<<< European Identities, European Realities / Europäische Identitäten, Europäische Realitäten
European Identity Formation through a Transnational Public Sphere? The Case of European Cultural Journals
Tessa Hauswedell (St. Andrews, Scotland) [BIO]
Discussions about European Identity are frequently met with a sense of reservation or outright scepticism. In parts this is based on the conviction that European Identity is nothing but a fictional construct that only exists in the minds of intellectuals and politicians. Furthermore, it is alleged that talking about, or invoking a European identity is seen as harbouring dangerously essentializing tendencies which should be avoided in the European context. First, I will seek to explain the causes of this scepticism and discuss the implications for the way in which ideas about European Identity are being subsequently framed. In the second part, I will look specifically at the medium of European cultural journals in order to find out how the notion of European Identity is addressed in the journals.
To begin with the paper will discuss the largely historical causes that help to explain the sense of trepidation about articulations of European Identity and will explain why the model of the ‘European Public Sphere’, has in the last 20 years emerged as such a popular and dominant locus for discussing European identity. The European Public Sphere – more concretely the varied European media outlets which constitute it – are seen as the harbingers of politically progressive and potentially unifying identifications of Europe that stay clear of potentially essentializing invocations of European Identity based on cultural and historical arguments. As a result, Europeans prefer mechanisms of identity formation to take place within the context of deliberative debate which is subject to critical enquiry and discussion, instead of unreflected affinities. Therefore much anticipation has been invested in the idea of European Public Sphere as a “safe space” where the integrative processes of shared deliberation; or what has been termed as the “binding force of words in communicative practices”(1) can take hold. Put differently, European identity in the twenty-first century will not be created on the basis of spontaneous emotions, but rather on the basis of the overall communication processes that a public sphere could provide in the form of discursive debate, deliberation and rational argumentation. The public sphere has become a desirable and valid framework for fostering European identity because the views expressed in this context are continuously subject to contention and rational self-critiques.
In the majority, empirical research on the European public sphere is focused on the mass media – national newspapers, television – that are seen as the carriers of this EPS. This paper however will focus on cultural journals from three different countries (Esprit from France, Merkur from Germany and New Left Review from Great Britain) with special emphasis on the crucial time frame of 1989–1992 and compare it with conceptions of Europe in the recent years of 2003–2006. Whilst journals are by no means mass publications, there is a case to be made that they can set the agenda for intellectual debates and can act as a place where ideas and debates are first staged before they trickle into the mainstream. Journals publish articles on the political integration of Europe generally from a more long term, philosophical and historical perspective than is evident in the mass media. Therefore it is anticipated that also difficult and potentially “divisive” aspects of European culture and history will be addressed in these journals in order to contextualize and imbue with meaning the events of political European integration. However, is there evidence of a systematic, ongoing exchange in these journals that amounts to a public sphere, and can we speak of a defined sense of European Identity emerging in these discourses? On the basis of the textual analysis it will be argued that the formulation of a “positively defined sense of European Identity is not likely to emerge through gradual convergence and common deliberation in the public sphere. This paper will conclude that European Identity as a unifying feature typically exists in the journals only in the diagnosis of yet another “European crisis” but that it has made little headway between 1989 and now in the form of a positive identification with Europe that is apparent on a transnational basis in these cultural journals.
1 Erik Odvar Eriksen, John Erik Fossum, ‘Post-national integration’, in Democracy in the EU. Integration through Deliberation? ed. by Erik Oddvar Eriksen and John Erik Fossum (London: Routledge, 2000) pp.1-29 (p. 2).