as inherent qualities that are based on the sharing of a presumed ‚essence‘: something unobservable, diffi cult to remove, irreversible, and causally responsible for overt behaviours. Empirical evidence suggests that no particular causal process of essence acquisition is constitutive for essentialism in folk models of society. Some authors believe that folk essentialism is necessarily connected with the presumed innateness of an essence (its biological transmission across generations). Innate potential and biological inheritance, however powerful they may be for the human cognitive mind in the domain of folk models for biology, are far from necessary in essentialist folksociological classifications. Essentialism in folk sociology is not defined by any particular causal process of essence acquisition. Even when it is possible to detect that a given group of people claim the innate essence of a particular folk sociology, it is always necessary to look for other features of essentialism (inherence, sharp boundaries, the immutability of identity, etc.). The article reviews some infl uential cognitive proposals concerning folk models of society (Astuti, Gil-White, Hirschfeld) and ethnicity, and provides arguments and empirical evidence collected in Western Ukraine in support of the claim that presumed innateness is not the constitutive part of folk models of society, let alone of psychological essentialism.

Keywords: essentialism, folk models of society, ethnicity, Ukraine, social identity.

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