Date of Award

Winter 1989

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bud Khleif


This work is an attempt to develop a theoretical model useful for explaining the historical evolution of ethnic and national identities. Central to this framework are the following assertions: (1) that ethnic and national identities are dynamic affiliations which undergo change through intergroup resource competition; (2) that given their material base, a complete theory of ethnicity and nationality must consider these ties in relation to class; (3) that the evolution of group identities can ultimately only be understood in the context of global capitalist development; and (4) that the uneven nature of capitalist development (i.e., the core-periphery division) can be employed to explain intersocietal variations in the evolution of ethnic and national identities. Drawing upon these assumptions, we propose a global, historical and material approach to the study of intergroup relations and ethnic change.

In the analysis of intergroup relations in historically specific circumstances, our model employs the notion of eth-class (defined as social location in terms of both ethnicity and class) in order to explore the material interests which underlie group action. We maintain that eth-class captures both the interrelationship between ethnicity and class and the reality that ethnic groups contain internal class divisions. Thus, ethnic and national mobilization are analyzed as "alliances" of eth-class fractions; assimilation and ethnic merger reflect strategic decisions to alter group identity.

In addition to a conceptual discussion of ethnicity and nationality and a critical review of both classical and contemporary theories of ethnic change, this work contains two case studies in which our model is employed to explain the evolution of ethnic identities after 1800 in both the United States and South Africa. We find that the global, historical, and material approach presented in our framework facilitates analysis of the development of intergroup relations and group identities in these two societies.