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Discourse, Identity and Politics in Europe

Friday, 15 April 2005

UCL (Old Refectory)
Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Full Programme (Word format)

The aim of the conference was to examine the creation of hegemonic political, historical, cultural and national discourses and their impact on politics in contemporary Europe. The speakers are all specialists in the fields of discourse analysis, conceptual history, communications, historical studies, literature, cultural studies, sociology, media, politics, international relations and diplomacy. The conference presented the theoretical issues underlying the study of discourse, identity and politics, followed by a series of presentations inter alia on the politics of discourse(s), the relationship between discourse and power, narrativity and political action, hegemony and social relations, the production and reproduction of social life. The number of places was limited to 50-60 to encourage discussion rather than following the ‘paper plus Q&A’ format.
Discussion questions

• How do hegemonic historical/political/national discourses come about?
• What mechanisms determine which historical/political/national narrative is dominant?
• Do different political actors have a different narratives of the nation? If so, what impact does this have on state action?
• How do different understandings of terms influence political action (conceptual histories)?
• Is history just another form of fiction?
• Does intertextuality have a place in the study of politics?
• Can literature be a legitimate source in the study of politics?
• To what extent does the media frame nationalist discourse?


Felix Ciuta (UCL, UK) Narratives of security: identity, practice, context

Gerard Delanty (University of Liverpool, UK) Post-liberal anxieties and discourses of peoplehood in Europe

Don Ellis (University of Hartford, USA / Fulbright Scholar, Tel Aviv) Communications and Political Discourse

Jan Ifversen (University of Aarhus, Denmark) Europe as a battle concept: old and new Europe

Axel Körner (UCL, UK) Etruscomania: History and Identity in 19th-century Italy

Mirca Madianou (University of Cambridge, UK) Contesting Banal Nationalism: television news, everyday discourses and cultural intimacy

Ulrike Hanna Meinhof (University of Southampton, UK) Discourses of cultural diversity and cohesion in Europe and its nation-states

Richard Mole (UCL, UK) Talking Security? The Discourse of European Identity in the Baltic States

Dimitris Papanikolaou (University of Oxford, UK) 'Chez les Vietnam Yéyés': Cultural taxonomy, dissonance and the politics of mimicry

Claire Thomson (UCL, UK) The construction of nation-ness through narrative

Ruth Wodak (University of Lancaster, UK) “Doing Europe” – The discursive construction of European Identities




Felix Ciuta, UCL, UK ( homepage )

Narratives of security: identity, practice, context

Perhaps the central contribution of narrative to the study of international politics is to enrich our understanding of the relationship between, and transformation of, structures of meaning and logics of action. As vehicles of sedimented but immanently transformative logics of action, narratives constitute coherent and intelligible contexts of interaction. Given what is usually considered a seemingly unrelenting and perennial logic of action of international politics, it may come as a surprise to call for contextualisation in the study of security, yet narrative offers precisely this: an ethnomethodologically inclined epistemological compass; and a normatively receptive understanding of international practice which recuperates its transformative and ethical potential.

Today’s international environment indicates more than ever the need for a contextual understanding of ‘security’, whose conceptual and practical categories have proved among the most resilient to theoretical revision. All debates concerning the transatlantic rift, ‘new and old Europe’ or the ‘new American empire’ show that key to understanding some highly specific security policies is an analytical perspective that focuses on contextual definitions and contextual practices of security. ‘Narratives of security’ are the contextual vectors of such security concepts and policies. By integrating concept and policy, the study of ‘narratives of security’ develops the understanding of security as a situated practice, which opens the debate about security policies to the deeper dimension of ‘identity’, an ever-present, but almost surreptitious feature of the deliberations on the nature of ‘empire’ and its relation to ‘Europe’

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Gerard Delanty, University of Liverpool, UK ( homepage )

Post-Liberal Anxieties and Discourses of Peoplehood in Europe: Nationalism, Xeno-phobia and Racism

A feature of the current day especially in the countries of the European Union that has not been fully recognised is the demise of a political culture based on liberal values. Only the consequences remain. This liberal culture has been the basis of the national state since the latter part of the nineteenth cen-tury and has defined what we might simply call the modern idea of peoplehood. The essential unity of the liberal project has now given way to a variety of different political streams. With these come new ideas of peoplehood, presenting new challenges for European societies. While conservatives may dream of a return to the liberal heritage, which paradoxically produced modern conservativism, there is little chance that Europe will be united under the banner of liberal ideas in a way that is sustainable for the future. Continued adherence to these ideas is in fact leading to illiberalism and xenophobic anxieties. Somehow a new political imaginary will have to be created out of the disparate and often colliding political currents of the present post-liberal age if Europe is to resist what these post-liberal anxieties may lead to. Europe today is presented with a dilemma, which can be roughly summed up as a choice of remaining within, what I shall call, a post-liberalism of uncertainty or embracing a more cosmopolitan view of itself.

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Don Ellis, University of Hartford, USA / Fulbright Scholar, Tel Aviv ( homepage )

Communications and Political Discourse

Modern communication has changed the nature of ethnopolitical conflict. It is not that the media are hegemonic and subjugating, but by entering the reality of modern media political conflict is subject to a different set of rules. The paper will address three theoretical issues pertaining to these rules. The first is the role of media in reality construction. This will address how the media lay the infrastructure of a system of human contact, and focus on the role of symbolic processes in political reality. The second section of the paper focuses on media contributions to aggressive behaviours. I will examine the techniques of exploiting emotions and how the media help individuals disengage from normal models of reality. Finally, the paper will examine the principle of media frames, or how stories are presented in a manner that instructs the reader or viewer on how to organize and interpret the information.

(The participation of Don Ellis in the conference has been made possible thanks to the generous financial support of the Fulbright Commission.)

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Jan Ifversen, University of Aarhus, Denmark ( homepage )

Europe as a battle concept - old and new Europe

The grand old man of Begriffsgeschichte (history of concepts) Reinhart Koselleck introduced the term ‘battle concepts’ for those concepts that not only played a preponderant role in shaping political con-troversies, but that were themselves the main target of these controversies. Obviously, the concept of Europe has been such a battle concept for a long time, not least in the permanent debates on Euro-pean integration. US secretary of state, Donald Rumsfeld, gave a new angle to the battle concept when, during a press conference in 2003, he split Europe in two: the old Europe and the new Europe. By new Europe, Rumsfeld had in mind those countries in Eastern and Central Europe expressing a supportive attitude to US foreign policy in Iraq. What he did probably not consider was the deeper historical meaning related to this temporal division. The opposition between the two Europe’s immediately came to frame an emerging debate on a divide between the two sides of the old Transatlantic West. At stake was the idea of a common European identity and a proper European civilisation. The distribu-tion of age labels was used in a political conflict which linked the question of European identity to questions concerning the legitimacy of different foreign policies. The conflict involved intellectuals and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Axel Körner, UCL, UK ( homepage )

Etruscomania: History and Identity in 19th-century Italy

Since its ancient origins the culture of the Italian peninsula has been described as the Italy of the "mille città", a culture profoundly marked by the civic virtues of its multiple urban cen-tres. Historians usually discuss historicising discourse as contributing to the construction of national identity. Bologna, after its liberation from the papal regime, provides us with a tell-ing case study for the complex relationship between local, regional and national identities in 19th-century Italy. An important aspect of Bologna's self-representation since the Unification of Italy was its relationship to the past, the conception of its self as a city of history and cul-ture, which had lived for centuries under the "enslavement" by papal government. During the Risorgimento the early medieval period of communal government was rediscovered as a time of "communal freedom", idealised and continuously referred to in reconstructions of the city's past, in museums, public speeches, restoration projects and in urban planning. Similar importance assumed local research on the Villanovian and Etruscan civilizations, which allowed to distinguish Bologna's past from that of Ancient Rome. Bologna did not only argue to be part of Etruria and therefore a more ancient civilisation than Rome; local Etrus-cologists also insisted that the local Villanovian civilisation was an early Etruscan settlement. Therefore, Bologna claimed to represent the origin of the Etruscan civilisation altogether, closely related to the Egyptian civilisation and probably even pre-dating Ancient Greece. The Etruscan revival allowed Bologna to renegotiate the relationship between local, regional and national identities. Loyalty towards Italy's ancient states - the ancient legations remained the patria even for members of the Liberal establishment - merges with widespread suspicion about the young nation state's centralising tendencies and the Left's disappointment about Mazzini's promise of a "Third Rome". (Italians got "Byzantium for Rome", as Bologna's and Italy's most influential poet of the time remarked, Giosue Carducci, Nobel prize for literature in 1907. Etrsucomania had to make up for that.) The rediscovery of the own ancient origins or the 800th anniversary celebrations of Europe's first University permitted Bologna to pre-sent itself as a cultural centre within the young nation state, well positioned to compete with the kingdom's successive capitals, Turin, Florence and, since 1870, Rome. As Benedetto Croce explained in his philosophy of the spirit, all history is contemporary, not a given fact, but constantly renegotiated and reconstructed as contemporary discourse.

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Mirca Madianou, University of Cambridge, UK ( homepage )

Contesting Banal Nationalism: television news, everyday discourses and cultural intimacy.

Theories which argue for the reproduction of nationalism through the media often adopt a top-down approach. One such highly influential study is Billig’s Banal Nationalism (1996) which argues that the nation is constantly flagged through the national press. This paper combines the analysis of television news in Greece with its reception in order to ground assumptions about media power in empirical evidence. Does the nationalism in the news affect viewers’ discourses, and if so when? In which circumstances do people become essentialist about their own identities and those of others? Drawing on empirical data the paper integrates two levels of analysis, that of the text (the news) and its reception. In so doing it challenges the assumption that banal nationalism is reproduced unproblematically. Most interviewees challenged the nationalism in the news and the dominant identity discourses it projected. This contestation, however, has its limits. In order to identify the shifts in people’s discourses (from openness to closure) – and whether they correspond to those in the media – the paper draws on the concept of cultural intimacy (Herzfeld, 1996), as the tension between idealised collective self-presentation and shameful self-recognition.

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Ulrike Hanna Meinhof, University of Southampton, UK ( homepage )

Discourses of cultural diversity and cohesion in Europe and its nation-states

My paper will offer a brief comparison of policy documents about cultural diversity and/or multicul-turalism at European level. How are these terms evoked, represented or appropriated in public dis-courses in Germany, the UK and in France, and how do they feature in the context of counter-concepts such as for example, the ‘cohesive British nation’, or the ‘German Leitkultur’. I will argue and demon-strate that seemingly identical terms have often very different connotations in different public do-mains, and are activated for strategically quite different and contradictory purposes.

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Richard Mole, UCL, UK ( homepage )

Talking Security? The Discourse of European Identity in the Baltic States

The aim of this paper is to examine the relationship between identity and security and the way political actors in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania used an identity discourse predicated on the basis of European culture and values and the otherness of Russian civilisation to enhance their security. I argue that the Baltic States sought to create a social reality through discourse whereby they embedded themselves in the global political consciousness as members of a broader collectivity (namely the West) beyond the control of potential enemies (namely Russia). However, this self/other discourse vis-à-vis Russian culture also reinforced ethnic and cultural boundaries within the Baltic States – especially Estonia and Latvia – hampering the integration of Russian-speaking minorities and creating a potential new security dilemma

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Dimitris Papanikolaou, University of Oxford, UK ( homepage )

'Chez les Vietnam Yéyés': Cultural taxonomy, dissonance and the politics of mimicry

Popular culture has been often seen as an ideal challenger of hegemonic discourses, or even a potential organizing principle for non-hegemonic identities (subcultures, counterculture). To this discussion, this paper will add the idea of ‘cultural taxonomy’ as the main discourse structuring popular culture from within and operating alongside more obvious social, political, cultural and national narratives. It will also argue that popular culture’s potential subversiveness comes largely from the fact that it is oversaturated with discourses and not because it lies outside hegemony.

In order to illustrate this point, the paper will focus on the popular music genre of ‘yéyé’ as it was developed in France and Greece of the 1960s and used largely to interpellate the “non-political”, “mindless” and “frivolous” youth culture of the period. Yéyé was a pejorative pun referring to the imitation of the English turn ‘yeah, yeah’, and soon became a symbol for the meaninglessness of pop songs translated uncreatively from globally dominant English into French and Greek. The hallmark of mass culture production, yéyé as a style was, not unreasonably, seen as fully co-opted and aesthetically invalid, a mimicry of Anglo-American prototypes. It was also used to differentially define its opposites, the “nationally authentic” and “oppositional” popular cultures of the period.

However, a tendency to resignify yéyé as oppositional not in spite but because of its linguistic meaninglessness and its low position in the 60s cultural taxonomy can be traced back to the heart of the – more prestigious – countercultural 60s. An analysis of two songs by singer-songwriters Gainsbourg and Savvopoulos (‘Chez les yéyés’ and ‘Vietnam yeye’ respectively) will lead this paper to re-examine the interrelationship between cultural taxonomy and dissonance, hegemony and mimicry, cultural markets and cultural practices, all essential parameters for assessing the oppositional potentials of popular culture.

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Claire Thomson, UCL, UK ( homepage )

The Tale-End of History: Literary Form, Historiography and the Danish (Post)national Imagination

The rise of the novel and the establishment of the academic discipline of History in Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century are seen by Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities (1991), as part and parcel of the overall development of the diachronic dimension of the nation in the popular imagination. The symbiotic relationship between fiction and historiography still obtains in the form of literary postmodernism’s concern to de-doxify the knowability of the past. While the crucial role of the novel as a conduit for popular discourses of nationhood and history is well-established, I would argue that, in the Danish context, another form of narrative has played a significant part in the dissemina-tion of modern and postmodern assumptions about the behaviour of time and space and the shape of national history and territory.

The prevailing imaginative influence in Denmark of this genre, the fortælling (which translates loosely as both ‘tale’ and ‘narrative’), can be illustrated by mapping out the connections between three texts which span ‘classic’ historical pedagogy, postmodernist fiction, and postnational historiography. In 1882, the historian A.D.Jørgensen published his 40 fortællinger om Danmarkshistorie (‘40 Tales of Danish History’), which remains in print today and is probably the most ubiquitous popular history of Denmark. The title of Søren Mørch’s Den sidste Danmarkshistorie. 57 fortællinger om fædrelandet (‘The Last History of Denmark. 57 Tales of the Fatherland’, 1996) name-checks Jørgensen’s classic, as well as alluding to Francis Fukuyama’s influential The End of History and the Last Man (1992). But the term fortælling is also used in a more strictly literary sense, and Peter Høeg’s Fortællinger om natten (‘Tales of the Night’, 1990) references a long Danish tradition of tale-telling; this book’s most blatant intertext is Isak Dinesen’s various collections of tales, but it also engages quite explicitly in a postmodernist excavation of the nature of Western grand narratives.

Two conventions of the fortælling make it particularly well-placed to bestride the borderlands be-tween historiography and fiction. Firstly, the fortælling’s retention of a sense of orality and intimacy from older forms of tale provides an insight into the implied national reader which is, as Jonathan Culler has argued, implicit in Anderson’s model. This implied reader is assumed by the narrator or text to be caught up in national historical discourses: in other words, s/he is expected to be au fait with the prevailing conventions of fiction and historiography, and to be, quite literally, schooled in a national historical and literary pedagogy. In our three texts, we can trace the transformation of the nascent modern national(ist) implied reader into a postmodern ironic and multiverse one. The second interesting feature of the fortælling is its simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal dynamic – tales do not generally circulate or function singly. The narrative and material form of these texts is there-fore essentially predicated on collectivity and intertextuality – the ‘out of many, one’ which was and remains the founding principle of the nation.

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Ruth Wodak, University of Lancaster, UK ( homepage )

“Doing Europe” – The Discursive Construction of European Identities

Who and what is Europe? For many citizens within and outside its shifting boundaries, Europe today has become the kernel for processes of identification and the redefinition of identities. Constructing Europe means to develop a new kind of entity, with its own currency, legal framework, values, social security system, and new institutions. What is experienced as European or as outside of Europe is the result of multiple activities, some of them consciously planned in the sense of political, economic or cultural intervention, others more hidden, indirect, in the background. It is to be expected that such developments are contradictory and conflictual (rather than harmonious), proceeding in ‘loops’ and partial regressions (rather than in a linear way).

Among the many on-going debates in the media and among politicians in the European Union is the issue of “participation of European citizens”, as well as problems due to the so-called “democratic deficit”. Both issues are of relevance when observing and investigating the attempts to construct new European Identities discursively.

Recently, for example, the European Union has been keen to promote multilingual discussions through the Internet. This intervention has the potential to both improve decision-making and to reduce the perception of a democratic deficit by bringing citizens closer together and also closer to the institutions themselves. The European Union’s (EU) most relevant attempt to create such dialogue through ICTs is the Futurum discussion forum. Language policies play an important role in these debates, as they can help to mitigate language barriers which may discourage users from participating. The EU’s language and communication policies are highly contested, very broad areas, with numerous policy papers covering the subject.

This paper seeks to identify and analyze discursive processes of identity(ies) construction within Europe and at its boundaries, particularly the diversity of sources and forms of expression in two genres, in so-called visionary or speculative speeches of prominent German, French and British politicians, their multi-layeredness and sometimes paradoxical nature, as well as in the Futurum discussion board. Thus, two public spheres can be contrasted: the realm of official rhetoric and the first attempt of creating virtual new public spaces for European citizens. Both are part of a larger project concerned with the construction of European identities and the underlying visions, utopias and ideologies guiding this process, focusing on the debates at the European Convention 2003/4, funded by the Austrian National Bank.

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This page last modified 26 September, 2012 by UCL Mellon Admin

Book cover: Muamma

Book cover: Unpacking the collection

imag: book cover, Federica  Mazzara

Discursive Constructions of Identity in European Politics

Singing Poets: Literature and Popular Music in France and Greece (1945-1975)

Northern Constellations: New Readings in Nordic Cinema by Claire Thomson, UCL Mellon Fellow (2004-2006)

Mediating the Nation by Mirca Madianou, UCL Mellon Fellow (2002-2004)

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