Struggles of identity in the age of globalisation: Searching for anchors that hold



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3.3 The national level
Globalisation furthermore has far-reaching implications for the position of the nation state, that is the medium-sized, territorial, centralised, sovereign type of polity that has become the dominant, if not sole form of political organisation in the post 1789 era. During the period of the dominance of the nation state the "global scene" was a theatre of inter-state politics where states - though actions such as armed conflict, bargaining and negotiation - drew and defended the boundaries that set apart the enclosed territory of each state's executive and legislative territory. Global politics were therefore almost exclusively concerned with sustaining the principle of full and uncontested sovereignty of each state over its territory (Bauman 1998; Lacarrieu & Raggio 1997; Le Pere & Lambrechts 1999; Waters 1995).
The executive and legislative sovereignty of the modern state was based on a tripod of military, economic and cultural sovereignties (Bauman 1998). The ability to function as an effective order-making entity, rested in the first place on its ability to defend its territory effectively from external as well as internal challenges. It furthermore had to have the ability to balance the books of the national economy as well as the cultural resources to sustain the state's identity and distinctiveness from those of its subsidiaries.
The fact that the nation state held territorial sovereignty over a particular area, also implied that pride of place was primarily vested in the state (Bauman 1998, 2001b). A shared nationhood, that is a common national identity, played a crucial legitimising role in the political unification of the state. The invocation of common roots and a common character was furthermore one of the major tools for producing patriotic loyalty and obedience, the main principles for ideological mobilisation. The "state nation" consequently become one of the major sources - if not the most important source - in which the citizens of the state found a sense of community and collective or group identity.
However, in the term "nation state" lies a contradiction. The term "nation" is derived from the Greek "natio" that is associated with ethnicity and a common culture. According to Habermas (1998) nations were originally communities with a shared descent and culture. In contrast, Rhoodie and Liebenberg (1994) write that only 10% of the member states of the United Nations in 1994 could be described as homogeneous on the basis of ethnicity. In most other states there is a lack of convergence between the political (the state) and the cultural (the nation). In order to comply with the characteristics of a true nation state and to successfully implement their executive and legislative sovereignty, governance of homogeneous states often also involves the suppression of the ambitions of lesser population (eg minority groups) towards cultural and political autonomy. Pradip Thomas writes in this regard in Baoill ([sa]:4):
The health of a national identity can be measured by the extent to which the various ‘nations’ comprising the nation-state willingly subsume their parochial identities to that of a supra-national identity. In real life, however, a consensual example is hard to come by.
As the above quotation suggests, ethnic and/or cultural groups are often reluctant to succumb their uniqueness and distinctive identities to become part of an overarching state nation. A strategy of nation-building consequently became one of the major tools in the pursuit of the "one state, one nation" ideal in heterogeneous states (Bauman 1998). Thus it is now commonly recognised that national identities are seldom natural or prepolitical. They are socioculturally constructed identities - the term “imagined communities” or “imagined communalities” are often used in this regard (McCarthy 1999). Nation-building often implies the denial of the diversity of the citizens of a state. From the nation-building perspective the differences in language, culture and/or religion found under the state's jurisdiction are regarded as undesirable not-yet-fully-extinct relics of the past often also associated with backwardness and a lack of progress. "Enlightment" and "progress" usually means forsaking diversity and ethnic, cultural and religious distinctiveness in favour of a common to all level of citizenship, community or nationhood.
According to Bauman (2001b), the practice of nation-building can have two faces. The nationalist perspective usually implies that the various means available to the state (eg political institutions, national symbols, the educational system as well as the media) are employed to forge an overarching national identity. In doing so, the variety of languages are usually replaced by one standard national language and the traditions and habits of diverse groups by one standard historical narrative and calendar of memory rituals. However, when education, persuasion and indoctrination do not work or their fruits are slow to come, states often resort to measures of coercion such as the criminilisation of struggles to defend the diversity or autonomy of minority groups. The nationalist plan is therefore to assimilate the variety of cultural forms under the state's jurisdiction and to dissolve them in one standard national form by making use of the powers vested in the state.
The liberal strategy appears to be the complete opposite to the nationalistic face. It is primarily based on the liberal ideas that regards the freedom and autonomy of the individual as the primary political values (Kymlicka 1995). The ideal state is perceived to be a collection of free and unbound individual citizens. Ethnic and other local communities are regarded as primary sources of intolerance and parochialism and, most importantly, as conservative coercive forces that hold the individual back from self-assertion and self-determination. As liberalism believes that true freedom will emerge only if freedom is refused to the enemies of freedom and the enemies of tolerance are no longer tolerated, ethnic and other sub-national forms of community becomes the targets of state action. It is believed that the annihilation of these enemies to freedom and tolerance will, in the end, result in all citizens of the state freely choosing the singular loyalty and state identity offered to all (Bauman 2001b). However, as the cultural forms and practices of the state often reflect those of the majority of dominant group, Rex (1996) warns that the modern state is not necessarily the product of an abstract process of modernisation, but could become the way in which a dominant or majority group asserts its rule over groups or communities.
Bauman (2001b) holds the opinion that, although nationalism and liberalism might follow different strategies, they share the same purpose. They leave little or no room for forms of community beyond the levels of the state and loyalty to the state. Whereas nationalism aims to annihilate difference; the purpose of liberalism is to annihilate the different. In both cases the "others" have to be stripped from their "otherness" in order to become indistinguishable from the rest of the nation. Ethnic and other forms of local identities have thus to be melted down to become part of the singular mold of the national identity.
However, the winds of change represented by the forces of globalisation have - probably irreversibly - changed the position and role of the nation state (Bauman 1998). The sovereignty, legitimacy and authority of the nation-state have come under constant siege. The eroding forces are both global and local; transnational as well as subnational; centrifugal as well as centripetal. According to Bauman (1998) all three legs of the tripod on which the executive and legislative powers of the state rest, have in the process been broken beyond repair.
On a transnational level, states are no longer able to control the flow of capital and information via the media and information and communication technologies across their borders. Due to the unqualified and unstoppable spread of free trade rules and the free movement of capital and finances, the economy - and thus the ability to balance the books of the national economy - is progressively exempt from the nation state. Not only have the borders of states become porous, but global forces beyond the reach and control of the nation-state are also imposing their laws and precepts on the planet. In order to function more effectively in the global economy and to retain some degree of its law-and-order policing ability, the governments of nation states are increasingly forced to seek alliances with other states. Thus at least part of the state's legitimacy, sovereignty and authority have to be surrendered to larger power blocks. In doing so, nation states have also given these power blocks to make a claim - at least partly - on the collective identity of its citizens (see section 3.4). The predicament of the nation state is furthermore enhanced by the fact that many of the transnational forces that shape its destiny, are blurred in a mist of mystery. They are largely anonymous and therefore difficult to identify, manipulate or control.
The loss of the economic and legislative legs of the tripod, makes it furthermore extremely difficult for states to control the cultural and ideological mobilisation of its citizens (Bauman 1998). The nation state is no longer the only or principle viable political context within citizenship and collective identity are "housed". The weakening of the authority and legitimacy of the state, undermines the emotive and normative commitment to membership of a nation state. The state's monopoly over the emotive commitments of its citizens - at least on a collective level - is challenged by global, supranational as well as subnational and localised forces.
As discussed in section 3.2, the weakening of the nation state has “freed” ethnic and/or cultural groups from the bonds with a national identity. The consequence is revitilisation of even those ethnicities that have been believed to have withered away or died long ago. Thus the sovereignty, legitimacy and authority of the nation state is not only challenged by global forces, but also by localised forces from within. The presence of ethnic diasporas - due to their permeable, overlapping and shifting nature - presents a further challenge to the hegemony of the claim of the nation state over the citizenship, collective identity and loyalty of its inhabitants (Skinner 1999). Migrates are largely impervious to the nation-building strategies of their host governments. Enhanced cultural differentiation and hybridisation - in the "host" as well as diasporic communities - have thus become a common feature of society in most nation states (Corcoran 2003).
Furthermore, the presence of ethnic strangers in the form of migrants also have complex cultural effects in their host countries. What is often experienced as "cultural invasion", triggers ethnic instincts also in local majorities that leads to the re-evaluation of the value of so-called "national" identities - a process furthermore stimulated by membership of supra-national power blocks. Thus an inflow of migrants and the issue of membership of the European Union have led to a re-investigation and re-evaluation of what it means, for example, to be "British", "Irish", "French" or "Norwegian". The strategies that follow these instincts are often similar to those of ethnic minorities: separation, self-closure, xenophobic attitudes and strategies to strengthen boundaries and separate and ghettoise foreign elements. The confusion related to former certainties and unquestionable assumptions can furthermore be observed in the right-wing political movements in various European countries (Bauman 1998; Corcoran 1998; Eriksen 1996).
The predicament of the nation state has, on the hand, problematised the role of the media - and especially the national press and public service broadcasting. The special relationship of the press and public service broadcasting to the national identity and nation-building has always been one of its key tenets. According to Habermas (2001), national consciousness as a modern form of social solidarity - as opposed to loyalties to communities shaped by descent, language and history - could indeed be regarded as a product of the development of new forms of communication and especially mass communication. Within the new international environment, governments of nation states usually expect the media to continue its role in the protection and continuance of a sense of national identity amidst global, supranational and subnational threats. However, the heterogeneous nature of their populations as well as the renewed importance attached to ethnicity and other local identities demand not only tolerance for diversity, but also diversication in the contents, control and ownership of the media. Failure in catering for the cultural and identity needs of various groups and communities within the boundaries of the state, could not only alienate certain groups and individuals, but could also results in the national media to become increasingly irrelevant.
The media and information and communication technologies in particular are, on the other hand, important role-players in the processes that are contributing to the decline of the nation state (Baoill [sa]). The borders of nation states have not only become porous due to their inability to control the flow of information via the media and information and communication technologies across their borders. Information and communication technologies have furthermore led to a devolution of power downwards to the people and the liberation of ethnic and other groups from the constraints of the power of the state and the singular voice of the national press and public broadcasting media. The development of technology has furthermore promoted the development of local media that, in turn, play a vital role in the strengthening of these identities and maintaining the links between diasporas and their communities of origin.
The conclusion can be drawn that, due to the contradictory forces of globalisation and localisation, the two-pronged strategy of nation-building has become largely unrealistic; less eagerly sought; regarded as undesirable by significant sections of the populations of heterogeneous states; and unlikely to succeed. As the existential security offered by the state has been shattered; the old identity stories that have replenished a sense of belongingness in the state have largely lost their credibility. As the old certainties and loyalties are swept away, people increasingly seek for new or alternative communities in which they can vest their sense of identity. On the other hand, the normative void left open by the state and state regulation, offers more freedom - freedom that has been seized by both supra-national and global power blocks as well as by ethnic minorities to claim and reclaim the collective identities of the citizens of nation states (Bauman 1998).
3.4 The supra-national level
As discussed in section 3.3, the emergence of a global market and the reduction of trade tariffs and other factors in the way of a free flow of capital, are increasingly forcing nation states to become members of larger regional power blocks in order to be able to be more competitive in the new world economy (Bauman 2001b; Lacarrieu & Raggio 1997). The most well-known of these power blocks are without doubt the European Union. Other examples of regional power blocks are Mercosur (the unity formed by a number of countries in South America), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the newly formed African Union (AU).
However, the influence of these power blocks are not restricted to the economy (Schopflin 1997). They also create new power relationships, new forms and hierarchies of power, new forms of social knowledge and information. Apart from the fact that nation states succumb part of their authority and legitimacy to these power blocks, they are also in a position to side-step the governments of nation states and to establish direct connection with sub-national communities and other groups. These power blocks are also increasingly filling the void left by the withering away of the authority and legitimacy of the nation state.
The identity struggles emerging from these regional power blocks furthermore have the potential to restructure and recast regional, national and local power structures and identities. It is almost self-evident that nation states have to share the commitment and loyalty, that is the collective identity, of their citizens with these units. Furthermore, many of these power blocks actively strive towards the forging of supra-national identities. As the European Union was one of the first supra-national power blocks to be formed outside the United States of America, it has always set the tone for supra-national integration and its concomitant processes, problems and challenges (Rex 1996). The discourses on and struggles for identity associated with European integration, are thus most probably exemplary of what is already happening or could happen in other unions.
European integration have moved through various stages (Delanty 1998; Habermas 2001). The project of European integration started after the end of the Second World War and was viewed as an attempt to ensure peace on the continent, to solve the German problem and to contain the former USSR. At this stage it was believed that integration would enhance the sovereignty of nation states. As the memory of the Second World War faded and the Cold War ended, economic imperatives became paramount within the context of increasing economic globalisation. In general, the idea was then to rescue the nation state through co-operation. A second vision of European identification was the federal vision of unification. According to this view Europe is perceived as a cultural and political unity with common historical roots. This vision of Europe can be perceived as the reproduction on a transnational European level of the project of nation state building where the existing nation states are regarded as subordinate to the larger unity. Although the federalist idea has not been very popular, it has been the first to introduce the debate on culture, cultural and symbolic integration and the nature of an European identity in an otherwise culturally deficit project.
A third vision of European integration has evolved since the 1980s. This vision represents, according to Habermas (2001), a new political form that lies somewhere between the federalist model and the model of co-operation. This model - the product of the increasingly global world order - sees a united Europe not merely as the co-operation of nation states, but more as a regulatory order. The Union is perceived as a functional entity that takes over the dysfunctional aspects of national governance and compensates for the weaknesses of the nation state within the new global environment. However, the uncertainty of the regulatory model has brought the need for a degree of social integration and cultural cohesion - that is of a supra-national European identity - again to the fore. The failure of European integration on certain fronts is furthermore ascribed to issues of social integration and identity. The process of institution-building has furthermore transformed the transnational polity into a social, political and cultural framework that have led to the re-emergence of old questions traditionally associated with the nation state and nation-building: How is social order possible? What is the collective representation of Europe? Who are Europeans and who are not? What is the basis of social integration? What constitutes a European identity and/or a European nation? How can social integration and a supra-national identity be constituted?
Although the need for a cultural dimension for the project of uniting Europe has been voiced, Delanty (1998) voices the opinion that Europe lacks the key elements that usually support national identities: a common language, a shared history and religion, an educational system and a press or media. In his view the only substantial sense of an emerging European identity is emerging around boundaries for the inclusion of Europeans and the exclusion of non-Europeans. The uncertainty regarding internal commonalities, the political vacuum in the institutions of the emerging polity and the lack of a true sense of community are resulting in Europeans inventing an identity based almost exclusively on exclusion.
However, an European identity based on contrast with non-Europeans faces the danger of resistance from the complex nationalisms and ethnicities that form the population of Europe (Rex 1996). The position of minority groups - and especially immigrant minorities - are becoming particularly precarious. An identity of exclusion usually implies differentiation in terms of race and religion. Europeans are defined as White Christian nations. Non-white and non-Christian minorities have been grouped as gastarbeiters in an organisation called the Migrant Forum. Most of these minorities enjoy full political citizenship in the nation states in which they are living and might use the forum to negotiate more effectively with their nation states. However, if there were a European identity and citizenship, they will not be part of it. According to Rex (1996) the problems with regard to these minorities are far from being resolved and will probably haunt the European Union for years to come.

Various alternatives have been suggested to overcome these dilemmas. One of the most prominent is the vision of Habermas (2001) that a European identity should be forged in a similar way that national consciousness and solidarity has been created in the traditional nation state. Such an identity should be based on democratic citizenship rather than on features associated with ethnic communities such as common descent or a common culture. Communication plays a central role in this theory of European integration. According to Habermas, a European-wide public sphere has to be created that is embedded in the context of a freedom-valuing political culture supported by the liberal associational structure of a civil society. This view involves public communication that transcends the boundaries of the various nation states. However, Habermas does not foresee the creation of a European public broadcaster. He holds the opinion that a European public sphere should rather emerge from existing national universes opening to one another, yielding to the interpenetration of mutually translated national communications. A first step would be for national media to cover the substance of relevant controversies in the other countries so that the various national public opinions converge on the same set of issues. Such a communicative democracy or identity, or “discursive democracy” as Habermas prefers, is not located in the state or an ethnic or cultural community, but in the discursive spaces of civil society.


Another suggestion by Castells (1998) is based on the idea of the network society. The network society does not have a centre, but consists of nodes that may be of different sizes and can be linked by asymmetrical relationships in the network. A network is furthermore an open structure that expands in different directions. It is not a functionally integrated body with a central principle of organisation. The distinctive feature is that it is forming through the global diffusion of information. The network society is thus an information society. Unfortunately Castells does not explain how European integration might be conceived as a network society apart from visualising European polity as multi-levels of power. However, Delanty (1998) holds the opinion that the nttion of the “knowledge society” might be a more appropriate model for social integration in Europe as knowledge has also become a medium for social and cultural experience. He uses the concept “knowledge” to refer to the wider cognitive capacity of a society to interpret itself and to imagine alternatives. The question that arises is whether there is an imaginary dimension to European integration. Delanty furthermore asks the question, seeing that Europe lacks the characteristics of a political or cultural community, whether it should not become a virtual society. A virtual society is not constituted as a system of values but as a discursive framework.

Similar to the position of migrates, the position of ethnic groups is also a point of contention within views of European integration. According to Schopflin (1997) there are already signs that ethnic actors engage directly with supranational governments. In this way they are side-stepping the governments of nation states and obtain direct access to the resources held by the regional powers. The emergence of power blocks therefore brings a new fluidity to regional and local societies that will, in the end, not only reshape the nature of political organisation in these regions, but have the potential of recasting the nature of collective identities. The notion of Europe as a union of ethnicities or so-called "ethno-states" - rather than a union of nation states - is also mentioned in this regard (Europe? Which Europe? Which future Europe? ... [sa]).


The scope and intensity of the discourses on a European identity serves as a clear indication that supranational unions are fast becoming much more than economic, political and/or regulatory superstructures. They have indeed become sites of identity struggles. The emerging issues such as inclusion and/or exclusion, the position of migrants and ethnic minorities, transnational public spheres, the role of the media and informational and communication technologies are not only relevant for the European Union, but also for the populations of other unions such as the African Union.
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