Deconstructing the Ethnos – Nation Distinction

Marianna Papastephanou


Two major theoretical tendencies are noticeable in discussions of the ethnos and the nation. The one identifies them and uses them alternatively and in a largely de-politicized sense. The other sets them in drastic opposition, associating the ethnos with apolitical collective affect based on biology or culture and the nation with contractuality and statehood. This article steers clear from both tendencies and argues for a re-conceptualization of ethnos along lines that stem from its etymology and the post-metaphysical possibilities it carries. To this end, an argument is expounded about why the limited translatability of ethnos into nation, the surplus of semantic possibilities of the former that cannot be totally channeled into the latter, opens a path toward a more convincing and inclusive conception of patriotism. The full-fledged patriotism thus promoted accommodates the ethnic element in modes that are, hopefully, compatible with, and even conducive to, cosmopolitanism.

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Journal of Politics and Law ISSN 1913-9047 (Print) ISSN 1913-9055 (Online)  Email:

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