Official classification, affirmative action and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China
According to the 2000 census in China, 3.23 percent of married citizens are in an interethnic marriage, and 12 of the 56 officially recognised ethnic groups have an intermarriage rate higher than 50 percent, meaning more than half of married people in these 12 ethnic groups are in an interethnic marriage.
While these statistics suggest that the multiethnic population is not small in China, multiethnic identity options are not officially available in China. All Chinese citizens are registered at birth by their parents with only one official ethnic category, which must be the same as at least one of their parents. This exclusive ethnic identity is presented on the person’s ID card, largely influences their life chances in a wide range of domains, and can hardly be changed. How do people with mixed ethnic backgrounds deal with the limited and exclusive identity choices? Compared to the debates and social movements in western countries, why is the topic of multiethnic identity seldom brought up in China?
In my Identities article, 'Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China', I focus on a specific group of people in China who have multiethnic backgrounds – college students who have a Han parent and a Hui parent – and examine how they understand their ethnic identity. Han is the majority ethnic group that constitutes 91.5 percent of the national population. Hui is the fourth largest ethnic group, the largest Muslim group, and the most geographically dispersed minority ethnic group in China. Using interviews with 20 respondents, I investigate whether this group of people experience any discrepancy between their multiethnic backgrounds and their official, single ethnicity, and what their attitudes are towards institutionalising multiethnic identities.
Using an inductive analytical approach, I find that the sole ethnic categorisation principle and preferential policies for ethnic minorities shape the Hui-Han bi-ethnic college students’ ethnic self-identification. While the respondents in my research had very different levels of exposure to Hui culture in their upbringing (and six of them believed that there were no Hui characteristics in their upbringing or lifestyle), they were also registered as Hui by their parents. Most of them identified themselves more strongly as Hui than as multiethnic or Han, and they frequently referred to their ID card, household registration record and the practices of reporting Hui ethnicity on bureaucratic forms when explaining their self-identification.
I also find that college environment plays a role in shaping their experiences of their multiethnic background and official single ethnicity. Students from China’s special 'Minzu University' (university for ethnicities), where the student population is ethnically more diverse and ethnicity is a very salient topic, were more likely to feel frustrated about the discrepancy between their Hui official ethnicity and their multiethnic backgrounds, because they felt their peers and instructors expected them to behave like Hui. Students from regular, Han-dominated universities, on the other hand, tend to see ethnicity as a symbolic label and downplay its salience in their life.
At the end of the interviews, most respondents expressed negative attitudes institutionalising multiethnic identities in China. This may be surprising as they themselves come from multiethnic backgrounds, but is not surprising if we consider that most of them identify themselves more as Hui than as mixed. It is possible that the authoritarian political culture in China makes people more likely to accept official ethnic categories as objective facts. The fact that China has an overwhelming Han population also means that the issue of mixed-ness has not received as much attention as in the Anglophone West.
Blog post by Xiang Lu, New York University, USA
Read the full article: Xiang, Lu. Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1757249
A key scene in Danis Tanović’s Academy Award-winning film No Man’s Land (2001) features two soldiers, a Bosnian Muslim (a Bosniak) and a Bosnian Serb, who have gotten stuck in a trench during the 1990s Bosnian War. In their joint effort to escape from this unfortunate situation, they draw closer; they talk about their prewar lives and recognise that they have many things in common, even some common acquaintances. However, it comes as no surprise when, in the firestorm of bombshells, the question arises of who is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, of their lives as they were before the murder and devastation. The two soldiers start to swap accusations until the armed Bosniak points his weapon at his opponent and asks one last time: ‘Who started the war?’
Around the world, conflicting parties engage in self-exculpation and self-victimisation – from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, not to mention the Middle East. Denying one’s own responsibility and guilt and the fight over one’s own victim status seems to be a constitutive part of many conflicts and postwar situations. As socio-psychological and sociological research show, self-victimisation is accompanied by several advantages. It not only contributes to a stabilisation of group boundaries by fostering internal cohesion and outward demarcation, but also promotes feelings of moral superiority. Hence, self-victimisation is politically beneficial and a suitable tool for protecting one’s own we-ideal and with it one’s own I-ideal in the context of collective violence. It is the chosen mean to restore those facets of identity, which have potentially been corrupted or injured by the collective violence. But what happens when people are confronted with conflicting perspectives of reality, with perspectives according to which the respective ethnic in-group is not to be considered only as victim of war but also – or even exclusively – as perpetrator?
Drawing on a reconstructive analysis of in-depth interviews conducted in different regions of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, I identify several strategies which enable people to cling to their self-image as victims, without having the desire (or the opportunity?) to point a weapon at the opponent. My Identities article, 'Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina', addresses how these strategies affect the symbolic boundaries between ethnic groups and with it the perception of we-ness. I argue that these strategies can be categorised into dissociative strategies, which conspicuously reproduce the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator along ethnic lines, and associative strategies, which seem to transcend this dichotomy. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that these seemingly associative strategies; for instance, the externalisation of guilt on outside third parties (like the international community) or the silencing of the war-torn past in interethnic encounters, do not necessarily contribute to an erosion of ethnic boundaries in postwar Bosnia. I suggest that, ultimately, they even reinforce ethnic boundaries. By avoiding conflicts with members of the ethnic out-group, one’s own narratives about the in-group’s moral and civilisational superiority is sheltered from external reappraisal. As a result, the in-group’s particular perspective on reality, and with it the ethnic boundary, is further consolidated.
Blog post by Ana Mijić, University of Vienna, Austria
Read the full article: Mijić, Ana. Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748348
The concept of ‘cosmology’ has a long-standing history in anthropology. Derived from the ancient Greek ‘cosmos’ – order, harmony, world – and ‘logos’ – discourse – cosmology was historically intended as the knowledge or study of the structure and shape of the world.
In anthropology, cosmologies are conventionally defined as widespread representations of the world as a hierarchically ordered whole. Traditionally associated with the study of religions, cosmologies have progressively come to refer more generally to systems of classifications, and their related moral and emotional attitudes.
My Identities article, ‘Cosmologies and migration: on worldviews and their influence on mobility and immobility’, shows that this concept can be applied to understanding the hierarchical worldviews of a diasporic population, such as Eritrean migrants and their left behinds. In particular, the article argues that these worldviews are crucial to understand why people are ready to undertake very dangerous and complex journeys to reach their their 'promised land', as suggested by the Eritrean painter Ambasager Welday in his beautiful reinterpretation of the biblical exodus (see the image above).
To escape an undetermined national service, they leave Eritrea without a permit. They face the challenges of living as refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan with limited possibilities to move (out of camps) and prospects to work. Legal avenues to move out of these first asylum countries are also extremely limited: less than 1% of the refugee population worldwide manage to resettle in a third country. If Eritreans manage to reach southern Europe, usually Italy, they have a hard time finding decent housing and jobs that would allow them to achieve some socio-economic and existential stability. Due to the Dublin Regulation, however, many cannot easily move to other European countries. There are huge risks for those who attempt to cross the borders, including detention and harm, but being returned to Italy is often the most feared option among Eritreans.
The idea of cosmologies of destinations point to the specific moral prescriptions about where a migration journey should end and what the person that arrives there should do. The narratives of the many Eritrean refugees whom I met in Italy between 2008 and 2014 well represent these moral prescriptions. While survival in Eritrea becomes increasingly dependent on resources from abroad, Eritreans leave their homes not only to flee political oppression, but also to provide for those left behind. The journey, thus, should end where the migrant is able to fulfil his/her family obligations. ‘We are here for our families, not only for our own sake’, as one refugee living in a shanty town of Rome told me. He had already tried twice to seek asylum in Sweden and was on the verge of trying again.
In this context of transnational obligations, moral worthiness is judged by families and local communities on the basis of the support that migrants are able to offer in many different aspects. The comparison between migrants settled in different countries reproduces not only a hierarchy of moral worthiness among migrants – it also shapes a hierarchical shared imaginary in which some countries are pictured as transit places, such as Italy, and others as desired destinations, such as northern European countries.
Cosmologies of destinations represent crystallised hierarchies of geographic preferences widely shared by the members of a group. Building on previous literature on cultures of migration and geographic imaginaries, cosmologies of destinations point to the connection between imaginaries of places and the moral and symbolic values attached to living there. In doing so, it facilitates the understanding of how migrants can place their desired destinations in a hierarchy of value that motivates them to move on from the good to the better destination.
Blog post by Milena Belloni, The University of Antwerp, Belgium
Read the full article: Belloni, Milena. Cosmologies and migration: on worldviews and their influence on mobility and immobility. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748357
If migration researchers feel unsafe participating in the public debate, what are the consequences for debate – and research?
I was just out of the TV studio after having finished an interview about a new book about social cohesion and migration that I had edited together with two colleagues. The interview went well, I was tired, it was late and I wanted to get home to sleep. Standing in the lobby of the Danish National Broadcasting Company I checked my email on my smartphone. I could see the headings of all new incoming emails, and the first of these included just one word: 'Liar'.
The email related to the interview that I had just carried out. At least this person had signed his email with a name that seemed to exist. Someone whom, when I looked him up, participated in discussions on the website of one of Scandinavia’s most radical right-wing organisations. In other instances, where someone – who disagreed beyond strongly with my research results - has sent me an email or even paper letters, there has not been any signature. Just a strong message of ‘you are wrong’.
I am not alone in having these kinds of experiences. In the spring of 2018 I carried out a survey among migration researchers in four Danish universities. The results of the survey are discussed in my Identities article, 'Boundary work: investigating the expert role of Danish migration researchers'. The survey focused on the researchers’ experience with participating in the public debate and experiences in that regard. The survey showed that Danish migration researchers were active participants in the public debate, for example by answering questions from news reporters, communicating research via TV and radio programmes, and writing articles for newspapers. Many researchers saw these activities as their duty; it was a way of contributing to a society that paid for their salary and which they wanted to keep informed and knowledgeable.
Participating in the debate, however, was far from easy. One researcher, to give one example, noted that: 'I have only rarely participated in the debate, and I feel that reporters very often have a story they want confirmed. If you do not confirm this story, I have on several occasions found that [the reporters] twist the story, which has unpleasant consequences for the people that I work with'. Another researcher noted that he/she felt 'burdened' by the public debate, and would rather spend his/her time writing academic articles where he/she could make a difference. And a third researcher noted that he/she was constantly afraid of having his/her research results misused and misinterpreted by journalists and politicians.
One may ask: but is this simply not the name of the game? If you as a researcher choose to work in a highly politicised research field, is someone calling you an idiot or a reporter misrepresenting something you said on a telephone not just something that you must live with – and eventually be thankful for? Is it not actually something that pulls research out of the ivory tower? And is a harsh tone not simply the tone of public debates in our times?
No respondents in the survey of Danish migration researchers had experienced being attacked physically in relation to their work. But a number had experienced threats and verbal abuse. More than half of the respondents felt unsafe participating in the public debate. The pertinent question here is: What are the results of feeling unsafe for researchers’ willingness to participate in public debates? Do researchers hold back certain aspects of their research or do they refrain from participating in the public debate, even when they have research results that are highly relevant? What is the effect on the debate? And what is the effect on research?
As a researcher, I will argue that we need to focus seriously on this problematic issue. And we need to gear our research institutions to handle and help their employees in this situation. As one respondent noted: 'Universities’ HR [human resources] workers are not aware of the problem, and they are not trained to handle it'.
Blog post by Garbi Schmidt, Roskilde University, Denmark
Read the full article: Schmidt, Garbi. Boundary work: investigating the expert role of Danish migration researchers. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748347
Populists are in power, not because they miraculously solved the overwhelming problems the world faces today but, rather, they have captivating stories to tell. While the recent rise of populism has led to an immense body of academic work — now an industry of its own — this bourgeoning scholarship has focused heavily on social and economic drivers, yet neglected the narrative force of such movements. In fact, if politics is basically about storytelling, populist politicians have perfected the art. An essential question is then: What do populisms narrate?
National (or identitarian) populist leaders simply tell the same stories to their people. If one were to simply hide the names of leaders and national references in the statements of populists, it would be quite difficult to identify whether they belong to US President Donald Trump, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan. They all position themselves to lead their respective nations with honour, well deserved from the past, through the troubled waters of the present, to the shores of a bright(er) future. By that narrative, they weave seemingly unconnected events to make sense of reality.
I address this point in my Identities article, ‘The chronopolitics of national populism’, and argue that, despite their claim for uniqueness, national populisms employ a common narrative template as a familiar and intelligible framework to interpret national and global developments. In the words of Christopher Clark, ‘As gravity bends light, so power bends time’ (2019, 1), as does populist power. National populisms operate by conflating the past, present and future into a single narrative to mobilise mass support. While materialising according to different cultural traditions, the populist template is underlined by an oversimplified grasp of temporality with stories revolving around binary notions: insiders versus outsiders, the people versus the elite. Its gravity and authenticity, however, derive from the emotive and affective capital invested in different temporal categories.
Resembling the Golden Age-Decline-Rebirth narrative, common to many nationalisms, the populist template is unique in many ways. It fundamentally narrates a present squeezed between two pasts and two possible futures. Contemporary populisms are neither progressive and futuristic nor reactionary and nostalgic on their own, but are instead centred in the present, opportunistically seeking to preserve its momentum in any way possible. In light of the conception of perpetual victimhood, it is the present when the people become embroiled in an existential struggle in a war against multiple enemies. The present represents an ostensibly unprecedented, exceptional crisis and epitomises the fear, uncertainty and anxiety marked by a primal survival instinct. The social contract to get out of this state of war requires more than cultivating the consent of the people — even more than establishing a Leviathan state. Specifically, it asks for the vigilantism of the citizens, who must unite around the populist leadership to withstand the onslaught.
My Identities article mainly illustrates how this narrative template has operated in Erdoğan’s populism with examples from different cases. His Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) has ruled Turkey for nearly two decades, offering an extensive window through which to observe some durable tenacious in both words and deeds. In addition to Turkey’s neo-imperial power projections for the future, the constant battles between conflicting representations of the past to validate the present and the future make the Turkish case especially noteworthy.
Invocations of the Ottoman past in Erdoğan’s populism serve as not only a source of national pride but also proof that the nation is destined for greatness. Despite the bright picture in the distant past, the recent past epitomises how some corrupt elite forces have disrupted the rightful destiny of the virtuous nation. This variation in the narrative helps explain and bridge the tension between a virtuous past and a degenerate present, placing the blame on extrinsic factors. In the Turkish case, multiple victimhood narratives swim in the same current: a) victimhood of the pious Anatolian people in the secular Kemalist regime, b) victimhood of the Turkish nation under assault by Western imperialist powers, and c) victimhood of the oppressed ummah, encircled by Crusaders and Zionists. Beside the differing narrations of distant and recent pasts, Turkish populism also envisages two opposed scenarios for the future: the total demise — if not extinction — of the people, or the return of the ‘good ol’ days’. That is why Erdoğan, in his speeches, commonly identifies references to the country being both teetering on the edge of the abyss of existential crisis, and walking down the path of a prosperous ‘New Turkey’. Between these two options, the present is driven by crisis and emergency and must be redeemed in Erdoğan’s ‘liberation war’ rhetoric.
The temporal construction of populisms has remained a blind spot in the academic literature. A comparative narrative approach across diverse cases in future research will be a much-needed contribution to the field of populism studies.
Blog post by Hakki Taş, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Germany
Read the full article:
Taş, Hakki. The chronopolitics of national populism. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1735160