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  • Multiple collective identities:The emergence of a new field of research in the social sciences. Introduction
  • Udo Tietz (bio), Cathleen Kantner (bio), and Maximilian Overbeck (bio)

Since the end of the Cold War and in this age of globalization, we are witnessing various moments of the opening and closing of collectives. The successful integration and enlargement processes of the European Union were long considered one of the greatest marvels of the 20th century. Here, previously nationalism-driven communities deeply abhorring each other joined a new collective, initially designed mainly as a problem-solving community of economic cooperation and, from the 1990s on, as a political community with common, supranational institutions, which today shape important parts of our everyday life. The EU can perhaps be seen as one of the most spectacular examples of the opening of collectives, but also of the construction of a new narrative allowing the formation of a genuine multiple identity that integrates the European idea as a central component of one’s national identity.

At the same time, we are also witnessing the fragility of such narratives. Painful events such as the current rise of nationalism in Europe, illustrated by the PEGIDA movement in Germany or the (j’ai enlevé “massive” car on ne peut pas dire cela) electoral successes of the Front National in France, are examples of the closure of collectives, for the reduction of the multivalent and multiple into the uniform, the univalent, the national.

In the dialogue between theory and empirical social science, this special issue pursues the question of what holds modern societies together and what this means for the constitution of multiple identities above and below the national level. How can we develop a conception of multiple identities that is both theoretically plausible and empirically valid, emphasizing group members’ references to [End Page 23] grids of interwoven narratives of various collective identities against the background of concrete political problems?

The various contributions in this issue are the continuation and implementation of the research agenda that emerged with the “Limits of We1, a theoretical contribution to the debate between liberal and communitarian conceptions of political community. Tietz developed a concept of a collective we-identity that links with three different intuitions: The Aristotelian intuition of a community bound self-image, the Kantian intuition, according to which legal and moral universalist conceptions are central conditions of modernity, and Wittgenstein’s and Heidegger’s conviction that suggests that the self-image is multiply structured and narratively constituted.

In recent years, we have systematized these theoretical considerations, applied the Kantian distinction of Commercium- and Communio- identities to the question of European identity, and pushed forward the empirical research agenda to new areas. Facing the massive pressure of the empirical results that we generated in interdisciplinary research projects2, it became clear that our concept of collective identity must be hermeneutically expanded and empirically sharpened, in order to make sense of the observable expressions of multiple collective identities. In the course of our empirical implementation of the original theoretical ideas, it turned out that from the hermeneutic point of view, narratives about collective self-understanding are by no means mono-logical, but multiple. Similar to Goethe’s Faust, collectives may house several souls that can contradict or complement each other, and that are narratively reflected by the members of a collective against the background of certain everyday problems, and which we generally more often argue about than agree on.

We take this concept of collective identity as a starting point and elaborate an empirical operationalization that leaves enough space for the specific manifestations of we-references expressed in political debate. In particular, computer-assisted textual analysis provided valuable ways to trace the development of multiple identities across countries and over broader time periods. What sorts of self- and other-attributions are expressed in political debates? How do political speakers make sense out of their de facto enmeshment in a complex, interdependent network of collective allegiances? [End Page 24]

Cathleen Kantner and Udo Tietz provide the theoretical framework for this special issue on multiple collective identities. By following the intuitions of Aristoteles, Herder, Kant, Wittgenstein and Heidegger, they draft a conception of multiple collective identities...


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