Group Identity – Solidarity and Opposition

As described earlier (, characteristic group behaviour includes a sense of belonging to one’s own group – and increased awareness of differences from others.  Claire Alexander, for example, in her book Asian Gangs, explores how opposition to other groups increases people’s sense of identity:

“A crucial element in the creation and maintenance of peer group boundaries is their oppositional nature.  This was manifested in two distinct, though connected, ways: firstly in the imposition of a collective, [usually stigmatised], identity from outside; and secondly through the formulation of notions of inclusion and exclusion from [the young men] themselves.  This latter categorisation was posited on a dual assertion of internal loyalty and of external difference – and especially of potential threat.  These perceptions were centred on a complex and shifting matrix of alliances and antagonisms around notions of community, territory, age and personality, but they were also crucial to a sense of individual and collective security.  It is this sense, of belonging, of vulnerability, of care and responsibility – of trust – which provides a link between the group and its wider environs, between the assumption and ascription of group identity.” [pages 157-8]

The brackets have been added here because they enclose words which were particular to the context she was writing about; if one removes those words, the quotation is applicable to any ethnic group.

Ethnic identity would not normally be how people choose to define themselves in their relationships with others.  People see each other as neighbours, colleagues, friends, and in some cases as team-mates in sporting contests – irrespective of ethnicity.  When a particular ethnic group is stigmatised or feels threatened, though, its members are more likely to huddle together and to see people outside the group as potentially hostile.

Before the partition of India, Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully but as independence grew nearer the society divided along religious lines.  Muslims became concerned about being dominated by Hindus and a political power struggle developed.  As described on the cover of Yasmin Khan’s book, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan:

“Thousands of women were raped, at least one million people were killed, and ten to fifteen million were forced to leave their homes as refugees.”



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/4451a.htm