Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

4.9.2003 | Von:
Michael von Brück

European Identity

in Context of Understanding the Social Construction of Alterity

Neither geographically nor culturally is Europe constituted as a clearly defined area or space. European identity can be determined only on the basis of her history.

A) European Identity

Neither geographically nor culturally is Europe constituted as a clearly defined area or space. European identity can be determined only on the basis of her history. Historically Europe has several roots, which form what can be called the identity of the political and cultural history of "Europe" due to their specific historical developments and influences in different paradigmatic constellations. The most important roots are Athens, Rome and – in a special way – Jerusalem. In as much as the culture of late antiquity entered into Eastern and Central Europe and shaped different Celtic and Germanic cultures several different and interpenetrating cultural forms got established which would shape the coming history. Europe is constituted by two forces:

  • a continuous representation of these roots in cultural memory, and

  • an ongoing construction of difference with regard to a respective "other".

    The different forms of mediation changed. The mediation of antiquity into the Middle Ages happened mediated by and in relation to two different constellations: through the partly European Judaism and the non-European Islam. In this respect Europe has happened on the basis of what it is not. Over the centuries of the Middle Ages the Roman paradigm has shaped Southern, Western and Central Europe, whereas Eastern Europe has produced separate formations of European identity due to the Byzantine and Russian developments. Europe as unifying political, economic and cultural entity has been brought into being very much by missionary monasticism, the practice of pilgrimages and the rejection of the respective "other" – be it the Mongols during the 13th century, the Turks during the 15th and 16th centuries and the oversee cultures during the 18th and 19th centuries. The plurality of respective political histories, the histories of law, the histories of ideas, the histories of institutions etc. has produced Europe in ever new affirmations and negations of her own past and in transgressing boundaries, i.e. Europe is the unrest of her own identity.

    B) General Remarks Concerning the Construction of Identity

    There is nothing like "the" European identity or tradition or "the" Asian values (or Chinese or Indian values), but there are complex historical processes which construct precisely those concepts for the sake of social and political coherence of a given society. Expressed in a different way: Tradition is not something given in the past, but a process of construction in the present. And today, no doubt, it can be said that those processes - be it in China or Europe - follow pluralistic patterns.

    1. Different identities do not necessarily exclude each other but can complement each other. Therefore, local, regional and global identities can be related to each other. This holds true for political identities as well as languages, i.e. dialects, regional languages, communication in a "world language" etc. In similar ways religious identities can be related to each other. Different identities influence each other through processes of amalgamation and exclusion. Identities are shaped in ever changing contexts and they are always a process.

    2. Economic and cultural globalization requires a networking of political and mental processes which transcend individual as well as national structures; even the difference between nature and culture (technology) is being challenged in so far as nature also is a product of the thinking mind. This process implies a dramatic evolution of consciousness which changes traditional identities. Traditionally, different cultural traditions and religions have been central sources for identity, and that is why they are challenged by those processes in their very structure as traditions. Under the condition of modern pluralism the formation of identity is different than in the past, i.e. more than ever a simultaneous participation in different identities is not only possible but more and more the rule. This implies simultaneous participation in communities of tradition and values which have been different or even separated before. This has consequences for the claims and reclamation of tradition by institutions which form their identity in clinging to and constructing traditions. Such institutions are churches or other organized religions, systems of thinking and law, political institutions and cultural perceptions in general. They are subject to change in as much as they construct identity with regard to the European past in ever differing situations of meeting the "other".

    What follows is that "Europe" is not so much a given fact but a project under changing conditions and perspectives. It is a plurality of languages, geographical and cultural areas as well as social systems. The unity of these different discourses and institutional communications depends on the will to cooperation with regard to the claim of a past that is not given either but a matter of projection and discourse. Europe is what we want Europe to be.


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