Ethnicity: Constructions of Self and Other in Ancient Egypt

In: Journal of Egyptian History
Stuart Tyson Smith University of California Santa Barbara

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The construction of ethnic self and other played a central role in ancient Egyptian ideology as well as at a more quotidian level. Ethnic groups are usually seen as self-defined, distinctive entities, often corresponding neatly to political or cultural units, but in reality, expressions of ethnic identity are mutable and socially contingent. Adopting a multi-scalar approach informed by practice theory, this paper examines ancient Egyptian constructions of ethnicity, taking into account ideological and elite expressions of ethnic identity from art and texts and everyday practices revealed by archaeology. A carefully contextualized analysis shows how pejorative constructions of an ethnic other by the state contrast with more positive interactions and patterns of mutual influence at a more individual level.

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