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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


A Question of Identity
Edited by Anne J Kershen,

(Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1998).
301pp. Index. Hb.: 42.50; ISBN 1-84014-558-7.



While this work may, overall, provide interesting material for those studying first and second generation migration issues, the editor's assertion that "as with a mirage in the desert, the truth will always be just out of reach" (19) unfortunately rings true throughout most of the book's thirteen chapters. The first portion of the book-consisting of eight chapters-focuses upon the British context, or rather upon small slices of the British context of migration and identification. Among chapters about British Jewry, Bangledeshi immigrants, and burgeoning Welsh identities, Karen Tew's chapter on the use of 'Northern Irish' identity stands out as being both cogent to the topic of ethnic conflict and as one of the few chapters which marries some theory to a discernable methodology. Tew's use of a large N along with reasonable conclusions stands in stark contrast to Chris Julios' chapter on the new American identity, which attempts to draw strong conclusions from survey questions posed to 57 high school students in New York. Would that other chapters had either attempted similar conclusions or applied themselves to areas where identity dynamics pose challenges for scholars and policy-makers. However, with the singular exceptions of Tew and Graham Harrison's chapter on 'Political Identities in Africa', most authors have been content to take a narrow view of their topic and to 'tell stories' rather than promote relevant findings or help us to understand identity in a deeper, more dynamic context. Only Harrison makes this attempt when, in his approach to political identity in post-colonial Africa, he argues that a contextual deconstruction of identity is necessary for understanding those post-colonial elements present in today's African conflicts. This admonition, along with Tew's examination of Northern Ireland, illustrate the ways in which identity research can help the analysis and resolution of ethnic conflicts. Unfortunately, the rest of the work seems bent on pursuing a 'mirage of truth' that it, and we, may never find.


Landon E. Hancock,
George Mason University




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