Other projects on European identity

RECON: Reconstituting Democracy in Europe



“Border Discourse: Changing Identities, Changing Nations, Changing Stories in European Border Communities”, coordinated by Ulrike H. Meinhof, University of Southampton; the EC 5th Framework Programme;

 Partners: Southampton, Wolverhampton, Chemnitz, Bern, Klagenfurt, and Trieste


 http://ec.europa.eu/research/social-sciences/pdf/finalreport/hpse-ct-99-00003-final-report.pdf (final report)

 The focus: three-generation families in border communities and the question how people perceive and discursively construct their identities in relation (and possibly in contrast and opposition) to the upheavals in the official spheres of politics; an assumption that narratives would negotiate identity positions from ‘above’ with those from ‘below’; an assumption: identity is mainly crafted by engaging in discourse (entailing practices if understanding, interpretation and interaction individuals share in particular contaxt); 

Additionally, a question how people perceive themselves today as Europeans in opposition to or as an extension of other forms of personal, local, regional or national identities. 

Methodology: photographs of buildings, bridges, border crossing and other symbolic images used during the interviews for opening semi-structured questioning (pictures as aides-memoires);

the use of photographs generated certain ‘key narratives’ by which people made strong identity claims and positioned themselves within their local and translocal histories; discourse analysis;

Analysis: first in the teams, then comparison across teams (local understandings compared with trans-local ones); identifying clusters of topics that have trans-European saliency;

Key findings:

  • strategies of ‘forgetting’ about unresolved painful past;
  • strategies of evasion applied in order to neutralise potentially conflictual relationships;
  • surprisingly, young people more hostile or indifferent towards ‘the other’ than older generations;
  • economic inequalities and their social consequences featured in the narratives;
  • out-grouping mechanism: activating categories of ethnic or national differences and constructing negative others;
  • construction of identity works itself through a system of in-grouping and out-grouping, which echoes and confirms these divisions in every-day social practices;
  • ‘absence of Europe’ – EU-related pictures did not trigger any reaction about Europe; a lack of sense of belonging to Europe, which leads to a conclusion that there has been no consolidation of European identity; people do not volunteer positive values and identifications with Europe or EU even if they travel to other parts of Europe or enjoy some positive outcomes of EU investments in their communities;
  • EU tends to be regarded as an economic entity rather than a cultural/social one; 
  • narratives concerning Europe expressed the endurance of older East-West identities and their re-interpretation in the face of enlargement rather than a growing Europeanisation; à the absence of Europe as an imagined community;
  • the images representing ‘Europe’ and the EU were not recognised, which was interpreted in the following way: the concept of ‘Europe’ was not at the forefront of people’s lives and it did not figure as a meaningful signifier within their everyday understandings of who they were;  


“Europeanization, Collective Identities and Public Discourses” (IDNET), coordinated by Thomas Risse, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies; the EC 5th Framework Programme;

Partners: ARENA (University of Oslo), University of Konstanz, Humboldt University Berlin;

http://web.fu-berlin.de/atasp/texte/030625_risse_idnet.pdf  (final report)


The focus: the relations between  the European and national identities in Western and Eastern Europe; the impact of Europeanisation upon the transformation of collective identities; the role of the media and public discourses in the processes of negotiation and transformation of collective identities; additionally, assessing the socialisation potential of European institutions; and a question if there is something like European public sphere; an attempt to connect ‘top-down analyses’ dominant in political science and the ‘bottom-up’ analyses of national and European identities dominant in sociology and history;

Methodology: various empirical studies; various disciplines and methods, both qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (survey); discourse analysis;

Key findings:

  • European and national identities are related to each other in non-zero sum, but rather complex terms; the multiplicity of identities – the emerging supranational identifications supplement rather than substitute existing loyalties and affiliations; the dominant outlook in most EU countries is “country first, but Europe, too”;
  • different metaphors of multiple identities: “Russian matryoshka doll”, “marble cake”;the EU is an elite-driven project, therefore it is not surprising that identification with and support for Europe and its institutions is highest among political and social elites;    
  • there is an emerging European public sphere;
  • there is “an increasing sense of community among the European citizens, among elites and ordinary people alike”;
  • the EU is understood as civic community, distinct from cultural understandings of Europe in general;
  • “Europeanisation, European integration, and European identities seem to co-evolve over time, both at the elite and the mass levels.”;
  • “The increasing ‘realness’ of the EU in people’s daily lives seem to affect their identification with Europe as a political community.”;
  • “Building a European identity has little to do with public relations efforts or information campaigns about the EU. Rather, the key toward increased identification with Europe and the EU is increasing the reality of the community in the daily lives of the citizens.”;
  • the development of a European identity that stands in opposition to national traditions and cultures is highly unlikely;
  • the construction of any pan-European identity will be “a slow and protracted process”;
  • there is a great importance of domestic politics and national context in the process of European identity construction;


“Representations of Europe and the Nation in Current and Prospective Member-States: Media, Elites and Civil Society” (EURONAT) coordinated by Bo Stråth, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies; the EC 5th Framework Programme;

 Partners: Viadrina European University, University of Budapest, Panteion University, Jagiellonian University, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Czech Technical University; 


ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/citizens/docs/eur22009_euronat.pdf (final report)

The focus: European and national identities and the connections between them in nine European states (six EU member states and three associated states in Central and Eastern Europe); the role of the media in the formation of meanings and representations of the nation and Europe or the EU in each country; similarities and differences between the media, the elite and lay people understandings and representations of the EU; the development of a European identity as a legitimacy basis of European integration;


Five phases of empirical work concentrated on:

  1. the historical background of nation and national identity formation in each country;
  2. the media discourse on Europe and the EU in each country (analysing daily press and TV broadcasting);
  3. the discourse of political elites and their understandings of the nation, Europe, and the EU (analysing parliamentary debates);
  4. public opinion (Eurobarometer survey and qualitative interviews on closeness and distance from citizens of other courtiers, Europe and non-European countries + understandings of the nation, Europe, and the EU);
  5. comparative analysis;

Key findings:

  • in Britain a common view of “Europe as elsewhere”; 62% of the respondents said they did not feel European, “British as the reluctant European”;
  • Germany: a low degree of national identification combined with a higher degree of European identification; people from an educated middle-class background are mostly positively oriented to Europe; people from a less educated lower middle-class and working-class background are mostly and primarily positively-uncritically oriented to the German nation and their Heimat region and are divided equally between either positive or negative, secondary orientation orientation to the EU;
  • Italy: closeness to nation, region and to Europe or the EU are compatible;
  • Poland: stronger identification with the nation than with the state and its structures; 
  • ordinary people do not uncritically accept or reproduce the elite discourses;
  • national identity is a ‘first order’ identity while a sense of belonging to Europe and the EU comes as a ‘second order’ feeling of loyalty and attachment; both identities contain a blend of ethnic, civic and instrumental features;
  • the notions of Europe and of the EU are often conflated in the media, party and even in private discourses;
  • political ideology (left or right wing) is less important than expected;
  • power relations (large and small countries) significantly shape the representation of the EU, Europe and the nation; also lay people’s representation of the EU is shaped by the power (im)balances between countries;
  • “A European identity does not seem to be a necessary component of European integration.”; European identity will rather come up as “an epiphenomenon of actual deeper European integration and as part of the experience of living together within a common supranational polity”;   
  • national and European attachments are not competing with each other; both identities can be strong and still an individual does not perceive any conflict between them; national identity, based on ethno-cultural elements, is stronger and could be represented as a inner circle; European identity, based more on instrumental elements, is weaker and could be described as an outer circle;
  • “national historical narratives remain highly relevant for understanding the emergence of a European identity”; past experiences form the lenses through which people view the EU; 


"Orientations of Young Men and Women to Citizenship and European Identity " coordinated by Lynn Jamieson, University of Edinburgh; the EC 5th Framework Programme;

Partners: Institute for Advanced Studies Vienna, International University of Bremen, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Universidad de Madrid (Complutense & Autónoma), University of Lancaster;


http://www.sociology.ed.ac.uk/youth/final_report.pdf (final report)

The focus: young European citizens, both male and female, 18-24 years old, their feelings of being European and their sense of European citizenship;

Methodology: surveys in the following cities: Vienna and three small towns, Chemnitz and Bielefeld, Madrid and Bilbao, Manchester and Edinburgh, Prague and Bratislava;

random sample (N 3890) & ‘target sample’ (N 799) of those potentially oriented towards ‘European careers’; additionally, a small number of semi-structured interviews and focus groups;

Key findings:

  • feelings of European identity were found among half of the people surveyed in the Austrian, German and accession cities, and among less than a quarter in Bilbao and the UK cities; slightly higher among women than men;
  • the majority expressed greater attachment to their city, region or nation than to Europe;
  • high identification with Europe was typically associated with high identification with nation;
  • family, friends, a partner and education are typically far more likely to be seen as important to ‘who I am’ than either nationality or ‘being European’;
  • many considered the EU and Europe as largely irrelevant to their own lives;


"Diasporas, migration and identities"

Diasporas, Migration and Identities is a trans- disciplinary research programme funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It includes arts and humanities scholars from all over the UK working on individual research, large collaborative and interdisciplinary projects, and in international networks. The aim is to research, discuss and present issues related to diasporas and migration, and their past and present impact on subjectivity and identity, culture and the imagination, place and space, emotion, politics and sociality.



"Identities and social action"

Identities and Social Action is a five year research programme funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The programme runs from 2004 to 2008 and is directed by Professor Margaret Wetherell, Open University. The ESRC has invested £4 million in 25 research projects based in universities around the UK. These projects will deepen our understanding of the processes involved in the making of selves, groups and communities.

  • How do people construct a sense of identity these days?
  • What are the consequences of the identity paths chosen?
  • How do identity choices intensify or ease social conflict?
  • What is it like to build an identity in situations of social exclusion?

The programme focuses on the attempts of people with very different trajectories and from very different contexts to build communities and ‘liveable lives'.