Cultural Identity and European Integration

Essay, 2008

24 Pages

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1. Introduction

2. What is Cultural Identity
2.1 Concepts of Culture
2.2 Defining Cultural Identity

3. Paradox of European Cultural Identity
3.1 Europeanism or Nationalism
3.2 Arguments in Favor
3.3 Contrary Arguments

4. Cultural Identity and European Integration
Integration and Identity
Constructing European Cultural Identity

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction

From establishment of European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s to the European Union’s consolidation and enlargement in recent years, European integration has attracted worldwide attention for its great progress. As for economic integration, the European Union focuses on realizing the most interests of each member state; while from the view point of political integration, the EU fixes eyes more on its institutional construction and activities of related entities under its new system.

However, in fact, cultural identity is more important for European integration in the long-term. For instance, many countries are increasingly concerned with their own cultural merits currently. This seems to challenge the idea of “European cultural identity” that is initiated by the EU. But with accession of the Central- and Eastern European countries, different cultural values in different countries are bound to be in conflict with each other. How to solve this problem, namely how to construct European cultural identity, has been evoked wide concern of western theorists and becomes the central assignments of the EU in the future. It not only laid the foundation of mentality and culture for European citizens to accept the reality of political and economic integration, but also affected and restricted the future progress of European integration.

In following section, through defining identity I would like to elaborate distinct conceptions of the word culture. Moreover several connotations of the word culture which were described in the EU policy will be shown. Then by understanding the word “identity” I will define what “cultural identity” is in light of some scholars’ theories. Despite the importance of cultural identity in the process of European integration, the European Community operated as an economic and political entity for a long time. Which is more crucial for Europeans, Europeanism or Nationalism? The paradox of European cultural identity will be discussed in the next section. Finally, through some regulations and programs the EU issued, the framework and the venation of the EU’s cultural policy appeared obviously on the basis of constructing cultural identity.

2. What is Cultural Identity

2.1 Concept of Culture

Before the anthropological concept of culture emerged, the word culture was often restricted to being defined by arts, literature, music and philosophy. The nineteenth- century humanist Matthew Arnold believed that culture is a study of perfection, an inward condition of the mind and spirit. Comparing with this initiative notion, the anthropological concept of culture seems to characterise the word culture more precisely. According to the organizational psychologist Edgar H. Schein, culture implies on the one hand the structural stability in a community or a group of people. Cultural elements are not only shared but also stable and “deep” in the community or group. They are combined with each other to become a coherent entity and reveal a certain pattern at a deeper, invisible level. On the other hand, the word culture indicates the accumulated shared learning of a given group referring to behavioural, emotional and cognitive elements of the group’s members. Schein properly pointed out: “For shared learning to occur, there must be a history of shared experience, which in turn implies some stability of members in the group.”[1]

Moreover, Doctor Geert Hofstede, who mainly concentrates on studying national culture and organizational culture, categorized the word culture into two meanings. The culture one refers to civilisation, a refinement of the mind which can be found in education, art and literature; while the culture two defined by Hofstede deals with much more fundamental human processes than culture one and is always a collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

In addition, the EU also conceptualized culture in its documents. All above, in light of “Actions of the Community in the Cultural Arena” issued in 1977, the EU paid attention to culture as an area of interest for the first time. It referred to the expansion of the European Economic Community to the sphere of cultural production. Here culture was considered as an economic resource or concretely as a kind of productions, such as the arts, film literature and television. This connotation of culture is still used in contemporary EU publications and policy. For instance, the Culture 2000 program claimed that “Culture is both an economic factor and a factor in social integration and citizenship”. Secondly, the EU defined culture as education and individual achievement in a 1988 report which set a goal of cultural policy to facilitate the optimal creative and intellectual development of individuals. Therefore, education is viewed as a means to assert the existence of a common European identity like other cultural measures in the EU cultural policy. The third concept of culture used by the EU refers to culture as a characterization of a group of people. In 1988 the Economic and Social Committee’s report (ESC), culture is utilized to characterise a collective and as a medium of social cohesion. In this report, culture describes common ways of life, values and traditions. It should take responsibility for social convergence and can be used to distinguish one group from another. Furthermore, culture became the grammatical subject in 1992 report of the ESC. Here individuals are not seen as agents of cultural production, but rather as carriers of culture. Then in the Culture 2000 program, culture “plays an important role in meeting the new challenges facing the Community, such as globalization, the information society, social cohesion and the creation of employment.”[2] Since both European culture and identity exist already and only need to be brought into peoples’ consciousness, the EU cultural policy should take over tasks to “remind” rather than to “create”.

2.2 Defining Cultural Identity

We should try to understand what identity is before we define cultural identity. During the recent decades, the term “identity” has been used widely in the domain of social science. According to original meaning, “identity” implies on the one hand the “sameness”. As for logic, it can be seen as a relation in syllogism that two or more elements can be replaced by each other but will not change their actual value; regarding with psychology, it is thought as a psychological mechanism. For example, a person consciously or unconsciously categorizes the character of any other one or the entire colony into himself. On the other hand, “identity” is also attached to the system of recognition and symbolization to characterize “selves” and to distinguish from “otherness”. William Connolly argued that difference needs identity, while identity also needs difference. How to eliminate suspicion of self-identity depends on constructing otherness opposed to selves and thus self-identity would be established. The famous scholar Stuart Hall also believed that identities are constructed through differentiations. He stated: ”This entails the radically disturbing recognition that it is only through the relation to the other, the relation to what it is not, to precisely what it lacks, to what has been called its constitutive outside that the ‘positive’ meaning of any term and thus its ‘identity’ can be constructed.”

Based on these formulations of identity, some people have made analysis on the concept of “identity” from multidimensional perspectives, such as sociology, culture and history. Anthony Giddens asserted that identity is produced by continuing social development. It refers not only to a society within certain continuity, but also to activities that are conventionally created and maintained by such society with reconsidering, particularly the society continuously absorbs something occurs outside into some ongoing “narrative” related to selves. Martin, a French scholar, further raised the theory of “identity as a narrative”. He stressed that identity is a special form of narrative, that its scenario can be reconstituted and reinterpreted. As a narrative, how to select scenarios by identity always encompasses three relations: Firstly, identity is the relation to the past. That is to say, people should search historical origin of identity, confirm its legality and recombine historical events with narrative on principle of identity’s requirement. Secondly, identity can be related to space. Here, space indicates a place in which the whole colony is entitled to live and put their rights into practise. The intention of identity as a narrative implies that space can be translated into exclusive turf for specific group and power of dissident will be eliminated. Thirdly, identity is concerned with the relation to culture. From the view of the colony, culture is a system of sense and intelligence as well as a common logic foundation of colony. Identity as a narrative reconstitutes preexisting cultural characteristics closely related to the colony’s development; meanwhile, it emphasizes on its significance of cultural system, and then establishes the recognition of identity.

Both Giddens and Martin revealed plasticity of identity, namely identity can accomplish self-construction with exogenous factors. Especially, reconstruction of identity by cultural characteristic, which was analyzed by Martin, demonstrated that there is a inseparable relation between identity and culture. Moreover, as cultural theorist Raymond Williams affirmed that one’s social status and identity depend on environment which he locates. He also pointed out that culture can transfer information of identity. Therefore, in modern society, culture often combines with identity to come into being a specific cultural identity and a colony’s indicator of shared cultural values. This indicator can be utilized for individual or collectivity to define “selves”, to differ from “otherness” and to reinforce the sameness of each other.

Due to diversity and complexity of social status, people could be part of different social community, from family to the state. As a result, cultural identity is compound and composed of multi-dimensions that will increase and tend to be more complex with development of society. In ancient times, family, tribe and race are the primary units of cultural identity. As human society constantly advances, towns, regions and nations even religion, language, social organizations, hierarchy and class that exceed consanguineous relations, can be entities of human cultural identity. Consequently, identity is diverse to be selected. People have one or more identities at the same time. Furthermore, on the basis of different scenes and circumstances, people always wander among different identities with relative consciousness. It is not obstructive to select a larger identity unit, when a person has ever selected a smaller one. For instance, when one was sure that he is a Sicilian, he also can say he is an Italian and a European.

Although it is not really opposite among alternative cultural identities, it is unavoidable to be in conflict by each other. Since cultural identity is usually combined with a specific cultural mode, which makes stronger impact on shaping people’s criterion of estimation, behavior patterns, obligations and responsibilities. During defining characteristics of culture, this cultural mode is generally more important. But, among alternative cultural identities, which affects our daily life much more widely and more decisively for politics?


[1] Schein, 1992: 10-11

[2] Official Journal L 063:1

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Cultural Identity and European Integration
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Fakultät für Philosophie, Pädagogik und Publizistik)
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ISBN (eBook)
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Cultural, Identity, European, Integration, Identität
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Yusi Teng (Author), 2008, Cultural Identity and European Integration, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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