Preliminary discussions among COER's founding members have emphasized the fundamental need to clarify our theoretical approaches. Furthermore, several themes and issues were identified as being so central to the study of ethnicity that they should be articulated separately, to provide us with the overall parameters of the topic. These related issues include:
It is also understood that the clarification of the concepts used in our research remains a priority. Terms such as "ethnogenesis" or "ethnodevelopment," for example, have come to mean different things to different people, and, indeed, even terms as basic as "culture" and "ethnicity" do not enjoy consensual understanding even within the anthropological scholarly community.
Hopefully, the sheer process of exchange of information will lead to some conceptual clarification. For the purpose of the Commission's activities, however, it seems useful to offer at least a working definition of "ethnic group", which shall be: "any community viewing itself as culturally distinct from others with which it is fundamentally related at the sociopolitical level."
Such communities may be large or small, dominant or marginalized; they may exist within the boundaries of a single state or have members in more than one state; and their relations with each other may be symmetrical or asymmetrical, harmonious or conflictual, cooperative or exploitative. Furthermore, it is recognized that ethnic membership is socially constructed, so that individuals may choose to identify with different communities at different times and places, and their very group identification may be accepted or contested by both outsiders and insiders.
Finally, while no particular theoretical position for the study of ethnic relations is endorsed by the Commission, it is acknowledged that sociocultural background, theoretical orientation, and political ideology are all likely to influence definitions of ethnicity and ethnic research practice. Consequently, as the Commission coordinates the exchange of information on the dynamics of ethnic relations it will also encourage the self-reflective assessment of the epistemological matrices within which such information is collected, analyzed, and interpreted.