European Journal of Social Theory http://est. sagepub. com/ A Theory of Collective Identity Making Sense of the Debate on a ‘European Identity’ Klaus Eder European Journal of Social Theory 2009 12: 427 DOI: 10. 1177/1368431009345050 The online version of this article can be found at: http://est. sagepub. com/content/12/4/427 Published by: http://www. sagepublications. com Additional services and information for European Journal of Social Theory can be found at: Email Alerts: http://est. sagepub. com/cgi/alerts
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A Theory of Collective Identity Making Sense of the Debate on a ‘European Identity’ Klaus Eder H U M B O L D T U N I V E R S I T Y, B E R L I N Abstract This article argues for a robust notion of collective identity which is not reduced to a psychological conception of identity. In the ? rst part, the debate on the concept of identity raised by several authors is taken up critically with the intention of defending a strong sociological conception of identity which by de? nition is a collective identity.
The basic assumption is that collective identities are narrative constructions which permit the control of the boundaries of a network of actors. This theory is then applied to the case of Europe, showing how identity markers are used to control the boundaries of a common space of communication. These markers are bound to stories which those within such a space of communication share. Stories that hold in their narrative structures social relations provide projects of control. National identities are based on strong and exclusive stories.
Europeanization (among other parallel processes at the global level) opens this space of boundary constructions and offers opportunities for national as well as subnational as well as transnational stories competing with each other to shape European identity projects. The EU – this is the hypothesis – provides a case in which different sites offer competing opportunities to continue old stories, to start new stories or to import old stories from other sites, thus creating a narrative network on top of the network of social relations that bind the people in Europe together.
European identity is therefore to be conceived as a narrative network embedded in an emerging network of social relations among the people living in Europe. Key words ¦ collective identity ¦ European identity ¦ narrative analysis ¦ network analysis ¦ sociological theory www. sagepublications. com DOI: 10. 1177/1368431009345050 Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 428 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) Identity: A Contested Concept Collective identity has been at the centre of attention in societies that were formed in the course of the making of the nation-state.
The nation, however, has not been an exclusive focus. Collective identity can equally refer to cities, to regions, or to groups such as political parties or even social movements. For some time, collective identity has also been an issue with regard to Europe where public debate is increasingly concerned with the problem of a European identity that is seen as lacking or as necessary. But why do societies, groups and even a union of nationstates such as the EU need an identity? For a person, an identity allows them to be recognized as something particular vis-a-vis others.
But why do groups, up to the nation and even transnational phenomena such as the EU, need an identity? The argument in the following is that the distinction between the identity of persons and the identity of groups and societies is an empirical one. Persons and societies are cases of identities. Persons have an identity by positioning themselves relative to other persons and by giving to these relations a meaning that is ? xed in time. An identity guarantees being a person in the ? ux of time.
The same holds for groups: a group has an identity if it succeeds in de? ning itself vis-a-vis other groups by attributing meaning to itself that is stable over time. Identity as an analytical concept covers all these cases: identity emerges by linking past social relations with those in the present. In some cases, even future social relations are included; in this case, identity is linked to ideas of salvation or fate that include future social relations in our present existence. All these ‘constructions’ emerge within a speci? type of social relations in the present and allow an interruption of the permanent change of social relations, thus creating an identity in which persons, groups or societies can see themselves and be seen by others as being ‘identical’ over time. Everyday common sense in our society uses the concept of identity in a different way; it sees identity is something that a person or a group has. Contrary to this common sense, sociological sense sees the person or the group as a special case of identity that has emerged in a highly particular type of social relations: persons are transformed into individuals in social relations which are de? ed as relations between ‘free and equal people’. This is the modernist form of social relations of transforming persons into something that has an identity, i. e. individuals. This modernist form of social relations also transforms groups into something that has a collective identity, i. e. into nations. In the historical move from subjects to individuals and from kingdoms to nations, we can observe a shift in the construction of identity. Identity is reconstructed since it refers to a different type of social relations.
In such social relations, identity becomes a particular preoccupation of ‘individuals’ or ‘nations’, as the permanent work on identity repair and identity con? rmation shows. As an analytical concept, identity denotes something that holds across all these cases, providing stable meaning in the ? ux of social relations. Since identity in this sociological usage refers to social relations, any kind of identity is by de? nition social. Individuals and nations in the society we live in constitute the two Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012
Eder A Theory of Collective Identity poles of identity constructions. 1 In-between, we have a series of social forms such as couples, families, associations, classes, regions, or ethnic groups which can be seen as intermediate cases of identity. The two poles of identity constructions are not ? xed, since changing social relations might produce forms of identity beyond the nation, an issue that is at the core of the debate of European identity and that makes this debate theoretically important. 2 In the following, a theoretically robust notion of collective identity will e presented. This task is carried out in the next section in a critique of the critical statements on the concept of collective identity that have arisen in the past decade. It consists of recuperating it from the fragments of the deconstruction of this concept in recent theorizing. The constructive argument in this recuperation effort is based on two assumptions. The ? rst is that that processes of identity construction vary with the complexity of social relations. The second assumption is that processes of identity construction have a ‘narrative structure’.
These two theoretical moves then help to reassess the ongoing debate on the identity of Europeans or of a ‘European identity’ which preoccupies elites, sometimes people and which keeps active a rather signi? cant part of the public debate and increasingly scienti? c debate on ‘Europe’. In an oft-cited paper, Brubaker and Cooper (Brubaker and Cooper, 2000) made a strong attack on the concept of identity in the social sciences following this lead. They make three strong arguments. Their ? rst criticism has been that reputed authors using the term do not really need it. They use identity only as the marker of an intention (to be culturally sensitive). Identity is not related to the social analysis that has been presented elsewhere in their work. A second criticism of Brubaker and Cooper is that the notion of collective identity necessarily implies some notion of primordialism. Assuming that collective identity denotes something beyond shared values or norms, then there must be something more substantial than this to justify its use. The constructivist position starting with a non-essentialist position ends up in essentialist notions of collective identity.
Constructivism produces outcomes that contradict its basic premises of ? uidity and multiplicity. A third criticism is that we already assume a groupist social ontology which forecloses the analytical grip of the diversity of patterns of non-groupist social forms; we exclude by de? nition the possibility of non-groupist social life, the possibility of living social relations without claiming an identity. Yet the solutions which Brubaker and Cooper offer do not resolve the problems addressed by them. The ? rst argument forces us to specify the added value of using the notion of collective identity as an analytical category.
This is an obvious postulate. Categorical ornamenting or fashionable category-dropping should be avoided. We should either propose a strict sociological notion or leave the concept to psychologists who interpret identity as a phenomenon of the human mind. My proposal is that we can make a strong sociological concept out of it as long as we do not confuse it with psychological notions. The second argument that some substantialism is implicit in constructivist accounts of collective identity implies that substantialism is in some sense ‘bad’. Downloaded from est. sagepub. om at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 429 430 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) The implicit answer of Brubaker et al. is that we should assume a world in which the social no longer needs an overarching naturalizing symbolism. However, there are social situations in which primordialism does pop up. Thus, the theoretical answer should be to identify situations in which constructions of collective identity vary between primordialism and arti? cialism. The third argument against the ‘groupist ontology’ raises the issue of the mechanism through which social actors relate to each other.
Collective identities are, the argument says, ‘groupist ontologies’ which in fact they are. They are symbolic forms through which a world of social relations is mirrored. These ontologies exist and have a structure and are the result of social processes that can be reconstructed. Doing away with such ‘ontologies’ is missing the object of a theory of collective identities. Groupist ontologies become the more important, the more social interaction is mediated by cultural techniques that establish sociality without the presence of the other.
Such forms of indirect sociality need a social rationalization that invokes the social. Therefore, we have to assume that there is something that they have in common beyond the co-presence of the others. The theoretical assumption that follows is that the idea of collective identity emerges when cultural techniques (such as bureaucratic formula, written texts, computer interfaces) serve as interrupts of social interaction and generate indirect social interaction. To act beyond natural bonds, i. e. through cultural techniques, means to generate an abstraction of social experience.
The argument then is that there is an increasing need for such collective identities in complex societies when indirect social relations increase in number. To forestall the macro-theoretical argument: The more a human society is differentiated, the more it needs a collective identity. The central hypothesis that derives from this assumption is that collective identities vary with the structure of the system of indirect social relations. The theory does not assume that collective identity is unitary, coherent. This is only one way of organizing the social bond among people.
Collective identity can also be fuzzy, multiple. It is the variation of identities which requires explanation. The theory proposed explains this variation as being contingent on the structure of social relations among people. In other words, the network structure linking a people shapes the construction of the identity of that network which then is used to reproduce this network structure. 4 Thus, collective identity constructions are a central building block of social relations. Therefore, we should not give up the concept of collective identity, but make better use of it.
Collective Identity Construction as Projects of Control: Adding Narrative Structure to Evolutionary Process The functionalist argument implicit in evolutionary theory tells us that it is necessary to create bonds which oblige people to pay taxes, to send their kids to schools, or to die for their country. On a more abstract level, it says that I accept that things are done to me by others which I accept only by those with whom I Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity have a special social relation, a sense of some community.
This common factor obliges people to accept the social norms imposed upon them. 5 The argument that collective identities are collective rationalizations of social relations points to the trans-psychological character of collective identities. The link between identity and reality is to be constructed independent of psychological assumptions about human needs or motivations for collective identity. The psychological grounding may even turn out to be a variable that varies with the form of collective identities. This happens when groups turn toward outside references for a collective identity.
As Pierre Nora argues: ‘Moins la memoire est vecu de l’interieur, plus elle a besoin de supports exterieurs et de reperes tangibles d’une existence qui ne vit plus qu’a travers eux’ (Nora, 1984: xxv). Collective identities are social constructions which use psychological needs and motives to provide an answer to the questions ‘who do I belong to? ’ or ‘who do we belong to? ’ Collective identities make use of such psychic references in speci? c social constellations. This happens regularly in social relations bound to concrete social interaction.
It also happens in social relations that transgress the realm of social interaction such as constructions of national identity and produce situations of ‘effervescence collective’, as Durkheim described it. The more indirect social relations are, the more important become social carriers such as texts or songs or buildings which store collective identities. To the extent that collective identities are linked primarily to individuals in concrete interaction situations, emotional ties such as the sense of pride and shame become important mechanisms for reproducing collective identities.
To the extent that collective identities are linked to objects as their carriers, these objects become carriers of generalized emotions that are built into the object, into images or texts. Such generalized emotions are embodied in what can be called ‘narratives’. This argument thus takes seriously the emotional aspect of identity constructions. There is something in the social relations that goes beyond the sense of shared interests and reciprocal solidarity. But this does not imply a return to a psychological notion of a sense of identity or of identi? cation. It rather leads us to think social relations in terms of hared meanings, i. e. narratives that people share ‘emphatically’ with each other. This sense of narrative sharing has to do with the sense of being part of a particular ‘we’. This can be called the ‘narrative bond’ that emerges in some social relations (but not in all of our social relations). Thus, a collective identity is a metaphor for a speci? c type of social relations that are embedded in the last instance in a narrative network that is as dynamic as the stories are that are produced and reproduced in ongoing social communication mediated by these social relations (Eder, 2007). Collective identities are analyzed as narrative networks that emerge in evolutionary processes; the path of development of such networks is prescribed by the structure of the narratives at play. The proposed theory argues that in complex societies, strong collective identities will emerge and that the narratives people share to live in this complex world will remain the basic building blocks of identities. The difference from the traditional world is that everybody lives through and with an increasing number of narratives that mediate social relations. This
Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 431 432 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) also increases the contingency of the developmental path prescribed by narrative networks. National identity constructions are the last instance of a collective identity with a clear path prescription, the making of nation-states. National identities do what collective identities do in general: they are stories that combine a series of events in texts, songs and images which some people recognize as being part of their particular we, i. . as a collective identity. In addition, national identity constructions have succeeded in imposing themselves as a hegemonic identity in a territorially bounded political community. This exclusiveness is built into a story which links people de? ned as citizens of a political community. This story is transmitted to and learned by new generations, practised in national rituals and objecti? ed in songs (anthems) and images (? ags). Counter-stories exist in those political communities in which two hegemonic stories compete (such as Belgium or Canada).
Yet even in these cases, the two stories are often aligned in one national story, told in different languages. This national solution is increasingly contested. Narratives appear which tell different stories about who we are. The problem is the co-existence of many hegemonic stories. This creates not only a practical problem but also a theoretical problem: How to conceive the narrative network underlying a political community in a situation where we have many narratives ? oating around and referring to it? The case in point is Europe. 7 Making Sense of a ‘European identity’
From Identi? cation with Europe to European Identity Constructions Research on collective identity construction in Europe is dominated by some variants of the social identity paradigm. Social identity theory claims that identi? cations have group-speci? c effects in terms of distance and proximity. This paradigm is useful because it allows us to use existing survey data which measure the degree to which people start to be ‘proud’ of their ‘institutions’ (at least to trust them) and ‘identify’ with Europe (conceived in political or cultural terms) (Kohli, 2000).
Another way is to emphasize symbols of state power, such as a ? ag, a hymn, a representative building, or the memory of a successful political act such as the act of uni? cation which can be represented in a ? ag (with 15 stars) which are made the object of ‘knowledge’ or ‘identi? cation’ with Europe. Taking such indicators at face value requires assuming that strong identi? cations and good knowledge imply strong identities. 8 But it is a long way from identi? cations to identities and there is no necessary parallelism between strong identi? cations and strong identities.
A collective identity is different from what is measured when we look at the degree of identi? cation with a prede? ned set of symbols. Such research tells us about the feedback effect on the individual level in the process of collective identity construction. It tells us nothing about the Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity mechanisms of identity construction that might provoke such feedback effects. Such research does not make theoretical sense of collective identity construction in Europe. 9
The substantive result of the research on identi? cation with symbolic representations of European political institutions is that they continuously show a weak sense of belonging with regard to Europe, much less than exists in the nationstate. The political community as a legal space with rights and duties does not provoke identi? cation, which means that they lack meaning beyond national culture. 10 Since the basis of strong identi? cation with political symbols is dependent upon the culture within which they make sense, research has turned to cultural symbols in order to ? d something that is worth identifying with in Europe. This search was guided by the theoretical expectation that what makes national symbols worthy of identi? cation also holds for European symbols. Some people looked for this meaning in some kind of republican idea of Europe. Others were searching for it in some kind of cultural idea of Europe. Interestingly enough, this debate reproduces the classic debate on the making of a nation over a republican conception of the nation and a cultural conception of the nation (Brubaker, 1992; Giesen, 2001).
While searching for a European identity in terms of identi? cation with Europe, the space of communication in the EU expands. Something is happening that does not show up in the surveys. The problem is therefore to ? gure out how this expanding space is ? lled with new symbols that provide a sense of the limitations of that space. This sense of limitation is not necessarily linked to the symbolic representations of the European political institutions or of a particular European culture. 11 This sense is rather emerging in the course of constructing increasingly dense networks of social elations in Europe that need a collective identity as a project of their control. The proposal is to look not at political or cultural symbols but at stories that emerge in the making of a network of social relations among those living in Europe. There are at least three ways of telling such stories in Europe which are not reducible to the national tool-kit for constructing collective identities. There is a story based on a successful process of uni? cation, i. e. the story of the European integration process as a successful economic and political project, which is the basis of a European citizenship narrative.
This is the story of the making of a rich, yet socially responsible continent, the story of an economic yet social Europe. There is another story that emerges from the memory of a murderous past of Europe. The space of communication based on shared memory is a potential source of strong feelings. Stories telling a shared past constitute boundaries with high emotional value. There is ? nally a story that relates to Europe as an experiment in hybrid collective identities, not as a ‘melting pot’, but as a ‘diversity pot’, which is a story in the making.
The three stories, the story of a successful common market as a citizenship narrative, the cultural story of a shared past and the story of a ‘new’ social bond of diversity emerging in Europe might produce present-day feedback effects in the mind of Europeans – but to do so they ? rst have to have emerged as stories. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 433 434 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) What binds Europeans into a network of social relations at the European level does not show up in established research.
It only provides some indications of individual resonance to what is asked in the questionnaires which themselves rely on the model of the old European nation-states. Collective identity remains hidden in the black box of aggregated individual responses. Their answers are like remote effects of processes working behind the backs of these individuals. To excavate more systematically the symbolic forms in which emerging identi? cations with Europe make sense and grow is the task ahead. From Normative Claims to the Analytical Description of
Collective Identities in Europe A second strand of research on a European identity which is based on a normative approach does not fare any better than the socio-psychological approach. The basic argument is that a democratic Europe needs a people conscious of itself as a people. This argument has been formulated as the ‘demos’-problem. A demos is the constituent of a democratic polity (the ‘people’), and as such it needs a collective identity that goes beyond the idea of a people as just a bunch of private interests.
Democracy in Europe needs a people with an idea about themselves that links them beyond private egoistic interests. Ideally the bond should be so strong that it accepts redistributive measures by political institutions. This bond could even be conceived as something that motivates people to die for the political community they live in. 12 To die for a symbolic bond is simply a mode of sharing which mobilizes the strongest possible emotions. With such a normative standard in mind, collective identities are classi? ble as varying between the poles of being weak and being strong in terms of emotional attachment to a good thing. We could translate this normative argument into the conceptual framework of the theory proposed above and provide a sociological instead of a normative argument. Arguing that European collective identity is so far a weak identity simply says that the story of the common market does not suf? ce to control the boundaries of a space of communication linking free and equal individuals into a political community.
It is argued that ‘Europe’ needs a different story than that of exchanging goods through the medium of money (i. e. the Euro). Euro coins provide a story for delimiting a common symbolic space which involves people in their being rational individuals seeking their own advantages. It needs more, a story which tells people that they are citizens of a political community. And maybe it even needs a still stronger identity since it must generate a sense of a particular responsibility and recognition of the other European itizens which goes beyond recognizing them as co-citizens. This argument, however, has always troubled normative democratic theory since it produces a further problem that is hard to tackle within classic political theory: that those following universalizable rules for each other need a special sense to connect to some (those who are members of community) and less to others (those who are not members of the political community). This special sense is no longer based on universalistic arguments, but on narrative images. Downloaded from est. agepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity The normative debate helped to denounce the idea of a common market as a mode of living together; it gave power to political institutions which started to engage in fostering and making a European identity. What this identity ? nally implies remained rather imprecise: beyond the acceptance of political institutions, this debate produced more dissent than consensus on what a European identity should look like. The debate therefore remains inconclusive.
Rather than taking this debate as an explanation of identity construction, it can be taken as a series of events in the process of identity constructions that is going on within and outside these normative debates which are used to construct a particular narrative as a special (even chosen) people. Normative arguments are a part of narratives; they are embedded in narrative clauses that convey meaning to argumentative debates (Eder, in press). Normative debates are therefore an important part of the process of identity construction, part of an ongoing story that is produced in arguing about Europe.
The Reference Object of a European Collective Identity Making theoretical sense of collective identities that have emerged and are continuing to crystallize in the course of European integration is a sociological programme directed at and against socio-psychological and normative approaches to European identity. Sociological approaches tell us whether, how and to what extent identity markers emerge in social processes that are situated in time and space. Normative discourses on collective identity are part of collective identities, explicit justi? ations of the boundaries of a network of social relations. Normative conceptions of a European identity are therefore part of the phenomenon that needs an explanation. The same holds for social-psychological approaches. To ? nd another starting point to analyze ongoing processes of identity construction in Europe is to take Europe as an empty signi? er. It could mean anything ranging from the identi? cation with a culture to a geographical unity ranging from the Atlantic to the Urals or to a unity that coincides with the legal realm of the European Union or to a unity that is de? ed by membership in the Council of Europe. We could take such ‘ideas’ as proxies for a Europe to be taken as a reference object of collective identity. Thus we could talk about a cultural Europe, a geographical Europe, a Europe of Human Rights, and a political Europe. Thus Europe is decomposed into a series of ‘Europes’ (in the plural) speci? ed by an adjective. Nevertheless, the problem of the construction of the thing to which a European identity refers remains. Collective identities refer to a space of communication, the boundaries of which vary with what is communicated.
This is an implication of the theoretical assumption that collective identities are constructed through stories. Stories that link people vary with the communicative network which they constitute. Thus, the reference object of collective identities is a network of communication with boundaries which are identi? ed and controlled by an identity. Networks of communication generate identities as a project of control of their boundaries (White, 1992). Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 435 436 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4)
The boundaries of Europe could be de? ned – following the national model – by political boundaries. In that case the legally de? ned space of the European Union is the referent for a collective identity. Legal de? nitions are grounded in stories that link people in that space in a particular way, mainly as citizens in that network. This network develops social relations as connections between citizens that can vary from dense to loose relationships. The trend is so far toward increasing density, measured by the increasing number of legal regulations that impinge upon the life of European citizens.
This legal de? nition of a network of social relations corresponds to attempts to de? ne a political control project: linking the citizens in a political identity and thus controlling the boundaries of a legal space. This very speci? c condition (legal rules as based on stories that bind) generates political identities as a project of control of the boundaries of the European political community. The story of this project is the European citizenship story which competes necessarily with the national citizenship story.
National citizenship is the result of a long process of historical concept formation in which national identity emerged, integrating social and cultural differences under a new concept: citizenship (Somers, 1995). This same concept is now used to make a European identity: inventing the European citizen as the narrative core of a European identity. 13 To indicate the difference, some adjectives have been used to mark the difference of European and national identity such as the idea of cosmopolitan citizenship.
Yet there is no way to avoid national citizenship stories from adopting cosmopolitanism as one of their elements. Cosmopolitanism ? ts just as well into the story of national as well as European citizenship. This story, since its beginning, has exclusively been tied to nationally de? ned networks of social actors. Thus there is an inherent dif? culty with constructions of a collective identity based on the citizenship story. This citizenship story is enriched by reference to the Common Market and to a Social Europe.
Both are connected like two sides of the one coin and their combination often serves as a possible particularity of Europe that distinguishes it from the rest of the world. This object is integrated into the European citizenship story: the story of a successful process of European integration which transformed foes into friends, which transformed war into wealth and freedom (i. e. , the ‘four freedoms’). It is further supported by de? ning the role of this EUEurope in the outer world, i. e. to de? ne Europe as an actor with a clear role in the world. 14
A second reference object is European culture, mainly de? ned as its traditions. The substance of this European culture is itself contested. Europe is rather a battle? eld of cultural images that confronts the cultural traditions that have shaped Europe. This is the particular ‘cultural heritage’ of Europe. It ? nds it in its ‘values’ which are opposed to the values cherished in other cultures. These Others are, however, shifting objects: the non-European world is projected on some particular Others, sometimes on the ‘East’, sometimes on the ‘Orient’, sometimes on ‘America’.
Distinguishing a European culture from such Others is a strategy for the foundation of a story about a European Self, i. e. a collective identity. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity The dif? culties with such a reference object which is taken as unique, clear and well-bounded lead to a third reference object based on the assumption that a European Self has never existed.
Europe has many different cultures that have co-existed for centuries; this refers not only to the different national cultures that come together in Europe; it also refers to the Arab and Jewish and other Eastern cultures that have had and still have a strong impact on what we consider to be part of Europe, which are equally inside and outside of a European culture. And, ? nally, Europe has added the cultures of the Others in the course of migration movements over past decades which again cannot be assimilated without having an impact on Europe’s culture.
Thus, reducing the reference object of a European culture to its ‘values’ or ‘cultural heritage’ is a simpli? cation which does not take into account the contradictory cultural orientations and the contestations about their ‘Europeanness’ in present-day Europe. What kind of story can be told about this diversity of a European culture? We can imagine a story about the many cultures and the forms in which they have encountered each other and shaped the course of cultural change in Europe.
There are stories in Europe, in Southern Europe, stories about the co-existence of Arab and Norman culture, of Jewish and Christian culture, of Mongols and ‘gypsies’ in Europe. These stories often tell terrible tales which does not mean that the end of the story is hell. Thus it seems to be an open story, which can be continued and which is fostered in a Europe where these different cultures again clash – yet under different conditions from the past. Which collective identity is mobilized depends on the story that is chosen to identify the boundaries of a network of social relations that bind ‘Europeans’, i. . those living in Europe and ? ghting for its cultural orientation, to each other. The three basic stories, the story of a common market and a Social Europe embedded in the story of a European citizenship, the story of a unique European culture, and the story of a hybrid Europe are incompatible. They will not coincide in terms of constructing a clear boundary; rather, they construct different boundaries. They tell about different ‘Europes’ (in the plural). Thus, European identity emerges as something with varying boundaries, depending upon which story we tell.
Whether there is an overall story connecting these stories and transforming them into one ‘European story’ depends upon a series of restrictive conditions. According to the theoretical model presented above, this has to do, ? rst, with the evolution of networks of social relations in Europe, and then with the structural properties of these different stories which determine their narrative connectivity. The question could be answered in the positive to the extent that Europe develops social relations in which the economic, legal and cultural boundaries coincide, as was the case in national societies. 5 Such homogeneity of the economic, cultural and the political dimension is not given in the European context. Europe is characterized by the non-coincidence of these different boundaries. Taking Europe as a unique culture disembedded from its political institutional framework goes beyond the national model yet keeps the assumption of a homogeneous culture. Taking Europe as a hybrid form of social relations gives up even the assumption of clear cultural boundaries of a Europe in search of its identity. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 437 438 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4)
Looking at European identity as a project of control of a European society, the assumption resulting from the ‘evolutionary’ part of the theory presented above is that in a European society being more than any other society in need of a collective identity, we have to expect emergent patterns of constructing a collective identity in the context of culturally non-congruent multiple networks of social relations. Whether there will be a story of the three stories thus becomes a new issue for research. The ? rst observation is that the multiplicity of networks of social relations evolving in Europe allows more stories to ? w within these networks. Since such systems are composed of loosely coupled partial networks, the narrative mediation of the loose coupling of a diversity of networks of social relations becomes the focal problem of these networks of social relations. Since coupling is – as the theory claims – mediated by narrative meaning, the issue of how stories can link such networks of social relations and generate an identity of these networks is the key problem. Since social relations in such systems are held together by a multiplicity of stories, the solution of one hegemonic story no longer works.
Europe is confronted with coordinating at least three hegemonic stories. In the following, these three model stories for constructing a collective identity for Europe are discussed more systematically. The idea is to distinguish three formal network structures of social relations on which projects of de? ning an identity for Europe are built. These will be distinguished as supranational, postnational, and transnational identity constructions of Europe. Three stories can be related to these model identities. They are used to make sense of these constructions and provide the collective resonance that can absorb ? ating identi? cations in Europe. Supranational identity constructions make use of the plot of the ‘Jean Monnet success story’. Postnational identity constructions follow the plot of ‘And they will live in peace together forever’. Transnational identity constructions ? nally work with the plot of a ‘broker Europe’. 16 These three stories provide narratives with which different models of networks of social relations, i. e. different types of societies, can be produced and reproduced. These elements are organized in a speci? c sequence which gives narrative meaning to these elements.
Thus identities can be analyzed as being more than a series of identi? cations with a market, a polity or a culture; they can be analyzed as a speci? c sequential pattern of organizing such identi? cations into a coherent whole which is a story. Models of Collective Identities in Europe The ? rst model story links national stories directly to a supranational story. National stories become part of a network of stories which has a ‘star structure’: national stories are linked to a centre which constitutes the connection between national stories via this centre, without direct links between the units of this narrative network.
It is only via the centre that the national identities are integrated into a higher one. This does not require direct links between the Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity national stories. The meaning of national stories is dependent upon their relationship to the centre: the closer to the centre, the more it provides elements of an emerging European story; the further from the centre, the more such elements become irrelevant. Thus there is permanent struggle going on in which the link to the emerging story is contested.
This particular network structure can be called a supranational story since it relies on the emergence of a distinct story of something that is decoupled from national stories. This supranational story is the becoming story of Europe which so far has only a brief history (60 years). It can be extended by adding precursors, either in the twenties of the last century, or in the course of the nineteenth century. Sites for constructing such a centre-oriented network are especially Brussels and Strasbourg. The Council of Europe is trying to tell such a supranational story, de? ing the boundaries of Europe in a larger perspective than a more closed EU story does. Rituals of enacting this EU story are European summits, European days, giving meaning to Europe’s ? ag and anthem. A case for such a supranational story is the story of Jean Monnet as the founding father of United Europe, which can have a more ef? ciency-oriented version, a version tending towards some idea of moral and political excellence of European politics, or a version of a common European culture that is defended and kept by European institutions. Also counter-narratives add to this supranational story.
The critique of an Empire Europe, mobilizations against Fortress Europe or the general critique of Brussels as a site of arrogance of power contribute to the making of a supranational story of Europe. The second model story is based on a particular mode of linking national stories. National stories are networked through direct links which do not crystallize around a centre. European identity appears as a network of national networks. This emerging network minimizes the distances between the parts of the network (maximizing its geodetic distances) and follows the pattern of a ‘clique structure’.
This clique network structure produces postnational identity as its control project. Postnational identity is the added value of merging national stories into shared stories. The distances between the national stories in Europe vary, yet their interaction forces them to position themselves in relation to other national stories without ending up in isolation from some or all of these other stories. The story that is told about Europe is then a story in which the relations between national stories and their actors are at stake.
Winners and losers, heroes and perpetrators of the recent past and of the present are related, change position and try to ? nd a new position in an emerging European script. Germans and Austrians are repositioned as well as Poles or Hungarians; Italians and French have to struggle to position their heroes in this emerging postnational script. Euro-scepticism and Euro-af? rmativism spread across the national heroes. Euroscepticism is no longer connected only to the English and af? rmativism is no longer the domain of the Germans.
The emerging story turns into a postnational story where national actors try to relate their proper stories to those of the others by looking for a position in a postnational plot in Europe. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 439 440 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) Sites for staging this star-structured network are WWII rituals and Holocaust rituals where a European story is enacted. European ? lm rituals or European soccer games provide an analogous opportunity to de? ne a social relation between Europeans that makes narrative sense beyond the nation.
A case for such a postnational identity is retelling the story of the winners of WWII by including the losers. Another case is the Holocaust, a traumatic story linking victims and perpetrators across nations. It also appears in counternarratives of a Eurosceptic Europe which mobilizes the losers of Europeanization across national boundaries in Europe in favour of the nation as the exclusive site for solidarity. 17 The third model story can be identi? ed which describes Europe as a site in which cultural differences cut across national differences, thus creating a different structure of cleavages among the people in Europe.
This third model is based on networks of groups interacting across national borders and creating a unity out of an increasing diversity of national and non-national elements. This network structure differs from the others in the sense that it does not provide direct interactive links between its parts, yet produces an ordered network of social relations. It is a network integrated by the structural equivalence of the positions of groups of actors. Indigenous and immigrant and migrating people are related to each other as claiming or occupying structurally equivalent positions in an emerging European society.
Such a transnational story fosters the narrative of hybridity, the equal participation in a diversity of cultures in Europe. Sites for such transnational relations fostering hybrid collective identities are particular places in Europe where hybridity has been lived for some time. Cases are the commemoration of hybrid cultures in Southern Spain, Southern Italy, Sicily and Turkey or Europe or the commemoration of Europe’s Abrahamic past fostered by the re-entry of the Islamic and the Jewish story into Europe’s Christian story.
Stories of hybrid Europe are narrated as model cases for a Europe where distinct religious traditions succeeded in living together in peace and reciprocal enrichment. The Jewish story is seen as an instance of brokerage between Europe and the Other of Europe in a way similar to the Islamic story which can be seen as a bridge between Europe and the Other of Europe. There exist also counter-narratives of a transnational Europe which is ‘tribal Europe’, the idea of a Europe based on primordial ties that precede concrete interaction ties and which claim structural equivalence on the basis of some constructed common origin.
Such hybrid constructions reposition Europe and its Other in a way that transgresses the basic assumptions of the ? rst two models. The ? rst two models still assume a core substance de? ning Europe that is realized in social relations of communication and understanding. The third model provides a model story in which cleavages and unbridgeable differences undermine the search for a coherent ‘good story’, for the simple story plot of a good Europe. Yet there is still a story to tell, i. e. the story of the art of living together. This art requires competent re? xive actors, engaging in demanding performances which do not presuppose understanding but take understanding as a rare and happy moment in a series of permanent misunderstandings. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity Transnational identity as a project of control of networks of social relations that engage in permanent crossovers is embedded in a story which makes itself the object of a story: it is re? exive storytelling. It combines many and different stories and mixes them in an unforeseeable way.
Europe provides a site for such re? exive storytelling which is increasingly used for hybrid constructions: a European Islam, a European Jewry, a European Christianity, a European secularism and universalism which emerge from the encounter and hybridization of traditions and cultures inside and outside Europe. Europe in this sense is an experimental site for a collective identity that differs in all respects from historical experience. European Identity as a Case of Transnational Identity Construction Europe has more than one story.
At the same time, this society has developed a discourse about itself in which it thematizes itself stating that it has so many stories that bind and separate. Thus, European society is an ideal case for studying the link between increasing complexity and the search for narrative bonds. How are these stories combined? Is there a story of the stories, a meta-story to tell in Europe? A meta-story that might gain hegemonic status as the national story did in the modern nation-state. This question cannot be answered in an af? rmative way.
The answer has to be decomposed into the sequential ordering of these stories and their points of contact. We have to look at the temporal dimension of the use of this tool-kit in which some boundaries of what constitutes Europe have been left aside, while others have gained in prominence and older ones have been reframed. We have to deal with a dynamic process that accompanies the construction of Europe as a political community from its beginning. The creation of a narrative network is a process exhibiting sequential patterns and generating constraints on reproducing the social relations created so far.
In this sense, collective identity is a process of creating a space of social relations which never ends. Yet it is possible for the analytical observer to block the future of such processes in a thought experiment and describe in which sense the future to come can be ? xed. The idea of the nation has succeeded in blocking the future of collective identity construction for a long time. The temptation to ? x it forever has ended in a series of national civil wars and ethnic cleansings which undermined this process of telling one story with a ? xed end.
The process of creating a collective identity in Europe in the same vein would end up in two analogous bottlenecks: the ? rst is that it would be premature to block the process of organizing social relations in terms of one collective identity because there are many collective identities that are used to structure an unsettled space of social relations; the second is that blocking the future might in principle be counter-productive since it would create high identitarian con? icts over which boundary has to be recognized and which not. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 41 442 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) When we block the making of a European story, then we see something that is more arti? cial than any of those that have managed to provide the narrative network for social relations such as ideas of ‘nation’, ‘empire’, ‘lineage’ or ‘caste’. Terms such as hybrid identity are fashionable and point to the temporary and unstable mix of different stories controlling the boundaries of a space of communication. Europe has a moving boundary which depends on the story we mobilize. To give precedence to the political story is an unwarranted move.
Political identities compete with other stories. The emerging competition of political and cultural stories in the debate on the link between politics and religion is an indicator of a moving link. The link between the economic story and the cultural story is equally dynamic as the ? ghts about a neo-liberal economy and social economy show (Boltanski and Chiapello, 1999). A European narrative is a dynamic combination of different stories that will produce a dynamic form of collective identity, i. e. favour a permanent process of constructing and reconstructing a European identity.
To reduce it to a neoliberal or a cosmopolitan or a traumatic identity misses the emergent property of their parallel existence. This is still a highly abstract conclusion yet it points to the basically temporal character of identity constructions which vary in terms of their openness toward the future. Collective identities emerging from such processes are increasingly multidimensional and multilayered. Stories by which identities are constructed do not simply co-exist but rather in? uence each other and produce emergent properties through multiple forms of recombination.
Evolutionary theory proposes ‘recombination’ as a result of processes of generating new elements (stories) and their selection in the course of building up social relations among human beings. It, however, has nothing to say on how such recombination works. This is an open space that is to be ? lled. Theoretically speaking, we have to expect structural restrictions and opportunities for stories to combine or to separate. Instead of identifying ‘collective identities’ as entities, we should see identities as evolutionary products of processes in which stories are combined and recombined.
Europe is an ideal case for such a theoretical perspective: Europe produces stories about itself in the permanent confrontation with stories about the Other which again produces effects in the Other who produces his own stories by looking at the ? rst as the Other (the case in point is the reciprocal storytelling that takes place between Europe and Turkey or Europe and Russia). Such reciprocal storytelling produces shifting identities in which permanent identity mutation takes place. These processes can be halted by political identities with the risk of entering into identitarian struggles with cultural identities.
They can be halted by cultural identities with the risk of entering into con? ict with political identities. And economic identities can try to block the future while provoking political and cultural identities. What could emerge is a story of con? icting stories, a re? exive meta-story in which we tell each other about the futile attempts to block the future. But this is mere speculation. Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity Conclusion
The debate on European collective identity so far has not been able to establish a systematic link between the forms of collective identity constructions and the networks of social relations in which this process is embedded. Thus, theorizing European identity has lost its empirical foundation. This loss has been compensated for in two ways: by a thin theoretical strategy which is to reduce the issue of collective identity to the issue of the extent of identi? cation with Europe, or by a thick theoretical strategy which uses nation-building as the model for collective identity construction in Europe.
The thin strategy does not tackle collective identity constructions since identi? cations are elements of collective identity construction, but not its organizing core. The thick strategy assumes that Europe will develop in a way analogous to the national story, which is an unwarranted assumption. Variations in public pride or identi? cation with Europe as measured in surveys indicate the resonance of a people to stories that serve for identity construction. A collective identity might produce identi? cations, and thick identities produce a lot of strong identi? cations. But collective identity is not the result of identi? ations, it is rather the object to which identi? cations refer. The explanation of the construction of collective identity must therefore be sought independent of the identi? cations that it produces. The proposal made in this article has been to analyze the construction of collective identities in Europe by looking at the sites where debates on its identity take place. The market has been mainly devalued and even denounced as a site for a collective identity, in spite of the fact that the success story of the Common Market would have offered a good institutional starting point. 8 The central debate on a European identity focuses on a politically de? ned collective identity, such as the discourse on constitutional patriotism in Europe or on a secular legal culture in Europe such as the one represented in the Council of Europe. However, the cultural symbols mobilized by this Council are universal values that not only the people in Europe share. This reduces boundary controlling effects and undermines the construction of a strong collective identity. Another variant is the claim that an ethical self-understanding is binding those living in the EU together (Kantner, 2006). 9 These arguments are not explanations of processes of identity constructions, but elements in stories providing projects of control of the boundaries of ‘Europe’. Thus, we have several sites in which stories circulate that compete for hegemony in the process of collective identity construction in Europe. Its social basis is a society that constitutes itself in overlapping circles. These networks no longer coincide as they do in the national situation. Thus, the social embedding of identity constructions poses a new theoretical problem: the idea of a society that consists of partially overlapping networks of people.
Each of these networks has its own stories that compete to represent each of these networks. This produces a dynamic of identity construction which needs analytical description and theoretical explanation. Analytically we have to understand the complex interplay of many stories circulating in partially overlapping networks. And we have to identify Downloaded from est. sagepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 443 444 European Journal of Social Theory 12(4) when and where stories can be linked with other stories, by identifying the structural restrictions and opportunities for the connectivity of stories.
Thus, we can take seriously the idea of Europe as a multilayered society of partially overlapping networks in which a plurality of stories is circulating and a new story of stories can be created and narrated. For the time being, we have to reckon with a plurality of projects of collective identities in Europe which vary in their combination in time. This plurality might turn out to be an advantage: instead of imposing a hegemonic ‘grand narrative’, Europe can live with a diversity of stories that need only one property: to offer nodes as docking stations for other stories.
Thus storytelling in Europe will be an open process, capable of taking up new stories without assimilating them. The only criterion that counts is: to be able to continue to tell a story. Identity is a contested concept – this was the observation at the beginning. The end of the theoretical story is the observation that Europe is a space with contested stories and that it is through contestation that stories that bind can be told. In this space the links between stories will multiply and connect many other stories that so far nobody considered to be part of Europe.
The emergence of a new society in Europe and the temporary blocking of its future in terms of constructing a plurality of European collective identities form the phenomenon that we have to understand. This makes the analysis of a ‘European identity’ a demanding theoretical, methodological and empirical task. The conclusions to be drawn from the foregoing discussion are recipes for further research. For the moment I see four such proposals for organizing research on collective identity in the context of Europe and for generalizing from this context to some model of collective identity beyond the nation: • • • Identifying sites and stories of the narrative network that emerges in Europe. Identifying the story structure organizing this narrative network. Describing this narrative network as a project of control of social relations (and its boundaries) in Europe. Explaining the turning points in the evolution of the narrative network by the social relations between people, regions, civil society organizations, economic organizations and ? nally nation-states that emerge in the course of Europeanization. By applying these proposals we do not need psychological assumptions such as a minimum of ‘identi? ations with Europe’ in order to see ‘identity’ in Europe and explain its emergence and evolution. If there is a collective identity, then identi? cation will come – more or less, depending on social structures that develop in the emerging society in Europe. Notes 1 I leave aside the idea of humankind as an identity construction beyond the nation since it leads to the other pole of the identity of individuals. Humankind is the sum of such individuals. Whether the idea of cosmopolitan identity goes beyond this aggregate notion of individual identity has to be seen. Downloaded from est. agepub. com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012 Eder A Theory of Collective Identity 2 Forms of identity beyond the individual are another theme which is raised in the context of debates on ‘subjectivity’. 3 The authors cite Tilly (1995), Somers (1994, 1995) and Calhoun (1994). 4 This also implies an argument against psychological theories that see collective identity as something that people need to identify with. I rather take a Durkheimian view seeing collective identity as a social fact imposed upon us and forcing u
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