Jaffe on Macdonald, 'Inside European Identities: Ethnography in Western Europe'
Sharon Macdonald, ed. Inside European Identities: Ethnography in Western Europe. Providence, R.I.: Berg Publishers, 1993. viii + 247 pp. $36.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-85496-888-6; $105.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85496-723-0.
Reviewed by M. Jaffe (SUNY--Cortland) Published on H-SAE (April, 1996)
Inside European Identities, edited by Sharon Macdonald, is a stimulating collection of essays by British anthropologists on the problematic of identity in Western Europe. Sharon Macdonald's introductory piece and Maryon McDonald's closing chapter provide the thematic and theoretical framework for the volume.
In her introduction, Macdonald makes a concise argument for the critical role played by ethnographic fieldwork in discovering what local, ethnic, regional, national, and supranational identities mean to people, and she points to the general anthropological usefulness of Western European case studies in which there can be found the interplay between "isms" (nationalism, colonialism, and ethnonationalism) that frame issues of identity in many parts of the world. The fieldwork and interpretation represented in the book are, as Macdonald points out, an extension of the critique launched in the 1970s and 1980s by Boissevain, Cole, Davis, and Grillo of the community studies model. The approach to the topic of identity endorsed and described by Macdonald and McDonald, and taken by most of the authors in the volume, is that identity formation is oppositional and (socially and historically) situational rather than essential. This is certainly not new ground, but Sharon Macdonald's "Identity Complexes in Western Europe" is a clear and well-written introduction to this theme and how it is relevant in the European context. Both she and Maryon McDonald emphasize that the study of identity is really the study of its social representations, and the tangible and intangible effects of those representations on daily life and experience. It is within this context that both Macdonald and McDonald discuss the way in which the identities of anthropologists must be included within the same discursive field as those they study. As Macdonald writes, the "inside" in the title of the volume also refers to the "inside," European identity of the researchers themselves. She and Maryon McDonald emphasize that both the experiences and the analyses of fieldwork are part of the ethnographic record.
Macdonald also contextualizes the contributions to the volume within the framework of the European Union and the idea of "Europe." Although none of the articles is explicitly concerned with definitions of European identity, Macdonald suggests that the "relaxation" of borders has intensified the salience of sub-European boundaries. Maryon McDonald elaborates on this theme in her closing chapter, where she frames it as a problem of perceived indeterminacy at the frontiers of "given" or stereotypical boundaries that were previously taken for granted. The European Union, because it forces a reassessment of boundaries at a variety of levels and in a variety of ways, draws attention to those very frontiers. The boundaries "given" in popular discourse about identity are certainly not the only places in which difference might become important, but they are the places in which people are most likely to "notice" difference. McDonald gives as an example the 1990 "Ridley affair," in which Ridley, a Cabinet Minister, suggested that German goals in the EU paralleled German goals in World War II. Even though there were those who offered a more optimistic view of German character and intentions in the new European context, the reality of an essential national character was never questioned. In other words, the European Union had precipitated a debate about the content of "given" boundaries, but had not called into question the boundaries themselves.
So we find a familiar process in identity formation: the naturalization of boundaries and the use of familiar tools (language, history, stereotypes about the character of the 'in-group' and outsiders) to express and legitimate the uniqueness and integrity of political, ethnic, and religious identities. Taken together, the articles in this volume provide a rich stock of ethnographic examples of how binary oppositions between "us" and "them" form, as Katheryn Woolard (1985) has felicitously phrased it, "an exhaustive contrast set" onto which a huge span of behaviors, attitudes and values are mapped as people talk about their own, and others' identities.
If these oppositions, and the stereotypes that buttress them, are hardy and are represented as exhaustive in popular discourse, they are also, of course, reductive. By definition, the legitimation/ naturalization of boundaries reads out ambiguous or discordant bits of history and glosses over mixed and multiple identities and the fuzzy border areas (both geographical and conceptual). This is a common (perhaps even worn) theme in an extremely large anthropological and historical literature going back to the influential volume on "Invention of Tradition" (Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983; Hobsbawm, 1990; and Smith, 1991).
Some of the contributions to this volume either make no reference to, or do not address in a very sophisticated way, this particular theme, limiting themselves to a rather predictable deconstruction of ethnic nationalist rhetoric. Others provide interesting ethnographic insights on the ways in which ambiguities/mixed and complex identities are recognized, managed, and expressed in everyday life. The former cases are related, I believe, to the authors' successes in the reflexive project involved, as McDonald and Macdonald tell us, in the deconstruction of discourses of identity. There is a tendency in some of these pieces for self-conscious acts of differentiation by elites to be treated in differing degrees as somehow less "authentic" than the acts of identity of the less educated and politicized. Sometimes this is expressed bluntly (Rosemary McKechnie tells us that "determined to find her own 'real' Corsica, the Corsica of everyday life," she disqualified all self-conscious definitions of Corsicanness by Corsican academics and nationalists (p. 140), and sometimes it is a question of slight mockery in the tone with which others' discourses of identity are described.
Maryon McDonald's chapter in this volume provides a first line of criticism against this tendency. She invites anthropologists to consider their observations as the same order of phenomena as their "subjects," because the assumptions and methods of social science are no less bound to a particular social, historical, political, cultural, and economic context than are the ideas and practices that social scientists study. Is there any reason to expect that British southern intellectuals (Malcolm Chapman), or Corsican, Basque, or Breton activists should be able to transcend a particular model of identity construction in which their identities are essentialized and opposed along the familiar (and historically rooted) lines that McDonald lays out very nicely? Assuming that intellectuals or academics could (should) have a "higher" sociological consciousness in the practice of their everyday lives can easily slide into an essentializing and patronizing discourse in which cultural authenticity is attributed only to the unselfconscious "folk." "Native" academic discourses are no less "real" than non-academic ones; morever they are social facts, because they influence attitudes and behaviors. The interesting empirical question (which is raised in all of these works) is how particular discourses of identity get diffused and circulated and, possibly, changed or contested.
My second point is also related to McDonald's comments about the way in which dominant discourses of identity have been historically constructed. Minority activists/intellectuals in places like Corsica, the Basque Country, and Brittany are not "free" to select a non-stereotypical, non-essentializing discourse of identity (whatever that would look like) because they are bound by a political context. By this I do not mean only the political context of minority nationalism, but the larger one described by McDonald. To be recognized at all within the context of their nation-states, and to achieve any sort of political or instrumental goals within that context, they are obliged to adopt a discourse of radical, essential difference because that is the only discourse of identity that the national system recognizes.
Let me give a concrete example, also based on Corsica. In the early 1970s, Corsican activists sought to get Corsican included under the provisions of the Loi D'ixonne, which had been established in the 1950s, and allowed three hours per week of instruction in "regional languages of France" (Basque, Breton, Alsacien) in the school system. Corsican had been excluded because it had been defined as an "Italian dialect." Corsican activists had to demonstrate to the government that Corsican was not Italian, that it was signficantly different from French, and that it was a language (with its own structure, writing, etc.). Corsican linguists' defense of Corsican did in fact essentialize linguistic/cultural boundaries. But we cannot infer their state of consciousness or belief about the "true" nature of the language (and its closeness to Italian) from the structure of their defense, because they did not set, and could do little to control, the parameters of the debate, which had its roots in a long French--and European--history of ideas about language and identity. The same thing could be said about the European Union's economic and cultural policies toward regions: these policies do not only make the assertion of regional identity expedient, but the very discourse makes it difficult to express concerns or identity in any other idiom.
Finally, in keeping with the editor's and McDonald's concerns with reflexivity, I would call for a recognition of the way in which "essentializing" identity is a stabilizing activity at the personal level. It is very difficult to live with indeterminacy, and even though many people know in the abstract sense that they have multiple and overlapping and sometimes competing identities, the experience of identity tends to shuttle between different, essentialized roles and statuses. This emerges in some very interesting ways in McKechnie's discussion of her own shifting and evolving understanding of what it means to be Scottish. I am suggesting that the ethnographer's personal experience can be used as a way of empathizing (either through comparison or contrast) with the inconsistencies and essentializing tendencies displayed by those he/she is studying.
In the rest of the review, I consider the articles in the book in the following order: 1) Fiona Bowie, "Wales from Within: Conflicting Interpretations of Welsh Identity"; 2) Oonagh O'Brien, "Good to Be French? Conflicts of Identity in North Catalonia"; 3) Rosemary McKechnie, "Becoming Celtic in Corsica"; 4) Jeremy MacClancy, "At Play with Identity in the Basque Arena"; 5) Cris Shore, "Ethnicity as Revolutionary Strategy: Communist Identity Construction in Italy"; 6) Ronald Frankenberg, "Who Can Tell the Tale? Texts and the Problem of Generational and Social Identity in a Tuscan Rural Commune"; 7) Rosanne Cecil, "The Marching Season in Northern Ireland: An Expression of Politico-Religious Identity"; 8) Malcolm Chapman, "Copeland: Cumbria's Best-Kept Secret"; and 9) Maryon McDonald, "The Construction of Difference: An Anthropological Approach."
1) "Wales from Within: Conflicting Interpretations of Welsh Identity," by Fiona Bowie, explores in rich ethnographic detail the way in which the opposition between Welsh and English is used as an exhaustive oppositional pair onto which all identities are mapped. The linguistic division, like the religious one in Cecil, the political one in Shore, and the ethnic ones in McKechnie, O'Brien, and MacClancy, also organizes and separates the everyday lives of people living in "mixed" communities.
In the beginning of her article, Bowie writes that "Welsh and English are categories...used to reaffirm boundaries, but they also disguise other salient features in a situation" (p. 173). One of these features appears to be "insider" versus "outsider" status: resentments against and conflicts with incomers (who happen to be English) are coded as "Welsh-English" problems. What is not so clear, in the chapter, is what Bowie sees as the "real" problem being glossed as Welsh in these sorts of cases. Her later section on the history of Welsh-English relations establishes the reasons why many Welsh have come to see their culture as being under real threat, and how this perception of threat has spurred them to take protective action. One might suppose then, that relations with incomers are likely to be colored by this wider framework, regardless of the extent to which those incomers are part of the problem.
If there is some vagueness here, Bowie argues compellingly for the way that the Welsh-English opposition structures everybody's interpretations of events and identities. She also shows neatly how the criteria of Welshness are differentially applied to different categories of person, and in different parts of Wales. In general, language is the key criterion for Welsh identity; speaking and being Welsh are conflated linguistically and conceptually. So, for example, Bowie notes that people were willing, in a conversation in Welsh, to make anti-English comments, apparently with no thought of offending her, an English woman. Not learning the language in predominantly Welsh-speaking parts of Wales is a palpable obstacle to any kind of real social integration and acceptance, and the English speaker who learns Welsh can be accorded, as Bowie was, the status of "honorary" Welshness.
But the English-Welsh opposition is not built completely on language. It includes place of birth, maternal language, and family ties to Welsh-speaking areas. Bowie gives several examples of Welsh people who were born out of Wales (or in English-speaking Wales) who attained a high degree of competence in Welsh as a second language but who are never accepted in Gwynedd as fully Welsh. Some of them chafe at this exclusion; others accept it and end up categorizing themselves as "English"; others try ever harder and take virulent "anti-English" positions. Bowie also points out that the meaning of speaking Welsh differs in different parts of Wales: in some places it can be neutral, taken-for-granted; in others it is as explicitly a political statement as speaking Basque, or Corsican. The same could be said of English, and probably, by extension, of Englishness. There are, as Bowie points out, three Waleses: one in which speaking Welsh is the predominant way of being Welsh; one in which language is not the sole marker or expression of a distinct Welsh identity, and one in which Welshness is subordinated to a wider British identity (with divisions of class, politics, etc.).
2) Oonagh O'Brien also writes about indeterminacy and conflict in the experience of identity in her chapter, "Good to Be French? Conflicts of Identity in North Catalonia." She looks at the way that Catalonian civil servants experience and express Catalonian identity, as well as the way that they are evaluated by others. In contrast to the Basque, Breton, Corsican, and Welsh situations described in other chapters of the book, the issue of ethnic identity in North Catalonia is not intensely politicized. Everyday life and choices (of language or dress, for example) are not subject to scrutiny as indices of individuals' ethnic authenticity or political commitment; nor is O'Brien subject to a highly elaborated discourse about what being North Catalonian means. But her chapter is no less an illustration of the politics of identity, and of the way in which identity is articulated is influenced by social and economic processes and structures.
One gets a very strong sense, in this chapter, that people are living with dual identities and value sets; that they are both "French" and "Not-French," and that it is both "good to be French" and not-so-good to be French. This is because of a history of economic and social advancement that has taken place within the French system: for North Catalonians (and for members of other ethnic minorities) speaking the dominant language and assimilating to the dominant culture have been key sources of social mobility. This process is exemplified and epitomized in the group of people who become "fonctionnaires," agents and lifelong economic beneficiaries of the French government.
The fonctionnaire's training puts him/her in the embrace of a dominant, French ideology of linguistic and cultural identity that encourages/demands the abandonment of ethnic identity and language. The cultural and linguistic costs of secure employment and social prestige are accepted, on one level, by the North Catalonian community, which places a value on the individual's integration and balance of both French and Catalonian identities.
There are two facets of the fonctionnaires' experiences that complicate their ability to be and to be perceived as in balance. First is their status within the French system. When they go to Paris, as they inevitably do, they discover that the Frenchness that they have worked hard to achieve (and that may have cost them some "Catalanness") is never good enough; their accents and culture brand them as not-quite-French, maybe even as Spanish. At the same time, they discover that in North Catalonia, they are expected to be not-quite-Catalonian, suspected of being "too French." O'Brien makes the case that these factors explain why Catalonian fonctionnaires "feel the need to exaggerate their Catalan identity to feel in any way a part of it" (p. 114). She also makes the point that a manifestation of Catalan identity by a fonctionnaire to which little importance would ordinarily be given runs the risk of being labeled as "Catalanista," or extremely nationalistic. This illustrates an important point: that even from the "inside," the criteria for what constitutes a "real" or "balanced" identity are not uniform or consistent.
There is an interesting question raised by this article and the preceding one by Bowie that can be asked about all of the "ethnic" identities described in this volume: How is it possible for a group that has been defined historically in opposition to the central government/"dominant" culture (which has defined itself in opposition to its minority and colonial "others") to assert an identity in anything other than purely oppositional terms? In all of these cases, there are a number of ways of being "x" (which include being a mixture or balance of "x" and "y"), but being "x" is expressed in only oppositional, reductive terms.
3) In her chapter "Becoming Celtic in Corsica," Rosemary McKechnie reflects on the way in which her Scottishness framed her interactions with Corsicans and how the presence of a Scottish ethnographer gave rise to a particular, self-conscious discourse of identity in a place where identity and language were already highly politicized. McKechnie's having what Corsicans considered a highly marked "minority" identity acted as a catalyst for Corsicans to discuss the salient features of their own "minority" identity and, in a larger sense, to confirm the dominant themes in European images of alterity elaborated by McDonald in her closing chapter. Being "celtic" served as a badge of admission to youthful, nationalist circles, since she was assumed to have the same experience of oppression and to be sympathetic to the nationalist cause. As in any other field identity, McKechnie's "celticness" was both enabling and constraining, and she writes about alternately chafing under and going along with Corsican stereotyping of the "celtic" character. The assumption of ethnic brotherhood (sisterhood?) carried other fieldwork risks: of being rejected by nationalists as not committed enough or of being rejected by non-nationalist Corsicans by dint of association.
McKechnie's article is a curious combination of interesting observations about her own and Corsicans' shifting understandings of their own and one another's identities and of startling limitations to the reflexive project she has set herself. For example, although she writes about all identities (including her own) as constructed, contingent, and shifting/multidimensional, the way that she describes young nationalists and their "dark wool jackets" and waistcoats; their discussions of family origins "that could degenerate into a sort of competetive Corsicannness" (p. 129), and their penchant for dancing in the discos several nights a week (p. 130) suggests that the performative, invented/constructed/ worked-at nature of their Corsicanness in some way diminishes its authenticity. This is borne out in her comments, quoted earlier, about where she would look for the "real" Corsica.
There is, perhaps, a difference between her own experience of Scottishness and theirs of Corsicanness suggested by her own account that deserved more thought. She reports her surprise at being asked if the deconstruction of "celticness" in a seminar had upset her: "I was taken aback to find out that it was assumed that I really identified with this construct in a way that differentiated me from others in the seminar" (p. 127). At the same time, McKechnie also reports that she shared some of the Corsicans' assumptions about the similarities between Corsica and Scotland, in part because "the framework of opposition to the dominant society is one that works spatially no matter how the peripheral area is orientated towards the dominant centre" (p. 123). Yet when she discovers young Corsicans who evidently do identify with a "construct" of their identity, she does not go back and reexamine the possible differences between individual and collective/historical experiences of the meaning of Corsicanness. There is at least one glaring difference: McKechnie tells us that English reactions to her Scottishness were always positive (p. 127); this is hardly the case for Corsicans in France, where they contend with largely negative stereotypes.
4) Jeremy MacClancy's chapter, "At Play with Identity in the Basque Arena," aims to "elaborate an account of the confrontation between Basque nationalism and the regionalism of Navarre..." (p. 85). The bulk of the chapter, however, is devoted to a deconstruction of Basque nationalism, with a small section in the last few pages devoted to Navarre and the confrontation mentioned in the title. He points out that, in contrast with the early Basque nationalism of Arana, the ETA and Herri Batasuna have not defined being Basque as a set of ascribed qualities (name, appearance, intelligence) but as an acquired, political status that is achieved primarily through speaking Basque. As a consequence of this shift in the criteria of identity, being "authentically" Basque requires the constant performance of Basqueness. Individuals position themselves through choices of language, music, patronage of cultural and political events, and participation in demonstrations. Basqueness becomes the filter for the interpretation of the most minute behaviors and choices; the author notes how his friends attributed political significance to the colors on his suspenders and lighter. In this dimension, MacClancy's and McKechnie's articles provide some interesting echoes and parallels.
MacClancy also discusses the formation and attributes of a distinct "abertzale" (Basque patriot) subculture: the organization of fiestas, language classes and other social/cultural events that celebrate "marked" aspects of Basque culture; the popular and rebellious "rock radical vasco"; and carefully orchestrated demonstrations. He notes that the cultural past is selectively employed as a way of lending prestige and, presumably, authenticity to a new culture that is a fusion of the old and the new (p. 91).
One of the examples that he uses to illustrate this fusion is the annual festival of dance at Pamplona. He notes that this festival "decontextualizes and reduces the distinctiveness of regionally-based dance routines by making them all assimilable parts of a generalized Basque culture" (p. 92), and that cultural entrepreneurs engaged in this activity can be "criticised by others [presumably other Basques] for acting inconsistently" (p. 91). MacClancy claims that the issue is a "confusion between culture as a static bounded entity, its content legitimated by traditional use, and culture as a dynamic, interpretive product" (p. 92). His use of the word "confusion" actually clouds, for the reader, what may be an interesting point. Who is confused? Aren't these two competing images or models of culture from completely different arenas of human endeavor (the former having a long history of use in the legitimation of group and political identity, the latter an academic framework)? Or is there an actual conflict within Basque culture--either among abertzales or between abertzales and non-nationalists--in which one side promotes the interpretive, dynamic model of cultural identity and the other, a static one? Or is it the fairly common case that the internal competition is between two different, equally static and essentialist models of cultural identity? The material on Navarre at the end of the chapter would seem to support the latter view, but the issue is not drawn out.
It is not clear, in this and other sections of the article, what the author's perspective is on the explicitly constructed representations of Basque cultural identity. This is, I believe, a question of tone. Some of the examples (like the one about the cigarette lighter and the suspenders) and descriptions (of the choreography of a 'rioting' demonstrator; of the fact that a Basque rock group sings in Basque but cannot speak it) invite the reader to view Basque activists as excessive, and excessively self-conscious. I am led back to the beginning of the article, which MacClancy opens with a discussion (inspired by Anthony Cohen's Whalsay) about the potential for anthropologists to impose frames of interpretation and definition (of identity) that do not coincide with those of the people they study. He uses the example of Whalsay, where people do not have a strong sense of collective identity, to contrast with the Basque case, concluding that "Cohen's qualifiers, doubts and self-imposed restrictions [of interpretation] have no place in the analysis of politicised ethnicities." I would disagree, in that analysts of self-conscious and politicized minorities should be extremely careful to acknowledge (and not to impose) their own notions of authenticity on the interpretation of the cultural representations of identity that are so readily available to them.
The final, brief section on Navarre deals with the competition over the meaning of the past and its contemporary political and cultural repercussions, with the Basque nationalists emphasizing pan-Basque sovereignty and the Navarrans emphasizing linguistic and cultural diversity within the Basque country. This raises the issue of the historical framework for understanding Basqueness raised in the beginning of the article. How does the Basque nationalist/Navarran regionalist debate relate to the shift from ascribed to acquired criteria of belonging? Or does it indicate that the ascribed never really went away, despite rhetoric to the contrary?
5) In "Ethnicity as Revolutionary Strategy: Communist Identity Construction in Italy," Cris Shore develops three arguments (p. 29): 1) that the Italian Communist Party (PCI) has pursued an aggressive policy of identity construction based on Gramscian ideas of hegemony; 2) that PCI identity has been forged in a process of ideological opposition to anti-Communists (the Catholic Church and the Christian Democratic Party); and 3) that the process of PCI identity construction can be likened to processes of ethnic group formation.
In support of the first point, Shore describes the way in which the PCI, like other Italian parties, reaches its tentacles into every aspect of daily life, employing a highly organized territorial structure modeled on that of the Church, and vying for a monopoly on public symbolism and sponsorship of local events. The social reach of the PCI and other parties, coupled with patron-clientelism, make up a system of political affiliations that are institutionalized into major social cleavages. Shore writes that "to be called a 'Christian Democrat', 'Socialist' or 'Communist' in Italy is not, therefore, an arbitrary label but a fundamental dimension of public identity..." (p. 31). In the case of the PCI, Shore makes it clear that this effort to be a total social institution is based on the concept of hegemony, since it involves the legitimation of power structures in the popular mind. A true revolution must provide a counter-culture that can topple the psychological effects of domination.
The oppositional nature of PCI identity is amply illustrated throughout the chapter. To be PCI is to be anti-fascist, anti-government, and anti-corruption. It is also, as he points out, to be anti-hardline Marxism/Leninism, and notes he at the end of the article that the dissolution of Soviet and Eastern European communism/socialism had already (at the time of his research) problematized the use of the label "Communist."
The material Shore presents in the section of his chapter devoted to ethnicity as a model for understanding PCI identity construction includes interesting descriptions of how PCI-ness is performed (through language, gesture, etc.) and experienced. His examples, however, really cry out for a different classificatory framework, in which PCI identity formation is not subordinated to ethnic group formation, but in which both of these are seen as variants of a more general process of identity formation.
6) "Who Can Tell the Tale? Texts and the Problem of Generational and Social Identity in a Tuscan Rural Commune" is Ronald Frankenberg's stimulating contribution to the volume. In the first part of the chapter, Frankenberg reflects on the power relationships embedded in the anthropological tradition in which he was initially trained, noting that neither the Africans studied by Gluckman nor the Welsh with whom he did fieldwork necessarily liked the way their lives were inscribed by anthropologists, but that neither had the means to stop that process or challenge it with competing texts. This prelude sets the scene for the very different sort of fieldwork Frankenberg carried out in the late 1980s in Tuscany. There, he found himself amid people who were vigorously engaged in inscribing their own lives and creating community through co-textuality. In this context, Frankenberg the anthropologist is hardly a privileged producer or consumer of texts. He does find himself cast in a role that recollects the one he played in the football club in Village on the Border (1990): both texts addressed toward him and his interpretations of them could be repudiated if they proved too divisive or abrasive in any way.
The key text in this piece is a play performed in Tuscan by young, local intellectuals during a special Festa organized by the commune to celebrate itself, viewed by Frankenberg and translated by E. Gnecchi. This play gels Frankenberg's understanding of local attitudes toward the social and economic changes that have taken place over the last thirty years. Large estates that had been worked by peasants were sold off to wealthy outsiders or abandoned; people switched from agriculture to wage and service jobs and moved in large numbers to the three major centers of the commune. The loss of the connection to the land and the presence of the wealthy buyers sparked little resentment; that was reserved for the influx of poor workers from the south of Italy. The play was performed at one of these abandoned estates to a small, local, elite audience.
In the play, the young performers "please their immediate forbears by learning their dialect and representing their past," and the older generation finances and publishes a record of "an activity they might normally be expected to regard as avant-garde and perhaps frivolous." The result is that "identities of values and identities of shared political goals are made to appear congruent" (p. 79). This is important in an era when, as Frankenberg points out, local Communist leaders are more concerned with the area's prosperity than they are motivated by a clear sense of ideological affiliation.
Like O'Brien and Bowie, Frankenberg shows the variation, discontinuities, and inconsistencies about the nature and experience of identity within a small group. He is careful to describe his own practice of doing anthropology and the self-conscious efforts of people in the commune to manage public and expressive space in the service of identity on the same footing. And the play is a marvelous example of the "native" use of expressive space in which indeterminacies and ambiguities are cultivated and exploited rather than banished. This, in effect, is one way in which problems/conflicts of identity are managed--kept in balance, in O'Brien's terms.
7) Cecil's article "The Marching Season in Northern Ireland: An Expression of Politico-Religious Identity," also shows how ritual/expressive culture can both express and mediate conflicts of identity. In her chapter, she looks at the way in which religious identification organizes social identity and relations in the small town of Glengow. The focus is on the way in which these identities are ritually displayed in parades and other events in the summer months (the "marching season" of the title). Like political identification in Italy, religious identification structures almost every aspect of peoples' lives in Glengow: where they live, which shops and bars they patronize, whom they marry, how they spend their leisure time. This makes it imperative for individuals to be situated as either Protestant or Catholic, and both Protestants and Catholics believe that they can "tell" these identities from brief social contacts. They also maintain a set of stereotypes about their own group and the other. On the one hand, Cecil's chapter supports the idea that stereotypes are resistant to change. Because of the segregation of everyday life based on religious identity, Protestants and Catholics have a somewhat superficial kind of contact with one another, which serves as an unlimited source of confirmations of their preconceived ideas (see McDonald's chapter). At the same time, as Cecil writes, "there also exists a strong sense of the importance of harmonious co-existence and mutual courtesy" (p. 153). This involves a "widely-held and expressed belief that political and religious differences should not, in general, be commented on" in public (p. 165).
Within this framework, Cecil describes the form and the content of the ritual displays of the Catholic Ancient Order of the Hibernians and the Protestant Orange Order. Of particular interest in light of the social value placed on harmony is that even though these rituals are meant to be provocative, and clearly involve and raise political and religious passions, care is taken not to provoke "good" members of the other group. In other words, despite the stereotypes, the fact that people do live together means that they do not really see all members of the other group as completely undifferentiated.
Cecil's other point is that the marching season provides a socially sanctioned public space for the expression of sentiments that are otherwise taboo. The displays are thus bracketed, and seem to be acknowledged as such by both sides. They express conflict, but in a way that does not burst into violence. The parallels with Frankenberg's chapter are interesting, for in both cases, conflicts are both expressed and symbolically mediated in public performance. In the Irish case, the indeterminacy is not in the form of the display, but in the way that that display is situated within the practices and meanings of everyday life outside the "marching season."
Frankenberg's and Cecil's chapters raise an interesting dimension for comparison with the articles on Corsica, the Basque Country, and North Catalonia. Is there no room in these places for nuanced expressions of ambivalence, complexity, ambiguity, discontinuity? Is all expression of identity in the public arena limited to programmatic, oppositional terms? I suspect that this is not the case, (and have some personal examples to the contrary for Corsica), but there may well be differences in the degree. If so, what might be the explanation? Certainly, it is not simply the politicization of identity, for what could be more highly charged than Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland?
8) In "Copeland: Cumbria's Best-Kept Secret," Malcolm Chapman shows how the identity of Cumbria has been defined, both in the popular British imagination and in the lives of people in the region, in opposition to its well-known neighbor, the Lake District. Copeland, the town that he writes about, is right on the border, and it is this border identity that incites an interesting, oppositional public discourse about identity, which he calls a "moral geography." The title reflects the perspective on Copeland of guidebooks whose moral geographical center is the Lake District. Chapman illustrates the social and conceptual divide in his description of a lakeside hiking track on a Sunday afternoon: "The company...is...interestingly mixed. Some are purposefully dressed in out-of-doors clothes--walking boots, thick red socks, breeches, check-patterned shirts and waterproofs, carrying sticks and rucksacks. They are in the Lake District, and perilously close, if only they knew, to falling off its edge. Others are dressed in Sunday best, having left the car a few hundred yards away. They are wearing fashion-shoes and smart casual clothes, even suits; some are smoking, perhaps. They are in West Cumbria" (p. 201).
Those who are in the Lake District are predominantly well-educated, middle-class southerners, who are visiting a place that exemplifies a particular, romantic view of Nature in opposition to the urban and industrial life that they regard as "inherently unpleasant and undesirable" (p. 206). Those who are in Cumbria are living difficult, working-class lives, in which nature serves no redeeming role.
Chapman uses a scene from his own past to illustrate the class-based resentment of the Cumbrians to the romantic hikers. This sets the scene for a contemporary conflict over the meaning and media representation of a nuclear plant. "The British media, when they look at [the nuclear plant], might see a dangerously polluting industry despoiling a uniquely beautiful pastoral landscape; the local population, however, tends to see an expanding and hopeful industry to replace all the other dirty industries that have already come and gone" (p. 208). Chapman goes on to give some interesting examples of how locals have challenged and contested southern media representations of the nuclear plant as an evil being foisted on helpless people (them). Both the nuclear plant and the Lake District are highly emotive symbols to educated southerners and form part of a "moral geography" that blinds them to the attitudes of the people who actually live there. Chapman's description of how this chapter has been received when he has presented it underscores the persistence of such moral geographies: many (southern) academics have used it as a springboard to discuss how the Cumbrians have "gotten things wrong."
In "An Anthropological View of Stereotypes," Maryon McDonald calls for a self-aware empiricism in the anthropology of identity requiring that we "examine critically where and how we perceive difference"(p. 235). This involves taking into consideration the following three points about the construction of difference: 1) that any question of identity is dependent on the social and political maps of the time; 2) that we are most likely to notice difference at the social boundaries already available to us; and 3) that the apprehension of difference (categorical mismatch) will usually have a dominant discourse, or genre in which to find expression. Stereotypes are thus social/historical/political products that channel the ways that difference is perceived and talked about. They are thus part of the process of identity formation used by both majority and minority. McDonald contrasts this approach with those that view stereotypes only as tools the powerful use to maintain their place in the social and economic order. This does not mean that she overlooks the way in which the "self-defining centre determined where and how the relevant difference was seen, sought, or understood" (p. 226); "majority and minority," she writes, "were born together, and the minority born as disappearing" (p. 227). Some of the ethnographic examples she cites are also meant to show that those minorities are also born as "uncontrolled" and "irrational," because, we may take it, of the role they played/are playing in defining the "center" by opposition.
One of McDonald's criticisms of social scientific approaches to stereotypes relates to her first point. She makes several mentions of "nasty things being said by majorities about minorities" being read back into the historical record, which is then made to look like a deliberate plot stretching back through time. Her point is that contemporary language used to describe and understand difference has its roots in nineteenth-century nationalisms and ideas about "science," and that it is anachronistic to project this discourse and its influences back further in time. She also faults the English-language literature on the Other, which, although it has "helped many to stop trying to assess the 'accuracy' of images or stereotypes...and to emphasise the relative autonomy of discourses of representation," is not "critically self-aware," and "emanates from philosophical and literary traditions that do not always take sometimes messy trivia of daily events into account" (p. 234). As an anthropologist, I can only second her call for ethnographic examination of how these discourses of representation play out in everyday life, although I might be less inclined to lump together and characterize as "critically unaware" all those (largely unnamed) authors who have contributed to the "Other" literature.
Some readers (perhaps mostly American ones) will be struck by the slimness, in some of these articles, of references to relevant bodies of literature outside the (unquestionably excellent) work of British authors like Cohen, Chapman, and the Stratherns. In part, this may be due to different traditions in academic writing; in Britain, there is more tolerance for the essay that is not ritually stuffed with deferential citations. Nevertheless, even allowing for cultural differences, some absences seem glaring. I should note that since I am most familiar with the literature on language and minority identity, my remarks here may be unfairly targeted to the chapters in this area. But in the relatively small world of English-language publications on Western European minorities, I was quite surprised to find no reference, in MacClancy, to work on the same topics by J. Urla (1987) or D. Conversi (1994), who was trained in England. The excellent chapter by Bowie echoes many times over work by C. Trosset (1986) on Wales (including an article on the status of Welsh learners), with which the author is apparently not familiar. In addition to failing to examine all of the small pool of English-language work on Corsica, McKechnie also ignores a wide French-language literature on Corsican culture, politics, and language, including the work of some excellent Corsican academics like G. Ravis-Giordani (1983, 1984, 1989), J. Thiers (1981, 1989), and C. Olivesi (1983, 1987) who have addressed many of the trends and inconsistencies in the expression of Corsican identity noted by McKechnie.
It may be that British readers would feel the same way about an American collection of a similar sort; my comments here may simply point to a provincialism in the academic enterprise no more and no less remarkable than some of the provincialisms we document among those we study.
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