Martin examines ethnicity
Posted May 19, 2006

Renee Bamford
Staff Writer

Kimberly Martin, professor of anthropology, presented her research on “The Emergence of Meaning: Concept of Ethnicity in Mainstream Europeans” before roughly 25 students and faculty members in the President’s Dining Room last week.

Her research focused on the question: How do minority Europeans conceptualize their own ethnicity?

Between 1999 to 2005, Martin spent several weeks at a time in Europe conducting informal interviews and with mainstream Europeans in Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.

“You can’t make generalized statements about human universals without looking at a wide variety of cultures,” Martin said.

The focus of her interviews was to see how Europeans view ethnicity and to see whether they still have a strong attachment to their ancestry or heritage.

Martin described how when looking for ways to compare and contrast her data on how ethnicity is viewed in European culture, she found only random responses in her interviews that could not be related to one another.

After analyzing her research, she explained, she shifted her focus to the structure of people’s thought process.

She explained that when analyzing culture, race and ethnicity there were two main categories that they fall under: theoretical and cognitive.

Martin explained that, often when researching a certain topic in
anthropology, one may begin with a certain phrase or question that is the basis of their research.

However, after analyzing the structure and content of the research, a new focus may be formed.

Martin said that there were two sets of responses: “scripted” responses, those of which were answers that have been formed previously when asked the question.

And the “stalling and probing” method, where interviewees had never been asked the question before and were looking for an answer that would please their audience.

The Schema theory compliments another approach that is made unconsciously by an individual when answering a question.

By definition the schema theory is flexible configurations mirroring the regularities of experience, providing automatic completion of missing memory. For example, in many of Martin’s interviews with mainstream Europeans when she asked how they conceptualize their own ethnicity she found that many responses brought the interviewees back to certain occurrences in their lives that have formed their view of ethnicity.

“Culture influences who we are and how we view the world,” Martin said. “It is abstract, shared and learned. No two (cultures) are exactly alike.”

Martin is currently in the process of analyzing and re-focusing her research to that of the structure of people’s thought process. She is also working on a book on the topic.

Renee Bamford can be reached at

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