Jewish identity construction in contemporary Poland : influences and alternatives in ethnic renewal / by Claire Ann Rosenson.
In many parts of the world today, ethnic identity is not merely the product of socialization, but is the result of conscious choice on the part of the individual. Nowhere is this more evident than in the countries of the former East Bloc, where sweeping political changes have removed many barriers to the expression of ethnic sentiment. The present work represents an attempt to build a generalizable model of ethnic identity construction by identifying the major influences on group conceptions of ethnic identity and describing the process by which those conceptions change over time. The primary case study focuses on the construction of ethnic identity among Polish Jews born after World War II. Conclusions are based primarily on data collected in interviews with members of that community. Traditionally, theories of ethnicity have posited a unity of beliefs, values or behaviors within an ethnic group. In contrast to traditional theories, the model proposed here focuses on major areas of conflict within groups, positing that conflict over issues deemed relevant in some degree to all members of the group is the driving force behind ethnic change. In choosing to identify, members of ethnic groups are presented with a set of issues, which are both important and controversial for the group, on which they feel obligated to take a position. The set of controversial issues relevant to a given group at a given time, the model posits, is determined by three factors: differences between cohorts arising from their formative experiences; differences between subgroups arising from conflicts between communal institutions; and differences between subgroups arising from their varied responses to input from outside groups. Whereas works on ethnicity in the field of political science have tended to focus on nationalism, or the pursuit of statehood by ethnic groups, this model treats nationalism and organized political behavior in general as a potential outgrowth of ethnicity, but not as its necessary byproduct.
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