Ethnic Nepotism Theory

Ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied on the ethnic level explained by nepotism for people with similar genes.

1941 Ethnic Map of the USSR

Ethnic nepotism is a concept in sociobiology to explain why people prefer other people of the same ethnicity or race. Ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied on the ethnic level.

The term was coined by sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe in response to Belgian oppression of Africans he witnessed as a Congolese-born European in the Belgian Congo. The theory views ethnocentrism and racism as nepotism toward extended kin and an extension of kin selection.

In other words, ethnic nepotism points toward a biological basis for the phenomenon of people preferring others of the same ethnicity or race; it explains the tendency of humans to favour members of their own racial group by postulating that all animals evolve toward being more altruistic toward kin in order to propagate more copies of their common genes.

‘The myth of common descent’, proposed by many social scientists as a prominent ethnic marker, is in his view often not a myth at all. ‘Ethnicity is defined by common descent and maintained by endogamy’.

According to research by Van der Dennen, ‘ethnocentrism-cum-xenophobia’ seems universally present in pre-industrial societies – and in many primate and social carnivore species.

In his book Ethnic Conflicts Explained by Ethnic Nepotism Tatu Vanhanen empirically examined the relationships between the degree of ethnic homogeneity, the degree of ethnic conflicts, and the degree of democratization in the nations of the world.

He found that more ethnically heterogeneous nations had more ethnic conflicts. The degree of democratization explained very little of the degree of ethnic conflicts except that very authoritarian states such as the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia could suppress ethnic conflicts. Ethnic conflicts were only slightly less common in more economically developed countries. They appeared within all racial groups, cultures, and geographical regions. In Vanhanen’s view, people have a genetic tendency to easily learn ethnic attitudes and psychological mechanisms leading to prejudice, scapegoating, and discrimination.


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