I wrote the above phrase in an email to a senior scholar (not a social scientist) I enjoy arguing politics with. I’m not entirely sure what I meant by it, but he liked a lot so I thought I’d flesh it out here.
I think the point I was getting at is that culture is about patterned behaviors, ideas, thoughts, styles, skills, habits–it’s something that’s done or thought. By contrast, ethnicity is a static label–a categorization implying exclusivity. It’s based on culture (whether practiced or just perceived), but it’s more than culture. Ethnicity is culture ossified, abstracted from culture and (re)presented to the bearer of culture, confronting her as if it were an alien reality beyond her control.