|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.
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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