European Collective Identity

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European Journal of Social Theory
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A Theory of Collective Identity Making Sense of the Debate on a 'European Identity'
Klaus Eder
European Journal of Social Theory 2009 12: 427
DOI: 10.1177/1368431009345050
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http://est.sagepub.com/content/12/4/427

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European Journal of Social Theory 12(4): 427–447
Copyright © 2009 Sage Publications: Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC

A Theory of Collective Identity
Making Sense of the Debate
on a ‘European Identity’
Klaus Eder
H U M B O L D T U N I V E R S I T Y, B E R L I N

Abstract
This article argues for a robust notion of collective identity which is not reduced to a psychological conception of identity. In the first part, the debate on the concept of identity raised by several authors is taken up critically with the intention of defending a strong sociological conception of identity which by definition is a collective identity. The basic assumption is that collective identities are narrative constructions which permit the control of the boundaries of a network of actors. This theory is then applied to the case of Europe, showing how identity markers are used to control the boundaries of a common space of communication. These markers are bound to stories which those within such a space of communication share. Stories that hold in their narrative structures social relations provide projects of control. National identities are based on strong and exclusive stories. Europeanization (among other parallel processes at the global level) opens this space of boundary constructions and offers opportunities for national as well as subnational as well as transnational stories competing with each other to shape European identity projects. The EU – this is the hypothesis – provides a case in which different sites offer competing opportunities to continue old stories, to start new stories or to import old stories from other sites, thus creating a narrative network on top of the network of social relations that bind the people in Europe together. European identity is therefore to be conceived as a narrative network embedded in an emerging network of social relations among the people living in Europe.

Key words
■ collective identity ■ European identity ■ narrative analysis ■ network analysis ■ sociological theory

www.sagepublications.com

DOI: 10.1177/1368431009345050
Downloaded from est.sagepub.com at Sage Publications (UK) on April 26, 2012

428

European Journal of Social Theory 12(4)
Identity: A Contested Concept
Collective identity has been at the centre of attention in societies that were formed in the course of the making of the nation-state. The nation, however, has not been an exclusive focus. Collective identity can equally refer to cities, to regions, or to groups such as political parties or even social movements. For some time, collective identity has also been an issue with regard to Europe where public debate is increasingly concerned with the problem of a European identity that is seen as lacking or as necessary. But why do societies, groups and even a union of nationstates such as the EU need an identity? For a person, an identity allows them to be recognized as something particular vis-à-vis others. But why do groups, up to the nation and even transnational phenomena such as the EU, need an identity? The...
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