Doing statistics, enacting the nation: The performative powers of categories

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It has been widely acknowledged in debates about nationalism and ethnicity that identity categories used for classifying people along the lines of culture, race, and ethnicity help to enact, that is, bring into being, the collective identities they name. However, we know little about how categories acquire their performative powers. The contribution of this paper is twofold: first, it proposes a conceptual framework based on concepts and insights from science and technology studies for investigating the performative powers of statistical identity categories and possibly also other domains. Second, it demonstrates, through an empirical study of two examples from Estonian and Dutch official population statistics, that statistical identity categories enact more than the groups to which they refer. We argue that they also enact national identities and notions of national belonging of majoritarian groups in the host countries. Therefore, statistical identity categories can be used as analytical lenses to study nationalism and processes of nation-building.

ZeitschriftNations and Nationalism
Seiten (von - bis)576-593
Anzahl der Seiten18
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 01.07.2020
Extern publiziertJa

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
We are grateful to our research subjects for their time and input. We have benefited from the feedback of colleagues at seminars at Goldsmiths and the University of Twente. In particular, we would like to thank Vera Ehrenstein, Nele Jensen, Sveta Milyaeva, Annalisa Bacchi and Chiara Andreoli for their generous comments. We would furthermore thank the anonymous reviewers for their contributions to the article. Finally, the article is informed by insights and data collected by our ARITHMUS colleagues: Evelyn Ruppert, Baki Cakici, Ville Takala, and Funda Ustek-Spilda. The research leading to this publication has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ ERC Grant Agreement no. 615588 (Principal Investigator, Evelyn Ruppert,Goldsmiths, University of London).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Nations and Nationalism published by Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism and John Wiley & Sons Ltd