Social Science blog

19 November 2012

Researching ethnicity, identity and 'mixed-race'

This post discusses our latest Myths and Realities event on ethnicity, identity and 'mixed-race' and points readers in the direction of some relevant British Library collections.

On the evening of 13 November we hosted our latest Myths and Realities event (in partnership with the Academy of Social Science) on 'Our ethnicity and identity - what does it all mean?' Speakers Professor Miri Song and Professor Ann Phoenix spoke about how we think about our ethnic identity, and how the meanings we attach to this identity can change across time, space and social context. The event was chaired by Rania Hafez of Muslim Women in Education.

Ann Phoenix's talk entitled 'Why are ‘race’ and ethnicity crucial to identities and social lives, but not central?' explored how debates about multiculturalism have produced contradictory ways of thinking about 'race', ethnicity and identities. Miri Song's title was 'Does the growth of ‘mixed race’ people signal the declining significance of ‘race’?'. Here she examined what is signalled by the growth in interracial partnerships and of 'mixed' people.

Since the 2001 census, ‘mixed’ has been used as an ethnic category. Indeed, in 2001 the census counted 677,117 who self-identified as 'mixed'. However, as Miri Song notes in her article ‘The creation and interpretation of ‘mixed’ categories in Britain today’ in the online journal Dark Matter, this figure is likely to underestimate the actual number of people in England and Wales whose ethnic heritage is ‘mixed’ because of the different ways of asking questions around ethnicity. Indeed, how we define ethnicity in social research and in wider society is complex and subject to ongoing revision, as Pablo Mateos, Alex Singleton, and Paul Longley discuss in their article about how we analyse ethnicity classifications.

In the Library we hold a range of different resources which relate to the how we understand, measure and interpret ethnicity and ethnic identities. As well as the statistical reports which relate to census data (reports for 1921-1991 are in the Social Science Reading Room on the open shelves), academic journals and monographs (including books by both Miri and Ann – see below), we hold collections which speak to the lived experience of minority ethnic identities in Britain. For example, we have an oral history collection called Moroccan Memories in Britain which explores the experiences of living in Britain by Moroccan migrants. More details about oral history collections which explore ethnicity and identities can be found here.

In our Social Science Reading Room we have copies of recently published academic books which relate to the study of ethnicity, ‘race’ and identity both in theoretical terms and with relation to social policy. On the open shelves you will also find editions from the last 12 months of relevant journals.

More historical collections include The India Office collections which are particularly valuable for those seeking to research the complex relationship between Britain and India, including the migration and settlement of Indians in Britain as well as British in India.

So, whether you are taking an historical, quantitative or qualitative approach to researching ethnicity and identity, our collections should be a good place to start.

Useful references and links

Phoenix, Ann. & Tizard, Barbara. Black, white or mixed race? Race and racism in the lives of young people of mixed parentage. London : Routledge, 2001.
British Library Shelfmarks
Document Supply m01/42623
General Reference Collection YC.2002.a.2257

Song, Miri. Choosing ethnic identity. Cambridge : Polity, 2003.
British Library Shelfmarks:
Document Supply m03/15838
General Reference Collection YC.2007.a.296

Song, Miri. (2012) ‘The creation and interpretation of ‘mixed’ categories in Britain today’ in the online journal’ in Dark Matter

Pablo Mateos, Alex Singleton, and Paul Longley (2009) 'Uncertainty in the analysis of ethnicity classifications: some issues of extent and aggregation of ethnic groups.' Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies: 35 (9) Draft 'in press' version.


Office for National Statistics

Black Cultural Archives

Institute of Race Relations

BSA Race and Ethnicity Study Group


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