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European Identity and Cultural Plurality
By Monika Mokre

The overall aim of this paper is a critical scrutiny of the concept of European identity and the role of cultural politics in developing it.

Collective identity is not a value in itself but a highly ambiguous concept: To define who belongs to us, i.e. with whom we share a collective identity, always means to define at the same time, who does not belong, who is excluded. To define a collective identity always means to draw a boundary between us and them.

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Collective identity is necessary for a democratic polity.  Democracy is the rule of the people, the demos. But who or what is the demos? Who belongs to it and who does not? This is the question for collective identity. A democratically organised political community needs per definitionem a demos who is the sovereign. And a precondition for a demos is some form of loyalty with a political entity, i.e. a collective political identity. This is not only a problem of definitions but also a practical political one: Only if I understand myself as belonging to a society I will be prepared to engage for it and to accept collective decisions that do not correlate with my individual interests.

Collective identities are not clear-cut entities but flexible, shifting and contradictory concepts. People identify with different groups, values, and ideas in different periods of their lives. Parts of collective and individual identities can also conflict with each other as can be perceived when second generation immigrants struggle with their loyalties towards "original" and "host" culture.

Cultural identities are only one of several possibilities to "identify" oneself; other possibilities of identification are e.g. gender or class. Which identity is adopted and represented at a certain time depends on contexts, emotional set-ups, intentions etc. Thus, it would probably be better to speak of "identifications" that change over time than to use the static term of identity.

Cultural identity building was part of the process of national political identity building and devolved from the necessity to build up loyalty in a fragmented society.: "(…) the role of culture in human life was totally transformed by that cluster of economic and scientific changes which have transformed the world since the seventeenth century. The prime role of culture in agrarian society was to underwrite people's status and people's identity. Its role was really to embed their position in a complex, usually hierarchical and relatively stable structure. The world as it is now is one where people have no stable position or structure. They are members of ephemeral professional bureaucracies which are not deeply internalised and which are temporary. They are members of increasingly loose family associations. What really matters is their incorporation and their mastery of high culture; I mean a literate codified culture which permits context-free communication. Their membership of such a community and their acceptability in it, that is a nation." (Ernest Gellner 1995)


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See also:
art under net conditions und martin krusches "transit zone"

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