Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

A Identification and the Politics of Identity

The intention of this research area is to study processes and circumstances through which identity becomes a socially relevant and integration-relevant quantity.

In its contrast to the area’s original title, “Cultures of Identity,” the new title signals a move away from self-evident identity-models and towards a form of active and passive identification that is non-completed and often improvised or controversial. Through this shift, we gain a better view of aspects of both performance and choice of membership. Focusing more intensively on self-localization, social interconnection, and the sense of affiliation of individual actors will allow a deeper understanding of the basic openness of processes of identity formation.

Recent social-scientific, historical, and literary research and publications have strongly pointed to personal and collective identity as anything but a stable reference-point for social action, and this for two reasons. In the first place, each person and group is bound up with numerous, often incohesive and even incompatible social relationships; these do not offer a unified, immutable identity-profile. In order to do justice to alternating forms of address—whether determined situatively or through roles—to a certain degree social actors have to behave incoherently, usually spontaneously and without being aware of it. Such behavior is possible to the degree their identity is not rigid but rather fluid and versatile. By contrast, we can use the term “politics of identity” to denote the strategic exploitation of this maneuvering room by collective subjects—a dimension of the theme often discussed in recent literature on social movements and collective constructions of memory.

In the second place, “identity” is consistently being approached not as a quasi-natural condition of the self-consciousness of the person in society, but as the effect of a dramatization of difference. Identity questions are only posed with full acuity in critical phases of transition or conflict; in peaceful situations they tend to remain latent and can become fully irrelevant. For this reason as well, in a counterintuitive manner identity is a situationdependent category. It emerges to the forefront when affiliations come under pressure through a polarization requiring everyone to openly avow their positions.

“Identity” here emerges as something other than a solitary category—as comprised of a range of partial commonalities, similarities, or differences, depending on perspective. It is strongly dependent on where the accent of identification is placed. This opens both subjective and institutional leeway for action, further strengthened by strong parallel semantic elements centered on both equality (all human beings, all believers, all citizens) and difference (between men and women, rich and poor, etc.) being available in many cases, to be mutually balanced off in different ways depending on the situation.

Research Questions

The projects covered by research area A are less centered on the result of fixed identities than on a process of mutable identifications, with the following questions serving as main guidelines:

  • In which social situations do people make use of “identity cards”? Which actors and procedures play a decisive role in creating a collectively recognized “we”- position? How are models of identification appropriated and made useful, and how are they subverted?
  • What are the paramount references for defining identity? (Among the range of possibilities: ecopolitical affiliation, formal and participatory rights, linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and religious characteristics, and affiliation prompted by a shared cultural memory or by the projection of a shared future.) What are the possible reasons for a change of reference?
  • What juridical, administrative, infrastructural, and medial factors play a role in the orientation of collective identities? To what extent do the latter emerge as (often delayed and non-intentional) administrative effects, blueprints for political demarcation and its underlying taxonomies (religious/confessional, territorial, national, ethnic, etc.)? What requirements do they have in respect to transportation and communication technology (Research of Jurij Murašov)?
  • How transparent are the borders between identity-based inclusion and exclusion? How are affiliative gains and losses weighed against each other on their various social and operative levels? How does collective identity take shape as a “cultural compromise” (A. Wimmer)?
  • What concepts are at our disposal to move past a rigid dichotomy of the self and the other? How can non-exclusionary concepts such as similarity and commonality be developed into a potential basis for a new grammar of social relations?