As people living in Europe are confronted by growing number of concerns and loyalties of multiple communities and collectivities, the question of the identities they develop becomes ever more important and intriguing. In the past, these were mainly concerns at the national level, but with the progress of increasing European unification, national aspects of orientation are losing their exclusivity. Hence, it becomes a central issue how, and by which types of engagements, individual actors are able to connect these collective concerns with their own biographical construction of identity. The question is how people balance divergent or even discrepant collective demands and how they handle the paradoxes caused by contradictory collective concerns and loyalties.
There is an intimate connection between individual biographical identity and collective identity conceived as ‘imagined community’. Analysing people’s life stories, we question whether ‘Europe’ already functions as a common reference point or if it is still, as previous studies have asserted, absent as an ‘imagined community’.
Further, we ask about the relationship between regional, national and European identities. Different kinds of metaphors have been used so far to express these relations. Some compare them to a set of enclosed Russian matryoshka dolls, others to a marble cake, assuming that simultaneous multiple identities at different levels are not only possible, but also common, desirable and, indeed, inevitable. Such metaphors, however, seem to be too static to encapsulate the relations between different identities, especially when we want to consider multi-layer expectations and obligations, competing loyalties, and conflicting desires of attachment and detachment. In this context, we are also interested in the in-grouping and out-grouping strategies people use to construct their identities.
We regard personal experiences as highly relevant for the research on European identities. The origins of European affiliations can be found already in origins and childhood experiences, through the influence of parents and schools, and through the access to cultural and social capital. There is also a great role played by friendships and mixed relationships, shared experiences, emotions and meaningful communication. Moreover, experiencing and transgressing borders, coming across cultural otherness, participating in liaison work, all contribute greatly to the development of individual and collective identities. These aspects are reflected in the ‘sensitized groups’ we have chosen for our research: trans-national workers; educationally mobile people; farmers; individuals working for civil society organizations; those participating in trans-national cultural activities – for all of them the experience of ‘Europe’ is a part of their world of everyday life. The Euroidentities Project asks what the result of these experiences means in terms of evolving collective identities.