Ethnicity and race in African thought

Jonathon Glassman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter charts prevailing trends in the historical study of African ethnicity since the late 1950s. Until the 1990s, much of that literature was stymied by unexamined nationalist paradigms that assumed absolute distinctions between various ways of categorizing humanity through metaphors of descent, such as tribalism, race, and nation. Such assumptions closed off certain avenues of inquiry, including how modern processes of ethnogenesis and racialization were shaped by inherited discourses of difference. Instrumentalists and constructivists shared a modernist insistence that ethnic categories were determined by colonial social structures, thus giving an overly determining role to Western agents and precluding full consideration of factors that stemmed from Africa’s deep intellectual history. More recent studies have avoided these obstacles by approaching ethnicity as a mode of discourse rather than as a reflection of political economy. This has made it possible to chart the history of ethnicity without relying on anachronistic ethnographic units of analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Companion to African History
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781119063551
ISBN (Print)9780470656310
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Constructivism
  • Ethnicity
  • Intellectual history
  • Modernism
  • Nationalism
  • Nativism
  • Race
  • Racialization
  • Tribalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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