The assertion, even if only by implication, that ‘ethnic group’ categories represent ‘real’ tangible entities, indeed identities, is commonplace not only in the realms of political and policy discourse but also amongst contemporary social scientists. This paper, following Brubaker (2002), questions this position in a number of key respects: of these three issues will dominate the discussion that follows. First, there is an interrogation of the proposition that those to whom the categories/labels refer constitute sociologically meaningful ‘groups’ as distinct from (mere) human collectivities. Secondly, there is the question of how these categories emerge, i.e. exactly what series of events, negotiations and contestations lie behind their construction and social acceptance. Thirdly, and as a corollary to the latter point, we explore the process of reification that leads to these categories being seen to represent ‘real things in the world’ (ibid.).