9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN03 Biographical Perspectives on European Societies

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Euroidentities. The Evolution of European Identity: Using biographical methods to study the development of European identity I Building II, C2.02

Biographical Processes and Supranational Identity Formation in a European Context

The current state-of-the-art research into European identity has been driven mainly by a ?top down? elitist perspective that focuses upon the development of an identification with ?Europe? through centrally-driven policies originating from within the European Commission. Biographical research can provide wider insights into the evolution and meanings of European identities from the ?bottom up? perspective of the individual.
The first decade of the twenty-first century may be seen as a crucial point for the European continent. On the one hand, the demise of the division between 'capitalist' western and 'socialist' eastern Europe, the continued expansion of the EU coupled with the need for the European states to act together in a globalized world as a single economic and political entity can be seen as powerful centripedal forces in which the ideals of the Enlightenment and a common European culture have a revived relevance. On the other hand, developments such as the collision between an expansionist NATO and a resurgent Russia, the violent resurgence of ethnic and nationalist passions transcending the nation-states borders and the revival of religious fundamentalism are powerful centrifugal forces that could fragment the continent. Whether real or 'imagined', contrasts between communities of identity ? local, regional, national, ethnic, linguistic, religious ? can be either a source of reaffirmation in which the shared 'otherness' of the 'stranger' provides a positive counterpart to one's own standpoint or a source of xenophobic reaction to the 'incomprehensible alien'.
We focus on biographical identity, which is neither solely solid and fixed nor completely fluid and contingent but rather a combination of both. Identity functions as an internalized cognitive schema or habitus of stored meanings and modes of reacting to the world that enables one to maintain continuity and remain 'the same' over time. At the same time, identity is a process in which one's self-conception is transformed over time during the course of life experiences that take place within a changing grid of multiple groups, interests, loyalties and responsibilities. The retention of balance between these two ? continuity and change ? can be seen as an ongoing biographical process of identity work.