Geography Ethnonationalism
Mathias Le Bossé
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0232


The term ethnonationalism (or ethno-nationalism) elicits understandings and forms of nationalism that regard ethnicity and ethnic ties as core components of conceptions and experiences of the “nation”. At the intersection of profound cultural, social, and political concerns, the study of ethnonationalism lends itself to a variety of interdisciplinary approaches across the full spectrum of the human and social sciences: from history and geography to international law, from anthropology to political science and international relations, from psychology and sociology to philosophy and ethics. Geographical approaches to ethnonational questions tend to privilege the spatiality of ethnonational identities and the territoriality of ethnic and national groups and political movements. They draw on the work of social and cultural geographers dedicated to issues of ethnicity and other identities as well as on the political and legal geographies of social movements, organizations, and institutions. Since the early 20th century, the study of ethnonationalism (or simply nationalism) has consistently been justified by the momentum of the topic at critical historical junctures. There was, first, the formation and management of large European multiethnic and multinational empires—principally the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy, but also the Russian and Ottoman Empires—their role as sources of conflict and their ultimate demise in the wake of World War I. In the interwar period the redrawing of the political map of Europe in part along ethnic and national lines according to a proclaimed “right of peoples” to self-determination, but also the rise of fascism and national-socialism (Nazism), would justify continued interest in the “national question.” During the Cold War the independence of former European colonies in Asia and Africa motivated research in issues of ethnic, tribal, and national identities and allegiances and the political difficulties stemming from their interactions in the context of modern territorial statehood. The governance structure of the Soviet Union and its eventual collapse in the 1980s and 1990s and the resurgence of ethnic and national claims and conflicts in its aftermath and around the world of the post–Cold War era reinvigorated ethnonationalism research and scholarship in the late 20th and well into the 21st centuries. Simultaneously, some sociocultural and political effects of contemporary globalization and increased international migration may have generated newer brands of “ethno-national” movements in the form of reactionary, “nativist” and populist, often xenophobic and racist, always exclusionary identity politics in the more developed world—such as so-called “white nationalism” in the United States.

Reference Works

Because of the relative complexity of the topic, it is essential to approach it using as clear and firm as possible a terminological and conceptual apparatus, following a warning in Connor 1978. Encyclopedic or general surveys such as Breton 1995; Herb and Kaplan 2008; Minahan 2016; or Stone, et al. 2020, but also concise yet already substantive dictionary entries Connor 2007 and Keating 2011 (cited under Ethnic vs. Civic Nationalisms), for example, provide helpful overviews and presentations of the subject and pertinent related issues. For broader background and context also check the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Geography articles “Nations and Nationalism” by Fiona Davidson and “Ethnicity” by Thomas Sullivan and their relevant subheadings. References to general works on “nationalism,” such as Mortimer and Fine 2011 or Bieber 2020, are justified here to the extent that they include mention or treatment of the more specific phenomenon of “ethnonationalism.” The ultimate collection of scholarly essays specifically and entirely dedicated to ethnonationalism is found in Conversi 2003.

  • Bieber, Florian. Debating Nationalism: The Global Spread of Nations. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2020.

    An overview of the meanings and manifestations of nationalism from its origins in early modern Europe to its global spread in the context of decolonization and the post–Cold War period. Of particular interest at the end of a long historical arc are insights into the recent rise of “new nationalism and populism.”

  • Breton, Roland. L’ethnopolitique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995.

    Sweeping survey and typology of ethnopolitical (and, in effect, ethnonational) issues by a geographer. Ethnicity is here primarily (and somewhat restrictedly) defined on the basis of geo-linguistic criteria. Explicating the complex relations among the phenomena of ethnie, nation, and the state, Breton defends a view of ethnopolitics as being centered on “peoples,” their claims and rights, in opposition to a geopolitics centered on territorial “states” and their interests.

  • Connor, Walker. “A nation is a nation, is a state, is an ethnic group is a . . .” Ethnic and Racial Studies 1.4 (1978): 377–400.

    DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1978.9993240

    A major early article by Connor that emphasizes the intellectual confusion emanating from the “terminological chaos” surrounding descriptions and definitions of seemingly diverse, yet often similar, conceptions of national phenomena. Reproduced in Connor 1994 (cited under Theoretical Considerations).

  • Connor, Walker. “Ethnonationalism.” In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Edited by George Ritzer, 1486–1488. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

    A short, but dense description of ethnonationalism by a preeminent expert in the field, with particular emphasis on the issue of national self determination.

  • Conversi, Daniele, ed. Ethnonationalism in the Contemporary World: Walker Connor and the Study of Nationalism. New York: Routledge, 2003.

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays by top scholars and specialists from the fields of anthropology and sociology, history and geography, linguistics, social psychology, and international relations that discusses both theoretical and empirical dimensions of ethnonationalism and its study. Case studies on the Basque Country, South Africa, and Canada.

  • Herb, Guntram H., and David H. Kaplan, eds. Nations and Nationalism: A Global Historical Overview. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2008.

    Edited by geographers, a quite accessible and comprehensive survey of national phenomena, approached and organized in chronological, thematic, and geographical fashions.

  • Minahan, James B. Encyclopedia of Stateless Nations: Ethnic and National Groups around the World. 2d ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood/ABC-CLIO, 2016.

    A second, updated, and now single-volume edition of a reference work among several similar compendiums of ethnic groups, stateless nations, and national movements published by the same author since the 1990s.

  • Mortimer, Edward, with Robert Fine, eds. People, Nation and State: The Meaning of Ethnicity and Nationalism. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011.

    Theoretical and empirical contributions by leading scholars and writers discuss the significance of ethnic, national, and other group identities in their relationships to state structures and various kinds of nationalism in the post-Cold War world. Cases studies in the former Soviet world, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Germany, but also multicultural America. Originally printed in 1999.

  • Stone, John, Rutledge M. Dennis, Polly Rizova, and Xiaoshuo Hou, eds. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2020.

    Very timely and up-to-date at the time of its publication, accessible to advanced undergraduate students, this broad-ranging collection of general essays and more focused case studies addresses complex contemporary and concurrent developments in ethnic, racial, and national relations at global, regional, and national scales. Of especial interest to geographers, the articles in Part III discuss the impact of “Migration in a Transnational World” (pp. 277–401), while Part IV touches on “Violence, Genocide, Terrorism, and War” (pp. 403–468).

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