The ethnicity is a stable community of people, historically established on a certain territory, which are connected by the common language, culture, psychological features, and self-awareness. The main sign for the formation of an ethnicity was considered a common territory since the latter creates the necessary conditions for the common life of people. But later, when the ethnicity has already formed, this term may lose its paramount importance and even can be absent. For example, the Jewish ethnicity preserves its identity throughout the world in their diaspora, although this ethnicity did not have its own territory for a long time, before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Another important sign for the formation of an ethnicity is a common language. But this attribute cannot be considered as universal either, because sometimes (for example, in the case of an American ethnicity) it was formed during the development of economic, political and other ties and the common language is the result of this process. A more stable sign of the ethnic community is the unity of such components of the spiritual culture as moral values, norms, and patterns of the behavior, as well as the associated socio-psychological characteristics of the people. An integrative indicator of the formed socio-ethnic community is an ethnic self-awareness, that is, a sense of belonging to a certain ethnicity, an awareness of its unity and the difference from other ethnic groups. In its formation, a significant role plays the knowledge of people of their history, as well as customs, traditions, folklore, passing from generation to generation and forming a specific ethnic subculture.
The main historical varieties of ethnic communities are tribes, nationalities, and nations.
The tribe is a type of an ethnicity, inherent mainly in primitive communal systems and based on the kinship unity. Normally, the tribe has its own territory and a large number of clans. A genus is a group of blood relatives (on the maternal or paternal lines), and the clan is a tribal community, which became the source to make foundations for the tribal power. People are also united in the tribe by common religious beliefs (fetishism, totemism, etc.), the presence of a common colloquial dialect, the political power rudiments (council of elders, leaders, chiefs, etc.), and the common territory of residence. The leading form of the economic activity at this historical stage is hunting and gathering. The further development of the tribe gradually led to the formation of a nationality.
The nationality is a type of an ethnic community that emerges during the period of the decomposition of the clan-tribal organization and is based not on the blood kinship, but on the territorial unity. Unlike the tribal organization of the people, the nationality has a higher level of economic development, a certain economic structure, the presence of folklore culture in the form of myths, legends, rituals, and customs. The people have already formed their language (written), a special way of life, religious consciousness, institutions of power, and a self-consciousness.
The process of creating a nation as the most developed form of the ethnicity occurs at the stage of the final formation of the state. The broad development of economic relations in the territory formerly occupied by several nationalities, the formation of a common psychology (national character), special culture, language and writing, and developed ethnic self-awareness. A nation is a historically formed higher type of the ethnic community, which features the unity of territory, economic life, culture and national identity.
The specific notion of “ethnicity” includes some common distinctive characteristics inherent in ethnic groups. To determine the essence of the ethnicity, three most significant approaches are used: primordialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism.
Representatives of the primordialism explain the difference between ethnic groups based on the biological nature and the history of the human society. The very term “primordial type of the human community” was introduced by an American sociologist E. Shils. In his opinion, the main features of an ethnos are determined, firstly, by the nature of the land, and secondly by the specific frequency of the biochemical field fluctuations, which impart a certain level of the energy to each group. In the understanding of the ethnicity, supporters of the historical and evolutionary trend recognize not only and not so much the biological relationship by the “blood” as the sociocultural and territorial criteria of the unity.
According to the instrumentalist approach, the origin of an ethnicity is explained by the need to find an effective means or tool that would increase the unification and strengthening of the intra-group solidarity. Such a universal unifying principle is the ethnic ties that bind people at the level of self-awareness and possess a high mobilization potential.
From the point of view of representatives of the constructivist approach, the ethnic identity and the corresponding emotional experiences act as a product of the social construction in the context of culture. So, one of the largest representatives of constructivism F. Bart believes that the group itself creates its own ethnicity, delineating their ethnic boundaries on the basis of the “cultural knowledge”, i.e. a set of norms and perceptions about “one’s own” and “someone else’s”, fixed in images and symbols of culture. The ethnic identity is understood as an individual’s consciousness of its belonging to the specific ethnic group. Thus, the approaches, presented for understanding what an ethnicity is, have few common traits, but each of them contains valuable ideas.
In the conditions of the modern radical transformation, the ethno-social stratification is one of the most important problems of the socio-political development. The problem is mostly related to the poly-ethnic communities. The concept of ethnic stratification expresses the socio-ethnic inequality of various ethnic groups, associated with their income, education, prestige, power, status, and place in the general hierarchy of ethnic communities. Any ethnic culture includes a set of ideas about other peoples and their representatives. This is the so-called ethnic stereotypes, a set of simplified generalizations about a group of individuals, allowing to distinguishing the group members and assign a pattern for them. Typical examples of ethnic stereotypes are the notions that all Germans are punctual, the French are gallant, and the British are moaning. A variation of an ethnic stereotype is an ethnic prejudice. For the first time, the definition of the prejudice was given by the medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who wrote about bad thoughts about other people without sufficient reason. Examples of ethnic prejudices include anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of ethnophobia.
The ethnocentrism, according to the American sociologist W. Sumner, is a view of society, in which a certain group is considered central, and all other groups are measured and correlated with it. It is difficult to clearly answer the question whether this phenomenon is positive or negative. It is believed that groups with a pronounced manifestation of the ethnocentrism are more viable than those that are completely tolerant to other cultures. The ethnocentrism promotes the unity of the group and the emergence of the national identity. However, extreme forms of ethnocentrism are also possible, for example, nationalism and contempt for other cultures. At the same time, people’s conviction that their culture is the best in the world and therefore there is no need to improve and change it can significantly slow down the development of this culture. The ethnic discrimination is the restriction of rights and the persecution of people based on their ethnicity. In multi-ethnic countries, the discrimination policy, as a rule, is carried out by an ethnic dominant group in relation to ethnic minorities.
In the modern world, the ethno-social stratification, as shown by the social development of national regions of the country, is the most important factor of inter-ethnic communication in a transforming society, and presents conditions for the revival of the ethnicity. Inter-ethnic conflicts often arise, which represent an extreme aggravation of contradictions between national groups in the course of solving political, economic, religious, and other problems.