This presentation outlines an institutional framework for studying ethnic identity that unites constructivist theories of ethnic politics and with the literature on equilibrium institutions. I propose that ethnic identity is best understood as a social institution, and use this framework to provide theoretical microfoundations for a conception of identity that is emergent, intersubjective, situational, and contested. To motivate this discussion, I draw on the case of Malays in contemporary Malaysia. The larger project is a book-length study of the political economy of ethnic orders, drawing primarily on materials from Malaysia and Indonesia.
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