The development of non-essentialist concepts of ethnicity among children in a multicultural London community.
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WOODS, R. 2017. The development of non-essentialist concepts of ethnicity among children in a multicultural London community. British journal of development psychology [online], 35(4), pages 546-567. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/bjdp.12194
Ethnic constancy, the belief that a person cannot change ethnicity, is an important component of ethnic essentialism, the conviction that members of ethnic groups share an immutable underlying essence. Most children in previous research viewed ethnicity as increasingly immutable with age. However, some evidence suggests that children growing up in communities which define ethnicity primarily in terms of changeable features (e.g. lifestyle) rather than fixed features (e.g. ancestry), may not follow this trajectory. The current study examined ethnic constancy development in a community which defined ethnicity primarily in terms of changeable features. It was hypothesised that older children would view ethnicity as more changeable than younger children, but that because of personal investment which increases with age, children would view their own ethnicity as more stable than a peer's ethnicity, entailing a significant interaction between age and self-other. Ninety-two children in three age groups (mean ages 7, 9 and 11 years) from a multicultural school in London were interviewed individually. Their ethnicities were 45% Indian, 16% English, 7% Pakistani, 7% Somali, 2% unknown, 25% other. Children's explanations were analysed thematically. All hypotheses were supported. Children's conceptions of others' ethnicity as changeable were supported by definitions focusing on religion, and by the concept of freedom of choice. This suggests that in a community in which ethnicity is primarily defined in terms of attributes which are seen as mutable (in this case, religion), children may not essentialise ethnicity. Still, ethnic change may rarely occur in practice due to an emotional commitment to one's own ethnic group.