Resisting Assimilation: Ethnic Boundary Maintenance Among Jews in Sweden

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Sociologiska institutionen

Abstract: This paper applies the ethnic boundary making theory developed by Andreas Wimmer to understand the maintenance of Jewish ethnic identification in Sweden, as expressed in thirteen interviews with Swedish Jews. Wimmer’s theory holds that ethnic conflict and persecution routinizes and entrenches perceptions of ethnic difference; I argue that the antisemitic persecutions of the 20th century has entrenched the perception of the ethnic distinctiveness of Jews among Jews themselves. These persecutions also contribute to alienation from Swedish society, which does not share the same historical identity and frames of understanding. These factors in turn motivate the participants to maintain the ethnic boundary between Swedes and Jews and guard it against assimilation. Ethnic consciousness also motivates Jews to endow the category of “Jewish” with cultural content, sometimes having previously lacked knowledge of Jewish culture; the cultural distinctiveness of Jews is thus shown to partly be a result of the ethnic boundary between Jews and others, and not just an explanation for that boundary. However; the participants are generally not prepared to restrict the choice of romantic bonds to fellow Jews; since social closure is required to maintain ethnic boundaries (as stressed by Wimmer), this puts the participants in a contradictory situation.

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