Understandings of nationhood and outgroup attitudes in culturally diverse Mauritius

F.M. van der Werf, Maykel Verkuyten, B. Martinovic, Caroline Ng Tseung-Wong

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Social and political scientists (e.g., Jones & Smith, 2001; Leong, 2013; Verkuyten & de Wolf, 2002) have examined the meaning of nationhood predominantly by focusing on Western nations in which shared ancestry is often important for what it means to be a national. They examined how natives understand the concept of nationhood and how different understandings relate to attitudes toward immigrants. The current study aims to extend this research in three ways. We investigate 1) how people define national group membership in a non-Western, ethno-culturally heterogeneous nation, 2) to what extent different ethno-cultural groups hold similar or different understandings of nationhood, and 3) how these different understandings relate not only to attitudes toward foreign groups but also toward established ethno-cultural groups within a nation. For this investigation, we turn to the context of Mauritius. This island country, located in the Indian Ocean, has no native population and there is a high degree of ethno-cultural diversity within the nation, both in terms of longer established groups and in terms of recent immigrants and foreign workers. Data were collected among a representative sample of the resident population in Mauritius aged 18 years and older and belonging to the three numerically largest ethno-cultural groups (Hindus, Muslims, and Creoles; Ntotal = 1770). In line with earlier, predominantly qualitative, studies (e.g., Tsang, Irving, Alaggia, Chau, & Benjamin, 2003; Ullah, 1990; Verkuyten & de Wolf, 2002), three understandings of nationhood emerged: being, doing, and feeling Mauritian. This distinction was found among all three groups, with some small exceptions. We further examined how these three understandings of nationhood were related to attitudes towards established and new groups in Mauritius. Being Mauritian (e.g. place of birth, citizenship) turned out not to be an important criterion for outgroup exclusion. Further, we found that the criterion of doing Mauritian (e.g., country of residence, language) was related to less positive attitudes to these outgroups, which is in line with expectations we had based on perception of ethno-cultural outgroup practices as undermining or threatening the national identity (Sniderman & Hagendoorn, 2007). In contrast, the criterion of feeling Mauritian (e.g., feeling Mauritian, being tolerant of other religions) contributed to more acceptance of outgroups, which we expected given that the content of Mauritian identity revolves around intergroup tolerance and respect for diversity (Ng Tseung-Wong & Verkuyten, 2015). Our findings provide a novel direction for future research and for policies about how nations can try to stimulate acceptance of newcomers and established outgroups. An emphasis on national belonging does not have to have exclusionary consequences for outgroups, but rather can provide an inclusive environment depending on the specific understanding that is emphasized. Altogether, the findings make a novel contribution to the literature on how lay people understand nationhood, how these understandings are shared among ethno-cultural groups within a nation, and how these relate to attitudes toward foreign as well as established outgroups.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019
EventAdvancing Intercultural Research and Dialogue: Crossing Boundaries and Building Bridges - Campus of Shanghai International Studies University , Shanghai, China
Duration: 8 Jul 201910 Jul 2019


ConferenceAdvancing Intercultural Research and Dialogue


Dive into the research topics of 'Understandings of nationhood and outgroup attitudes in culturally diverse Mauritius'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this