Home > Literature > Thesis literature summary pt.1: European Identity and cultural heritage

Thesis literature summary pt.1: European Identity and cultural heritage

Here I will post my findings about the literature I read. The purpose for this mainly to remember the important aspects of each text for my thesis. But why keep it for myself?

Don’t expect a sound story, these are just the parts I find interesting for my thesis and is in no way intended to be completely accurate.

1. Chris Shore: Inventing the ‘people’s Europe’: Critical approaches to European Community  “Cultural Policy’ ‘(1992)

In this text, Anthropologist Chris Shore takes a critical point of view towards the cultural policy of the European Commission (This article was written in 1992, in the next year, the name ‘European Commission was changed to ‘European Union’ with the Maastricht treaty).  Reason for this is the,  as Varenne (1992:5) has noted,  ‘presence of Europe’ is increasingly manifest in tangible and symbolic forms (from public building works and student exchange schemes, to supermarket shelves and patterns of consumption) even in those communities farthest from the centers of European decision making. He describes that much is written about problems of ethnicity and nationalism in Europe (Hobsbawm 1992), but less is said about Europeanism or about the impact of the EC on national identity, especially from an anthropological view. His main question is about EC’s so-called ‘cultural policy’, its attempt to construct a ‘European Identity’, and the effects of EC-sponsored ‘cultural initiatives’ and awareness campaigns on national identity, the nation state and political integration of Europe (p.780). Part of argument is that: Anthropological approaches to identity provide a powerful, yet problematic framework for analyzing European integration. By emphasizing on the ‘imagined’ (Anderson) and ‘invented’ (Hobsbawm) character of collective identities, they alert us to the fact that all communities – European as well as national – are culturally constructed.” Here also comes the theory of  ‘the other’ to mind and the idea that an identity is created by the creation of an other on which the community can resent to. This uses different strategies for inclusion and exclusion, as described by Gerard Delanty in “Inventing Europe”(1995), which I will discuss in an other posting.

The EC has attempted various amount of times to construct a European Identity. This study mainly focuses on the initiative of the EC to build a ‘People’s Europe’. In the next chapter Shore starts of with describing recent writings on European identity to clarify the concept of identity. Here he quotes Schlesinger (1987), who concludes that collective identities should be conceived essentially as ‘fields of communication’- a point of significance in a multilinguistic context such as the EC. And indeed, as Shore concludes, if shared language is a key to cultural integration, then the EC’s current policy of promoting minority languages may even be impedeiment to European cultural unity. (Note: This is also an important factor related to Europeana, since the national institutions contribute their cultural objects with metadata written in the national language. Thus, if Europeana ever wants to present a European culture, it should overcome this language problem). He also elaborates more about the ‘Us’ and ‘We’ aspect of identity, pointing out that people affirm their identity largely by declaring who they are not (Heiberg, 1980).

In the third chapter, Shore explains more about the EC policy and the project to enhance European awareness of their cultural identity called ‘Campaign for a Citizens Europe’, by asking to EC officials “what is the commission doing to promote its vision of European identity? The first attempts to market Europe more efficiently are from 1979, when there was a low turnout in the European elections. As one key activist explains: “what we tried to create was a double sense of belonging; being British and being European.”  This idea of letting the European citizens feel both attached to their nation, as well as to Europe is still a primary goal of the European cultural policy, and one of the main goals of Europeana. Its idea is not to replace the national identity, which would be virtually impossible concerning Andersons theories about identiy, but to let a European one exist next to it.

Then he quotes from the 1992 Maastricht treaty, article 128, which specifically concerns culture and creates a new legal competence for the EU, stating the following:

The Community shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. Action by the Community shall be aimed at encouraging cooperation between member states and, if necessary, supporting and supplementing their action the following areas: improvements of the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the European peoples; conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance;  non-commercial cultural exchanges; artistic and literary creation, including the audiovisual sector. The community and the member states shall foster cooperation with third countries (i.e. non EC-states) and the competent international organization in the sphere of culture, in particular the Council of Europe. The Community shall take cultural aspects into account in its action under other provisions of this treaty (Commision 1992a: 13).

After this citation, Shore notes that by establishing this new legal competence for the Community in the fields of ‘European culture and heritage’, the treaty lays the basis for future Community law, though how these principles translate into practice has yet to be seen. Shore wrote this in 1992, now 18 years later we can give some answer to that question, relating to the foundation of Europeana. ->Jeanneny and Google, Europeana does exactly this. His idea for a European digital library with all of Europe’s heritage in it came as a response to the plan’s of multinational Google to start Google books. Goal of this project was to digitize a few billion pages. Jeanneney feared that Google, an American company would gain control over European heritage. He therefore wrote the article Quand Google defie l’Europe and was invited by Chiraq to talk about his concerns and his idea for a counter project. After this, Chiraq was convinced of the need of such a digital European library and together with six other nations he wrote a letter to Jose Manuel Barroso in order to plea for European Union funding. This was accepted and in 2005 the first attempts for the project named Europeana were made. -> History of Europeana comes in another chapter.

It seems that Europeana fits perfectly in the quote from the Maastricht treaty. It brings common heritage of Europe together, while still respecting the national and regional diversity by letting every institution contribute to Europeana. the project is a cooperation between all EU countries, although some are contributing a lot more than others. By releasing the material under a non commercial Creative Commons license, the material is freely available and can be reused by anybody.

Shore also mentions the ‘Eurobarometer’. This a research report that is held 2 times per year. One of the questions asked is if EU citizens not only feel their national identity, but a European identity, i.e . that they are Belgians, Danes, Germans, but also Europeans. In 1992, 46 perecent of all respondents felt this, but, as Shore notices, ‘feeling European is one thing, identifying with the EU institution is quite another. Here I will look at recent Eurobarometers to sense certain trends and if the feeling of being European is either increasing, or not.

Idea for a small chapter about the identity of Europe:
Shore writes, as well as Delanty and the UU tekst by Dirk Jacobs, about the fact that the boarders of Europe are not clear. So, when the EU searches for a European identity, the question ‘what is Europe?’ becomes valid. Where does Europe end and Asia begins? Is Turkey, with its overwhelming Muslim population, to be considered part of Europe, as some claim? And Israel, which is considered European by some nation-leaders like Berlusconi and attends the Eurovision songfestival every year? What are the implications for enlarging the EU to include other countries whose claims to ‘European heritage’ might be ambiguous?

Another small chapter:
What has failed to make people identify with Europe? In Wistricht’s (EU official) view the growth of nationalism and the establishment of independent nation states have been the main cause of rivalry an enmity within Europe. Nation states have suppressed ethnic minorities, centralized power at the expense of regional loyalties, restricted freedom of movement and the exercise of civil rights of nationals within their own countries, and isolated people from their neighbors. From these observations he concludes that passports and travel visas – introduced in the 20th century – have symbolized the separation of Europeans of different nationalities (Wistricht 1989: 77).  Today, more and more countries deal with upcoming nationalism. right-wing parties and groups make use of heritage to promote their national culture. In the Netherlands, radical budget cuts have been announced for culture. However, national heritage gets more funding. Political parties want to focus on the national pride of the country. It is therefore interesting what happens with digitized content in Europeana. The EU wants to use it as a binder between different European countries, showing the shared history we as Europeans have. At the same time, nationalists use digital heritage to focus on the nation itself, often being rather eurosceptical. – Room for expansion.

Back to the EU’s attempts for a united Europe: Constructing Europe through symbols.
For the European Union, the first significant step towards defining the cultural basis for a European Union came in 1973 when leader of the nine EC member states signed the ‘Declaration on the European Identity’. This proclaimed that the nine member-states shared ‘the same attitudes to life, based on a determination to build a society which measures up to the needs of the individual’; that each wished to ensure that the ‘cherished values of their legal, political and moral order are respected’; and that all were determined ‘to defend the principles of representative democracy, the rule of law’, ‘social justice’ and ‘respect for human rights'(Commission 1973: 119). This step was the first attempt to create a European awareness. In order to achieve this the Commission tried to visualize its presence in everyday life. This for example by a European postal stamp, a flag, standardized European passports and driving license en the decision to adopt Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as the European National Anthem. Also, more political decisions were taken with the Schengen treaty that allows all citizens of the European Union to travel free from on nation to another and the introduction of the national European currency, the Euro.
Another policy is about the focus on cultural heritage and the affirmation of a common history. (Commission 1988: 9) This involves Europe’s architectural and artistic heritage. The Union sponsored various arts-related crafts and restoration projects  and helped preserved a number of monuments that form part of European cultural heritage, such as the Acropolis, the Parthenon and Mount Athos.
European can be seen as an extension of this policy. By digitizing the cultural objects, they can be stored forever, not being touched by the destructive elements of time. But why does the EU think that cultural heritage helps constructing a European identity? In order to answer this question, we need to take a deeper look in the power of the archives and cultural objects related to identity. -> time for next chapter about this subject with the help of Schwarz and Cook, Thomassen, Ketelaar, Halbwachs, Habermas, Anderson, Hobswawn and others.

Interesting to notice is that the aim of the EU is not to impose homogeneity or cultural uniformity, but rather to celebrate Europe’s cultural heterogeneity. The commonly stated objective was to build unity through diversity'(commission 1988: 9). Thus, by bringing together all the diversity of each European institution in Europeana, it should show the heterogeneity of one, united Europe. In this respect it is interesting to take a look at what different countries contribute, and what the focus on and, maybe even more interesting, what they leave out.  ->This is part of my research question. For example, how does Spain cope with the fact that it has several ethnic minorities, who do not share an identity. They are all Spanish, but some rather consider themselves Basques or Catalonian. Can the cultural objects they contribute considered as representation of the nation Spain, or for a ethnic group?

Aww yeah, crossed the 2000 words…

In the next chapter, Shore focuses on the idea that a European identity, as well as almost all other identities, does not focus on what they are, but what they are not. An identity focuses on an ‘other’, something which they can be not. On this subject, Delanty elaborates more. Quote from Shore: At a symbolic level, the new European order, which seems to find much of Western Christendom, is coming to mean a sharper boundary between ‘European’ and ‘non-European’.

A problem to discuss: “The Commission is caught in a double bind here, for in order to celebrate ‘Europeaness’ and ‘make people aware of their European identity’ it is forced to simplify and package cultural heritage in way that appeals to people, engenders feelings of solidarity among them, and emphasizes what they hold in common, particularly to non-Europeans. -> This is exactly Thomassens argument in his oration. Cultural heritage get widely available, but the context is gone and it is presented in easy to access bites. Here, the role of the expert comes into play.

All right, that was it for now.

Next: More on archives and identity

Categories: Literature
  1. Rebecca
    May 31, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Een kleine opmerking op één aspect in je post over European Identity and cultural heritage. Wat door beleidsmakers én (kunst)historici nog wel eens over het hoofd wordt gezien is dat het netwerk van relaties en uitwisseling van ideeën in de kunst (zowel 2D als 3D) in Europa vanaf de renaissance (en waarschijnlijk ook daarvoor > zie ontwikkelingen in Middeleeuwse beeldhouwkunst) groot was. Onder andere via prenten (maar ook reizen en reisverslagen) vinden ideeën en ontwikkelingen razendsnel hun weg in Europa waar lokaal de ideeën ten uitvoer worden gebracht met een eigen karakter. Men was in de verschillende landen bij lange na niet zo naar binnen gericht als wordt gedacht.

    • June 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      Sorry voor de late reactie, maar bedankt! Dit is zeker iets om rekening mee te houden.

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