The Identity of Nations.
In The Identity of Nations, Montserrat Guibernau engages in the current debates about the extent to which multiculturalism still offers a valid integration model and the challenges of preserving national identities and cohesion while promoting and incorporating ethno-cultural diversity. Her book essentially argues that national identities remain strong and act as a powerful political mobiliser despite being transformed by the impacts of devolution (for example, in Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland and Wales), European integration and migration.
The book begins with a comprehensive definition of national identity and introduces the psychological, cultural, historical, territorial and political dimensions which Guibernau attributes to national identity. 'National identity', she argues, 'is a collective sentiment based upon the belief of belonging to the same nation and of sharing most of the attributes that make it distinct from other nations' (p.11). The psychological dimension refers to the consciousness of forming a group based on the perceived closeness uniting those who belong to the nation. The cultural dimension is defined as values, beliefs, languages and practices of a particular nation; the historical dimension refers to the fact that members of a nation feel proud of their ancient roots and interpret them as a sign of resilience, strength or even superiority. The territorial dimension, she maintains, has been increasingly challenged by globalisation and used to revolve around family, work and administrative structures. The political dimension of national identity derives from its relation with the modern nation-state, which pursued the linguistic and cultural homogenisation of a diverse population.
In the second chapter, Guibernau focuses on devolution or, what she calls, nations without states and the emergence of dual identities. She compares Canada's 'qualified independence' (p.45) involving sovereignty with an offer of political and economic partnership with Spain's symmetrical devolution based on the division of the country into 17 autonomous communities. In contrast, asymmetrical devolution under the New Labour governments in Britain granted different degrees of autonomy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In so doing, Guibernau convincingly argues that 'devolution has strengthened regional identity in Spain, Britain and Canada and, in all three cases, it has promoted the emergence or consolidation of dual identities--regional and national' (p.50). She continues that, in the cases of Spain and Britain, a further identity layer concerns the rise of a European identity. The aforementioned dual identities are therefore often accompanied by local and European forms of identity of various strengths resulting in the coexistence of multiple identities.
The challenges to national identity posed by migration-related diversity are the focus of the next chapter. Drawing on Weber, Guibernau succinctly defines ethnic groups as 'human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories of colonisation and migration' (p.59). In contrast, the concept of nation means 'a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and project for the future, and claiming the right to rule itself ' (p.60). Based on her definitions, Scotland and Wales as well as Catalonia are nations within states while the Pakistanis and Turkish communities form distinct ethnic minority groups within a nation-state. Guibernau then moves on to discuss various integration models including ghettoisation, assimilation and multiculturalism before examining the impacts of migration on Austrian national identity in greater detail. She maintains that 'the ethnic groups formed by the newcomers have been considered as being "outside" the core of Austrian identity' (p.74). She highlights the different legal and social frameworks regulating the rights of the autochthonous minorities (Slovenes, Croatians, Hungarians as well as Czechs and Slovaks in certain provinces) and the immigrant minorities from former Yugoslavia and Turkey.
In chapter four, the discussion turns to the supranational European level and the extent to which European integration undermines cohesion and national identities. Guibernau critically examines the boundaries of Europe arguing that Europe is more than simply a geographical space. For her, Europeans are united through the memories of two world wars and the Cold War legacy; the rise of a distinct political culture around human rights and parliamentary democracies; the creation of a European flag, anthem, sports events, student exchange programs and song contests; as well as new social movements including gay and lesbian and environmental rights. At the same time, she powerfully points towards the role of religion in defining the cultural boundaries of Europe and within Europe, differentiating between the Catholic South, Protestant North and Orthodox East. However, Guibernau firmly believes that 'nation-states are only partially interested in promoting a European identity focused on EU membership, since "too much Europe" could potentially weaken national identity and eventually result in refocusing a people's loyalty away from the nation-state' (p.113).
The next three chapters add a transatlantic and global perspective to the debates surrounding national identities. Chapter five argues that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, American national identity is not only being challenged by the increasing influx of Hispanics and Asians, but also by pervasive discrimination against African Americans; the proliferation of hyphenated identities as well as the end of the Cold War and the rise of the 'war on terror'. Chapter six shows that as a result of the increasing globalisation, socio-economic change and erosion of democracy, new radical right-wing parties including the Austrian Freedom Party and the French Front National resurfaced promoting, what Guibernau calls, 'pure national identities' (p.138) and anti-multiculturalism anti-Muslim discourses. In Chapter seven, Guibernau draws a fine line between global and cosmopolitan culture arguing that an ethical component has been absent from many theories of cosmopolitan culture and identity. Cosmopolitan culture is thus 'a moral culture--that is a type of culture moving well beyond the traditional remit of the nation, but also beyond emerging supranational cultures such as the now incipient European culture promoted by the EU' (p.164). She argues in favour of 'a democratic form of nationalism associated with social democracy, socialism or liberalism (...)' which 'shares its values with cosmopolitanism' (p.179) or world citizenship.
Guibernau's view that a European political identity is more of a future project than a reality neglects the potential that this could act as a unifying factor given that migrants often struggle to relate in any meaningful way to regional identities (for example, being English or Bavarian) and educated natives might feel unable at times to develop a (strong) national identity, particularly in a country like Germany. The Eurobarometer surveys quoted in her study reveal very little about what it means to be European or the extent to which this could develop into an emotional identity. In this respect, some of her speculative conclusions that a 'European identity is best defined as an emergent "non-emotional" identity in contrast with the powerful and emotionally charged national identities' (p.116) rest on shaky grounds. There is, arguably, considerable cross-national variation on this issue within Europe and the EU-27. The fact that the European integration project has survived over fifty years despite different visions and many heated debates is a case in point, as is the fact that there is limited cosmopolitan political representation to foster a global identity. Guibernau could have also discussed further the different dimensions of diversity or multiculturalism. The European debates have shifted towards religion whereas 'race' remains at the forefront in America.
This well-argued and easily accessible book is highly recommended reading for students and scholars in sociology, political science and migration studies. It succeeds in discussing the complex challenges posed to national identities from a comparative perspective.
Daniel Faas, Trinity College Dublin
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2009|
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