Gunilla Bjerén, Professor emerita, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University

Urban ethnicity: evidence from Shashemene, Ethiopia 1965-2010

In a case study of movements in and out of the town of Shashemene 1965-1973, I concluded that mobility patterns at that time were largely determined by “ethnicity”. Ethnicity at the time was a controversial subject. The government refused denied identities legitimacy in its attempt to replace ethnicity by a common identity as Ethiopian nationals. In my first Shashemene study I found that “ethnicity” subsumed many elements that jointly formed the mechanisms behind mobility patterns. There were in effect “ethnic syndromes” of language, history, social prestige, and economic opportunities.

When I returned to Shashemene for a follow-up study in 2008, the country had moved from being a centralized monarchy, and later socialist People’s Republic, to a federation of “regional states” formed on ethnic grounds. This signalled a new significance of ethnicity and ethnic identities and, along with continuing urbanization, a breaking up of elements that used to go together. In this paper I will look into the new forms of urban ethnicity, as they have developed in Shashemene during the period 1973 to 2008.

Gunilla Bjerén is retired professor of Gender Studies and docent in Social Anthropology, both at Stockholm University. She is now completing her second study of population dynamics in Shashemene town under the preliminary title “An Ethiopian kaleidoscope. Shashemene lives 1965-2010”.

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