The Functions of Ethnic Stereotypes in Austria and Hungary in the Early Nineteenth Century

The Functions of Ethnic Stereotypes in Austria and
Hungary in the Early Nineteenth Century: by Andras Vari, in the collection essays entitled, “Creating the Other: Ethnic Conflict and Nationalism in Habsburg Central Europe”

In The Functions of Ethnic Stereotypes, Andras Vari argues that ethnic stereotypes originated in Austria-Hungary during the end of the 18th century with the help of outside intellectuals and that these stereotypes were used as a filter to determine which groups were and “were not fit to participate in the construction of a new society” (Vari p. 39). Vari uses a number of descriptive statistical works from two different generations of authors – those born between 1745 and 1770 and those born between 1770 and 1800 – as his data set. His hypothesis is that the ethnical stereotypes that originated from the first set of authors would not change during the second set even though the stereotypes were “redrawn in more divisive nationalist fashion” in the latter half of the 19th century.

The body of Vari’s essay looks specifically at the stereotypes used by authors during both time periods for Germans, Hungarians, Croatians and Romanians. He notes that the Germans are perceived positively as industrious, intelligent and peaceful; Hungarians are lively, hot tempered and warlike and less diligent and orderly than the Germans; the Croats and Romanians are stereotyped the worst because they are considered wild, lazy, sensual and poor.

Vari finds that these stereotypes do not change from first generation of authors to the second. Although the second set of authors focused their studies on different aspects like housing and consumption, the stereotypes remained the same. The Germans were still esteemed for their behavior and the Hungarians, Croatians and Romanians were looked down upon.

Vari concludes that the stereotypes were both a mirror of the author’s values and their vision for how society should develop. This vision was important because the stereotypes were used as a filter to determine which group was capable of advancing society to meet this vision.

This essay was short and to the point and I certainly think that Vari makes his point and provides ample evidence to support it. I would have preferred, however, that he take the study further and go into the changes that supposedly took place during the middle of the 19th century when the stereotypes were used for nationalist purposes. It seems unfair to mention this change in the beginning and then fail to develop it further in the paper.

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