Book Review of "Negotiating National Identities: Between Globalization, the Past and 'The Other'"

By Hall, Sara | McGill Sociological Review, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Book Review of "Negotiating National Identities: Between Globalization, the Past and 'The Other'"


Hall, Sara, McGill Sociological Review


The rise of neo-nationalism in Europe over the last two decades has made many fear a turn to exclusionary societies that draw rigid boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Frequently read as a response to the effects of globalization, nationalism, according to Karner is but one among many diverse ideological reactions to the perceived crises of the contemporary era. Moreover, he posits that although many commentators are quick to associate national identity with an exclusionary nationalism , the two must not be conflated: national identities are flexible and complex, and represent ongoing processes of contention and negotiation. As such, they can also be in clusive and subject to counter-hegemonic critique. Based on some of the author's previously published works, this book explores the varied public discourses on key subjects of contention in contemporary Austria, including in particular, attitudes toward immigrants and asylum seekers, the European Union, and areas of national pride and cultural heritage such as language and the natural environment. While Karner recognizes the emergence of far right ideology, his primary focus is on the variety of counter-discourses that have emerged in the public sphere. Through a discourse analysis of Austrian media and other 'cultural texts' such as political manifestos, literature, and civil society initiatives, he highlights the contested and negotiated terrain of Austrian national identity over the course of the last decade. He demonstrates that civil society plays a crucial role in negotiating identities at the local, national, and European levels, and has contributed to the emergence of inclusive ideas about identity and belonging. Throughout the book, the author extrapolates from his Austrian case to the wider European context through brief comparisons to other countries.

Drawing primarily on Anthony Smith (2008), Michael Billig (1995), and Pierre Bourdieu (1977), the first two chapters outline the author's main theoretical points. National identities and boundaries, he argues, should be viewed as social processes that are continually reproduced, reinterpreted, and evolving: "[e]ven within a given national context, national identities are not ideologically monolithic but are defined by heterogeneity, disagreement and discursive struggle" (p. 26). National identities are reproduced as 'cold nationalism' (Billig 1995) in small, seemingly insignificant ways in everyday life through the pervasiveness of symbols such as national flags. These identities represent a sort of habitus (Bourdieu 1977), or "the 'structuring structures' provided by shared categories, dispositions, practices, assumptions and tastes that enable and constrain ... social action and furnish a taken-for-granted, rarely reflected on and hence predominantly unconscious cultural common sense" (p. 56). In times of crisis, however, taken-for-granted, undisputed cultural 'truths' - doxa, in Bourdieu's terms - are questioned, resulting in ideological contestation among dominant and subordinated groups.

In Austria, a number of political and corruption scandals since the mid-1980s, an influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, and various effects of globalization, have led to a widespread perception of crisis. As a result, Karner argues, previously taken-for-granted 'banal' objects of national pride, particularly language, sports, history, and the natural environment, have become arenas of discursive struggle. One prominent example is the 'jam jar crisis,' during which controversy erupted over the EU's proposal to designate all non-citrus jams as 'Konfitüre.' In Austrian-German, all jam - citrus or not - is designated 'Marmelade,' whereas German-German distinguishes between citrus jam as 'Marmelade' and non-citrus jam as 'Konfitüre.' Jam labels thus became important boundary markers between German and Austrian identities. Karner demonstrates that while national boundaries are sometimes reasserted through such struggles, even in mainstream media counter-discourses have emerged that challenge nationalist ideology. …

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