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May 17, 2011

Defining ethnicity:

Ethnicity = one’s identification with a particular ethnic group.

“An ethnic group is a community of people whose members share basic cultural traditions and values and in most cases a common language, and who identify themselves (and are identified by others) as distinct from other groups.  All of us belong to at least one and sometimes to several such groups; a single society may contain many.” (pp6-7 David Hicks and Margaret A Gwynne (1995) Cultural Anthropology.  2nd ed.. HarperCollinsCollegePublishers: New York.)

People of the same ‘ethnicity’ share a ‘collective identity’ (Ref. p441 Lavender)

Politics behind the concept of ethnicity:  

Lavender writes: “Ethnicity and race are nearly interchangeable because they perform the same function in overlapping each other, accentuating and perpetuating social difference.  In other words, they both articulate a sense ofotherness.’  It’s important to keep in mind that ethnicity is viewed as linked to cultural manifestations and race to physical as it is also essential to bear in mind that ethnicity is not a category that any ethnic group would adopt if it were not in a dialectical relationship with a larger, dominant group or an equal competitor, dominant group or an equal competitor….” (my emphasis, p439, Isiah Lavender III Technicity: AI and Cyborg Ethnicity in The Matrix.  Extrapolation; Winter 2004; 45, 4; pp437-458)

“Members of groups may be proud of their ethnicity, and may signal this feeling and express their mutual solidarity by behaving in a distinctive manner…. But ethnicity can attract discrimination against members of ethnic groups, especially for urban ethnic minorities.

The concept of ethnicity has proven useful to domestic government agencies and international organizations trying to assist ethnic minorities in polyethnic societies to advance themselves.  Rather than treating the inhabitants of a developing country as culturally homogeneous, for instance, most international aid agencies now try to take into account the values, institutions, and customs of various ethnic groups, targeting relief or aid to their particular needs.” (my emphasis, pp276-277, David Hicks and Margaret A Gwynne)

“Normally, the ethnic person is a part of a population differing from others and often subjected to differential treatment.  …Preconceptions lead to irrational attitudes of hostility directed against other groups and individuals because of their supposed characteristics, regardless of one’s rights. …Prejudice leads to discrimination, where one group discerns and acts oppressively on those differences categorically rather than individually.  This leads to an intense dislike of difference, which eventually fuels violence. …The construction of ethnicity is deeply layered with sociological border, psychological boundary, and physical restriction questions, particularly when redrawing the shifting sense of identity.” (my emphasis, pp441-442 Isiah Lavender III) 

Applying the concept of ethnicity:

Lavender III takes the concept of ethnicity and looks at the way it is reinscribed in the futuristic film, The Matrix.  By considering ways in which humans, cyborgs, AI, etc. are conceived in this ‘post-human’ future, Lavender shows how, as he puts it:

The Matrix’s “new constructions of ethnicity betray an inability to imagine a future that is post-ethnic, even if post-human.” (p439)

That is, this film (and its counterparts) demonstrate the extent of our commitment to such markers of difference!

Lavender’s analysis is interesting and brings Bernard Beckett’s Genesis to mind; most of the conversations between Adam and Art (in Genesis) circle around their differences.  Adam is notably antagonistic towards Art’s Artificial Intelligence to start with and the novel, as a result, spends a long time exploring what it is to be human.  I wonder if Lavender’s term, technicity, might open further avenues of criticism into Genesis

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