Doing statistics, enacting the nation: the performative powers of categories

Grommé, Francisca and Scheel, Stephan. 2020. Doing statistics, enacting the nation: the performative powers of categories. Nations and Nationalism, 26(3), pp. 576-593. ISSN 1354-5078 [Article]

Grommé, F. and Scheel, S. (2020) Doing statistics, enacting the nation. The performative powers of categories.pdf - Published Version
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Abstract or Description

It has been widely acknowledged in debates about nationalism and ethnicity that identity categories used for classifying people along the lines of culture, race and ethnicity help to enact, that is bring into being, the collective identities they name. However, we know little about how categories acquire their performative powers. The contribution of this paper is twofold: first, it proposes a conceptual framework based on concepts and insights from science and technology studies (STS) for investigating the performative powers of statistical identity categories and possibly also other domains. Second, it demonstrates, through an empirical study of two examples in Estonian and Dutch official population statistics, that statistical identity categories enact more than the groups to which they refer. We argue that they also enact national identities and notions of national belonging of majoritarian groups in the host countries. Therefore, statistical identity categories can be used as analytical lenses to study nationalisms and processes of nation-building.

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European Research Council, Grant/AwardNumbers: FP/2007-2013, 615588


categories; Estonia; identity politics; Netherlands; performativity; statistics; national identity

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8 August 2019Accepted
16 February 2020Published Online
July 2020Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Mar 2020 12:18

Last Modified:

07 Apr 2021 13:02

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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