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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Modern Roots: Studies of National Identity
Alain Dieckhoff & Natividad Gutiérrez, editors

Aldershot: Ashgate 2001
318 pp. Hb.:£45.00, ISBN 0-7546-1152-3

What is national identity and what makes it distinct from other types of collective identities? This collection of texts compiled by Alain Dieckhoff and Natividad Gutiérrez assembles several approaches to these questions under the same culturalist paradigm: national identity as an information system linking historical roots with modern political and institutional settings, embedded in the cultural environment.

In the second section, Anthony D. Smith?s critique of post-modernist, Marxist and modernist theories is based on the argument that ethnic past is essential in understanding and constructing the future, as group recognition and ethnic conflicts are still unsolved. Dismissing the optimistic future of a plural society where different identities will co-exist, Smith believes that national identity will become a mixture of ethnic and civic elements, as the premises for a plural society have not yet been achieved. After Philippe Claret provides a comprehensive review of the main schools of thought on national personality from the ?30s on, Montserrat Guibernau closes this section with a critique of Gellner?s failure to properly acknowledge the role of culture in the national state and the national identity creation.

The third section moves from theory to practice, focusing on how national identity is being built around different elements, such as geographical setting, folk culture and history. In the case of Swiss identity proposed by Oliver Zimmer, the alpine landscape was turn into a common locus in the process of national identity creation. Faced with a poly-ethnic and linguistic society, the Swiss identity had to be formed around a neutral element, that could link the past with the present and confer legitimacy to the new institutional setting. Still, the more or less general case in Europe was that of constructing national identities starting from an ideal (forged) folk culture, as Anne-Marie Thiesse and Catherine Bertho-Lavenir point out in their paper. However Yolaine Culitaux questions the mere idea of a ?national identity?, looking at how the Spanish identity is fractured and challenged by the emergence of the Catalan identity, a fracture mainly determined in her view by the legitimization of ethno linguistic criteria in historical works, which led to the differentiation of the Catalans as a group.

Several means of transmission of national identity are presented in the fourth chapter, such as the French model of teaching national identity through the academic world and the role of teachers unions in promoting the national symbols, values and discourses in Eastern and Western Germany and Japan. Finally, Jaffrelot?s work on Hindu nationalism provides an interesting example on how national identity can be constructed around different criteria in the absence of ethno-linguistic ones.

The next section focuses on problematic national identities, whose building process were in leaps and hindered by exo/endogenous factors. This is the case of Ecuador, where an imagined ethnicity was manufactured. Consequently, other groups claiming their own identity contested it. A similar situation is happening in Turkey, where the Kurdish issue turned the national identity into a matter of state security and ethnic conflict. Gerard Groc seeks the answers for this situation in the Turkish nation-building process, where the nation-state was born on the ruins of a vast, heterogeneous empire, labeled as 'backward'. Neither history, nor ethno-linguistic criteria could coagulate the masses, therefore a strong, centralist state was needed to instill and preserve a common identity. This was not the case with the Romanian nationalism, legitimized in ancient history and preferring the paradigm of constant victimization throughout the time.

In the end of this collection, Alain Dieckhoff demolishes the artificial dichotomy between Eastern and Western, good or bad, ethnic or civic national identities, concluding that the nation is neither solely political, nor civic, or ethnic, but rather a mixture of these elements embedded in the particular cultural environment.

Despina Dumitrica, Open Society Foundation, Romania

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