In 2018, the research department of Awel, a Flemish civil society organization, published a report on the impact of the late terrorist attacks in Europe on the identity formation of minority youth. The report, based on testimonials, revealed that some Muslim children try to hide their ethno-religious background out of fear of being verbally attacked. Some even wish to ‘unbecome’ Moroccan or Muslim to respond to Islamophobia.
The largest ethnic minority group in Belgium originates from Morocco. This primarily Muslim group is indeed strongly stigmatized, even more so since 9/11. It is argued that terrorist attacks increase Islamophobic or anti-Muslim sentiments, which hence also impacts the well-being of Muslim children living in Flanders. The findings of the research report nevertheless did not receive as much public and political attention as deserved. Yet, ethnic minority citizens’ identity formation has long been a subject of political interest, especially since many politicians across the spectrum propose that minorities, and particularly Muslims, do not identify as Belgian.
The Facebook group for my local area in Manchester generally has messages about missing cats and people looking for recommendations for plumbers. But there are also messages asking ‘what is it like to live in the area’ from people thinking of moving there. This is a very ethnically mixed, relatively deprived area which has an equally mixed reputation. The responses to the queries often refer to reputational issues – and ones of history, suggesting that the area has/has not changed over time. The live nature of histories of place and the ways in which stories about places are frequently racialized is what colleagues and I were concerned with in our recent Identities article, ‘Histories of place: the racialization of representational space in Govanhill and Butetown’. We were interested in considering the racialized nature of Henri Lefebvre’s conceptualizations of spatial tactics, representations of space and representational space – including in the way they are marked by the past.
We examined interviews with local activists, community representatives and professionals working in the areas of Butetown in Cardiff and Govanhill in Glasgow which were part of a study of the dynamics of ethnic inequalities for the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE). Both areas have long histories of immigration and, as representational spaces, have often been highly racialized. They have been shaped by industrialization, empire, de-industrialization and then some subsequent regeneration.
Young people in ethnically divided post-conflict societies are often happy to date across ethnic lines, notwithstanding its prevailing discouragement. My recently published Identities article, 'Kiss don't tell: attitudes towards inter-ethnic dating and contact with the Other in Bosnia-Herzegovina', examines this in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which it takes as a typical case of an ethnically divided post-conflict society: young people struggle to meet other ethnic groups due to the high levels of segregation in society. Such contact is also discouraged in the home, in schools, in religious institutions and in the media. I use focus groups conducted on Facebook and follow-up interviews to speak to young people across the country who date across ethnic lines despite these obstacles.
‘Identity’ is probably amongst the most circulated terms in the academy and beyond. However, a critical reflection on the use of this term in the context of cross-cultural fictional narratives could reveal a major issue. Rather than representing a genuine state of human condition, the term has become a strategic means used by some minority writers to boost readership for their writings.
Given the hierarchies of the world literary system consisting of influential agents such as critics, publishers and marketing expectations, certain languages, regions, styles and poetics are privileged over others. The world literary system thus mirrors the ‘neo-imperial contours of global capitalism’, dominated by multinational publishing conglomerates with powerhouses in London and New York.
My Identities article, ‘We have much identity’: contesting the claimed hybrid identity in Faqir’s My Name is Salma and Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun’, examines how some Arab Anglophone women writers manipulate identity constructions and essentialise their hybrid identities as a strategy to boost readership and market values for their works. Through a close reading of Fadia Faqir’s My Name is Salma and Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun, the article reverses the gaze on the societies that these texts claim to reveal.
Migration enforcement is accompanied by emotions expressed by various actors – including the broader public, politicians and those targeted by practices such as deportation and detention – but also those of bureaucrats who implement policies. Emotions are addressed towards or expressed against a multitude of groups, such as asylum seekers or migrants with precarious legal status, as well as police officers and administrative and non-governmental staff.
Studying emotions directed at different groups uncovers, on the one hand, the intricate and complex network of actors working within the field of migration enforcement, both new and old. On the other hand, it presents the researcher with a density of relations that, as I argue in my Identities article, ‘Tracing the circularity of emotions in Swiss migration enforcement: organizational dissonances, emotional contradictions and frictions’, can be analyzed through a focus on emotions, thus advancing our understanding of statecraft and organizational construction.
Thanks to decades of critical scholarship in the social sciences, it is now common for scholars to reflect on their positionality vis-à-vis research topics and subjects and to demonstrate awareness of the power structures that shape their knowledge production. While this often amounts to deliberations about one’s individual identity in terms of race, gender, class, sexuality, ability, etc., scholars are rarely expected to question the ideological assumptions that underpin how they, both as individuals and as members of societies, make sense of the world. Taking certain ideological positions for granted as universal – liberal, secular, individualist, etc. - presents a problem in the study of political life-worlds that claim to offer alternatives, especially those with revolutionary system change on their horizon.
In my Identities article, ‘Stateless citizenship: 'radical democracy as consciousness-raising' in the Rojava revolution’, published in the special issue ‘Radical Democratic Citizenship: From Practice to Theory’, I write about ways in which protagonists of the self-determination system that has been in the making in majority Kurdish regions of Northern Syria since 2012 imagine their political struggles as a long-term effort for liberation from capitalism, patriarchy and the nation-state. I argue that this amounts to a decolonization effort that – in the words of my interlocutors – beyond the concrete work of building institutional infrastructure, aspires to transform dominant ‘mentalities in society’, including patriarchal and statist thinking which developed over thousands of years of power and domination. While sharing fragments from my fieldwork in Rojava, I decided to consciously center the ideology of the Kurdistan freedom movement, as articulated by imprisoned political leader Abdullah Öcalan, in my conceptual framework.
Cross-posted by RACE.ED
‘We are now in the age of Du Bois’, declared Aldon Morris in his widely acclaimed study, The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. In this, Morris meticulously charts the intellectual contribution of Du Bois (1868-1963) to the social sciences broadly conceived, and sociology in particular, to argue that this remarkable figure could no longer been treated as peripheral, or an ‘add on’.
After all, few sociologists pioneered as much as Du Bois, including in, amongst other areas, both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, especially social statistics and urban ethnography, reconciling questions of political economy with social movements (not least in charting the suppression of Atlantic slavery), as well as foregrounding relationships between the self and society, and doing so in ways that prefigure questions later posed in the politics of recognition.
For these reasons I am not alone in arguing that Du Bois has bequeathed to sociology a cluster of normative categories that compel us to move beyond a kind of formalistic inquiry, and through which we might be more open to uncovering sometimes submerged features of social life (1).
The importance of the social context as a strategy for self-continuity for emerging adults from the US and Brazil
A number of different aspects of identity are relevant to young people, from self-esteem, distinctiveness, self-concept, clarity, coherence and self-continuity. We recently published a paper in the Journal of Social Psychology Research on the importance of the social context as a component self-continuity. Using young adults (ages 19-25) from the US and Brazil, our latest research demonstrates that the social context, specifically our friends and family, is a novel, measurably distinct self-continuity strategy. In particular, the results from our study exemplify that relationships continue to play an important role in healthy identity development.
Emerging adulthood refers to the period of early adulthood between the ages of 18 and 25. Specifically, it’s characterized as an age for exploring different identities, within the contexts of school, work and romantic relationships, to name a few. Due to the changing roles during this period of the lifespan, this is also an age exemplified by instability. Beyond that, emerging adults can feel in-between adolescence and adulthood, that this is a period of their lives to focus on themselves and that the future contains a range of possibilities for them. As such, this makes for a crucial period to study identity development.
Gender, as expressed on namely the bodies of Muslim women, is positioned at the centre of the radical right’s linkage between migration and religion. This link is visible in the persistent debates on the ban of Muslim body-covering, which in Austria has been promoted by the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) since the turn of the century.
FPÖ’s debates on the ban of Muslim body-covering – of the headscarf in kindergartens and schools or of full body-covering in public spaces – which re-emerged since 2015, illustrate that the radical right instrumentalizes the intersection of gender, body and religion in its search for new forms of governing.
As I explore in my recently published Identities article, ‘Radical right populist debates on female Muslim body-coverings in Austria. Between biopolitics and necropolitics’, the radical right’s debates over female Muslim body-covering are embedded in the neoliberal reorganisation of societies and a crisis of governability, which radical right-wing actors use to implement their own biopolitical and necropolitical projects.
The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly transformed people’s lives, identities and practices throughout the world. It had particular effects on the group of international students who usually move frequently between home country and study destination. When the pandemic hit their study destinations in 2020, they had to take immediate action and plan migratory trajectories accordingly.
Chinese international students (CIS) also experienced a nationwide pandemic control policy at home that caused continuous travel constraints on international flights and passengers landing in China. The domestic policy had a profound impact on their migration aspirations – to remain in the study destination or to return home. Simultaneously, students reconfigured their perceptions of homeland.
Our research, as detailed in our Identities article, ‘Migration aspirations and polymorphic identifications of the homeland: (Im)mobility trajectories amongst Chinese international students amidst COVID-19’, includes semi-structured interviews with 33 CIS studying in 23 cities of 10 European countries (including the United Kingdom). We aim to understand how students’ identifications of homeland – a cognitive assemblage of emotions, commitments and reflections towards their home country – intersect with their migration aspirations.
On 8th September 2021, a crowd gathered on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, USA, near the base of its iconic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The atmosphere in the crowd was jubilant as workers positioned a crane, wrapped the statue in a harness, and finally–after an hour of preparation, a year of court cases, and 131 years of racial terror set in stone–pulled the statue down from its plinth.
The equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army, is, and always has been, a symbol of white supremacy. Its removal creates the opportunity to change the meaning of the space it once occupied. For the past year at the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (University of Manchester), we have interviewed activists, policymakers, and cultural workers involved in contesting fourteen statues of slavers and colonisers in five countries. We have also explored the meanings of statues of empire and colonialism with young people from Manchester Museum’s OSCH Collective who shared how statues of white supremacy in towns and cities they call home impacted their sense of belonging. Our research highlights how anti-racist activists draw from global movements to contest local histories and memories. Equally, we consider how strategies for removing Confederate statues in the US (for example) might provide lessons for challenging imperial statues in the UK.
Romania has several multicultural regions, including the Banat in the southwest. During its time as part of the Habsburg and Austro-Hungarian Empires (1718-1918), cultural influences and economic developments from the West (German, Austrian, and Hungarian) made it an attractive destination for migrants. This continued after the Trianon Treaty and Romanian unification in 1918, as Banat was economically advanced compared to other regions to the East and South. Rapid industrialization and urbanization under the communist regime (1947-1989) and the subsequent removal of restrictions on movement in the early post-communist period also saw steady internal migration patterns.
Despite this long history as a recipient of migrants and cultures, the sense of nativism and place belonging is strong among Banateni. Proximity to Central Europe also led to a sense of discrimination, as Both noted, a Banat resident ‘would better prefer a German, Serbian or Hungarian than a migrant non-Banat Romanian’ in their village. In our recent Identities article, ‘Internal migration and stigmatization in the rural Banat region of Romania’, we attempted to uncover attitudes towards internal migrants and how these were understood by migrants themselves in rural Banat.
When we speak of borders, we usually either refer to the lines considered to separate nation states or to the actions we are asked to perform when arriving in another country (such as showing one’s identity document or choosing a green or red lane depending on the goods we wish to declare). However, researchers working in the field of border studies have long started to think about borders in a much larger sense as spatial phenomena related to processes of inclusion and exclusion. Today’s global cities provide numerous examples of such phenomena. From gated communities to gendered spaces or neighbourhoods described as ‘ghettos’, cities often display spatial orders that limit the free movement of their inhabitants.
I was inspired to study French banlieues through the prism of critical border studies after a series of encounters with colleagues from the Alsatian city of Strasbourg. Like many of their fellow Strasbourgeois, these colleagues often went to the neighbouring German town of Kehl, where goods such as fuel, cigarettes or basic necessities from discount stores are considered cheaper. In normal times, this border is not policed and thousands of commuters, tourists and shoppers cross the Rhine every day. In contrast, none of my colleagues had ever gone to the Neuhof, a banlieue with a poor reputation in the southern suburbs of Strasbourg. At university, I met a Comorian-born student who lived in this area. He told me that the most difficult part of living in this socially vulnerable neighbourhood were not the living conditions as such, but the police controls and the regular frisking he experienced at least every week when taking the tram to the city center. For him, the true border did not run along the Rhine; it separated his neighbourhood from the rest of Strasbourg.
Experiences of displacement and longing-for-a-home are very much rooted in the human condition. In this discussion I consider three books focusing on displaced people of distinct diasporas whose experiences, I believe, provide novel insights into not only what exile may mean but how it may, in different ways, condense time and space into symbols, meanings, and narrations of religious, political, or material significance. These include Thomas A. Tweed who approaches the experience of exile of Cubans in Miami by deciphering the material culture inherent in their pilgrimage site and meanings embedded in their rituals while mainly asking how diasporic religion and exile experience may be connected. Sara E. Lewis, meanwhile, explores the exile experience of Tibetan Buddhists in Dharamsala, India by looking into the local processes of resilience and recovery in the face of political violence while asking how human rights campaigns and foreign trauma discourse are situated within a form of life shaped by Buddhist ideals of downplaying personal suffering. Finally, Diana Allan analyzes the experience of exile of Palestinians in Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, drawing our attention to the everyday material reality of their experience while raising the question of what it means for generations born in exile to aspire for a liberated land which they never left and how these refugees may resist against purely nationalist identities and ideals.
A broad and perhaps underappreciated feature of radical right populism is its simultaneous mobilization of cultural Christianity, on occasion combined with secularism, and women’s (and sometimes LGBT+) rights in a racializing, anti-immigration, and anti-Islamic discourse. Take for example the recent reaction in the USA of Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who proclaimed on Twitter that ‘I am being attacked by the godless left because I said I’m a proud Christian Nationalist’ and added that she is even being called ‘a Nazi because I proudly love my country and my God’. By the same measure, in Italy, the League (La Lega) chairperson Matteo Salvini has previously maintained publicly his certainty that ‘Madonna will bring us the [political] victory’ and praised in religious conservative media the ‘traditional (heterosexual) family’.
After living in Miami, Florida, for several years, Mother Frances Butler returned to her home in Nassau, Bahamas and founded the Mother’s Club, which provided social welfare support to the Bahamian Black community. Along with similar groups, the organization offered a variety of social services where they fundraised as a part of hurricane recovery, aided the war effort and offered health and other social services for women and children. In 1937, Mother Butler changed the title of her organization to The Young Women’s Christian Association.
The building that formerly housed the Mother’s Club sits at the corner of Goal and East Street in the heart of Nassau. The building is in the Grants Town community and was originally established by the Bahamian government to house freed people and Liberated Africans in the early 1820s. This area is one of the communities located in what is known as the ‘Over the Hill’ neighbourhoods in Nassau. These neighbourhoods became a rich site of Black life during the 19th and 20th centuries, as Black people in the Bahamas encountered poverty and racial oppression. Mother Butler also founded other Black-led organizations, including the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Silver Bells.
Coloniality deserves special attention to contextualise Professor Hempton’s lecture on “Women’s Networks: Opportunities and Limitations”. First, the context that overlaps historical and political elements: the year 1888. The poster at the back of Professor Hempton as he delivered the talk informed that the Gifford Lecture series dates from 1888. In the same year, Brazil declared the Abolition of Slavery – the last country in the Americas to officialise such law that is not fully put into practice as many cases of forced labour and slavery remain current.
That reminded me of so many unofficial Black women’s collectives who organised as a quilombo, favelas communities, marginalised neighbourhoods (periferias) as they created ways to resist and refuse the places that the colonial-hegemonic society imposed on them. For example, the Herstories of Dandara and Luiza Mahin. Dandara refused to be enslaved and became a quilombo leader, a warrior, agriculture worker in the initial land rights, abolitionists, antiracist and feminist movements in Brazil during the late 1600s. Luiza Mahin was a Muslim, enslaved domestic worker, strategist of one of the most remarkable pro-abolitionist revolutions in Brasil – the Malês Revolt – organised by enslaved peoples. Her Islamic, Jêje-Nago and Yoruba backgrounds are the marks of intersecting systems of beliefs that to this day are erased in the narrative about Brazil’s national identity.
Today, the world’s knowledge of Sweden is limited, and its image is often too unclear and out of date. So we need to unite around a clearer, unified image that better reflects contemporary Sweden – an image that is also distinct and relevant to the people we want to reach.
- Swedish Institute, 2009
Like handbags and toothpaste, countries are being branded. National identities and cultures are used to brand countries. For example, Malaysia is branded as ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’, pointing to its multiculturalism. But identities are never static, and communities are diverse. So, which identities and whose cultures in the country are promoted, and which excluded?
The Swedish authorities are branding their country too, but they want the brand to be honest and inclusive, not fabricated and selective. Did they succeed?
In our Identities article, ‘Representing Sweden: packaging Swedish identity through curators of Sweden’, we examine a recently concluded nation branding project, Curators of Sweden (CoS). The project used Twitter as a platform and each week a ‘Swedish’ person was chosen as a curator to tweet whatever they liked through the @Sweden account. The curators were chosen because they represented ‘values, skills, and ideas’ which, according to the campaign, ‘all combined, makes up Sweden’. CoS started on 10th December 2011, the Nobel Prize day, and ended in September 2018. A total of 356 curators tweeted more than 200,000 tweets.
We recently published our research about a potential rise of anti-Scottishness in England, post-Brexit, in Identities. This wasn’t originally the article we intended to write. We actually started off by exploring Scotland’s population challenges – a negative rate of natural change, an ageing population and population growth reliant on inward migration – issues which other Western countries are wrestling with. For Scotland, there is the added complication that the country has no control over migration as this is reserved to Westminster, and the present Conservative government is, in any case, committed to reducing the numbers coming to the UK.
So how did we come to write ‘Indifference or hostility? Anti-Scottishness in a post-Brexit England’? In the best academic traditions, we had begun by undertaking research with returning members of the Scottish diaspora – individuals who may have been born and educated in Scotland but who had been living and working elsewhere. Some had begun to move back to Scotland, suggesting that, for these individuals and families at any rate, their economic or personal circumstances were encouraging a homeward move.
In the comedy special ‘His Dark Material’, Jimmy Carr joked about the Roma Holocaust:
‘When people talk about the Holocaust, they talk about the tragedy and horror of 6 million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of Gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives.’
Carr’s joke has sparked widespread outrage – yet some voices have defended it as ‘gallows humour’. Back in 2017, the author Alexandra Erin, in a Twitter thread on comedy, wrote ‘If the person on the gallows makes a grim joke, that’s gallows humor. If someone in the crowd makes a joke, that’s part of the execution.’ And here, Carr wasn’t speaking from the gallows; those on the gallows are in fact, one of the most oppressed and discriminated against groups to this day: the Roma, and within the scope of the joke, the European Roma and Sinti targeted in the Holocaust.
On 24 September 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the contributions and experiences of people of African descent to the United States. Engraved on one of the walls of the museum reads, ‘I, too, sing America’. These four words are quoted from African American poet Langston Hughes’ poem of the same name. Written in 1926, Hughes’ poem reveals the experiences of African Americans during Jim Crow America. As Hughes poetically writes,
'I, too, sing America.
- Langston Hughes, ‘I, too, am America’, from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Since the early 2000s Rabat has been subject to a spate of interventions that have sought to steer Morocco’s capital on a path towards global city-dom. The myriad changes read like a checklist of urban renewal: restoration work in the historic centre, slum clearance in the periphery, riverside developments, starchitect projects and the building of new cultural and transport infrastructure. Such changes resonate with the ways in which many cities across the Arab world have recently been repositioned to intercept global flows of capital. Over the same period, a series of minor but no less conspicuous visual adjustments to the city have also occurred, from the appearance of Tifinagh – the Amazigh (Berber) script – on public buildings to an increase in references to Africa on outdoor signage.
The classic hallmarks of neoliberal urbanism and the seemingly inconsequential tinkering with linguistic and semiotic landscapes are rarely considered in tandem. In Rabat, however, both find themselves entangled in the carefully choreographed project of political and economic liberalisation that has taken place in Morocco over the last twenty years. In particular, they point to the different strategies through which state actors and elites have mobilised ideas about cultural diversity; not just as a means to rebrand Rabat as an open and tolerant metropolis aligned with the demands of international tourists and investors, but also as a basis upon which to redefine Rabat as the national political capital and a conduit of Moroccan soft power.
Today, national symbols serve as modern totems to distinguish and portray nation-states. Most of us watched the Tokyo Olympic Games and saw the pride and intense emotions that athletes and fans displayed in paying homage to their national flags and anthems at medal ceremonies. National symbols are usually chosen to reflect a single united nation, but they are often contested in divided societies, as they play a powerful role in preserving the collective memories and reflecting the cultural narratives of groups.
It is therefore difficult to establish symbols which reverberate with the cultural legacies of diverse groups in divided societies, and in particular, post-conflict societies. Although some groups might identify less with official national symbols in diverse societies, nationalism scholars believe that attitudes can change over time. Due to the pervasive display of official symbols, people can become accustomed to them, and memories of former symbols associated with particular cultures can fade.
On 10th May 2022, plans to legislate for the Irish language in Northern Ireland were announced in the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of the Westminster Parliament. The speech pledged a new Irish Language Commission, designed to “protect and enhance the use of the Irish Language”. The bill will also establish a new Office of Identity and Cultural Expression. This will offer guidance to public authorities on a range of cultural identity principles that were set out in the 2020 New Decade, New Approach document. The bill will also place a duty on the Department of Education in Northern Ireland facilitate and promote Ulster-Scots in education.
On 25th May 2022, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland introduced legislation in Westminster that will deliver this package of measure. Irish speakers have reacted with cautious optimism, but have also warned that the Bill needs to be enacted and implemented in full before they will end their campaign in support of a language act.
Concocted by the conservative quarters of the Vatican, the disparaging term 'gender ideology' has been taken up not only by the radical right, but also by some centre-left, liberal commentators, seemingly unconcerned with the concept's troublesome history. One notable example is the Economist's last year article denouncing the so-called 'trans ideology', titled A backlash against gender ideology is starting in universities. In my Identities article, 'Framing ‘gender ideology’: religious populism in the Croatian Catholic Church', I consider the provenance of how the 'gender ideology' frame was utilized by the Catholic church in Croatia – one of the earliest cases of widespread anti-gender mobilization in Europe.
Having gone through a double transition to a capitalist liberal democracy, the revived religious nationalism in Croatia competed with liberal values from the 'free Western world'. The generous Vatican agreements signed in the late '90s by the authoritarian, right-wing government provided fertile ground for a blossoming of Catholic evangelization and proliferation of lay activism. In contrast to current research on the populist radical right which demonstrates the manipulation of religion committed by political actors, I identify factions of the Church itself as populist entrepreneurs. Polarizing populist discourse is traced back to Pope John Paul II's warnings against 'the war of the powerful against the weak', and connected to newer doctrinal, papal writings on issues of gender, ecology and politics.
The views and opinions expressed on the Identities Blog are solely those of the original blog post authors, and not of the journal, Taylor & Francis Group or the University of Glasgow.