Since there is no nation without a diaspora, let alone any ethnic label or any cultural community not facing, or faced by, serious questions about exclusion or inclusion, let us weigh the three key concepts: nation, ethnicity and community against each other. They are interconnected, both in history and politics, as in theory and methodology, so that one may easily arrange them as a triangle, with the problematic concept of identity placed as the interactive question in the middle.
The term nation, originally taken from international student jargon of the thirteenth century, refers to commonalities of birthplace, in present-day words almost congruently translatable as ethnicity. The cultural and political sea-change happened much later – namely, with the invention of the accursed hyphenated beast, the nation-state. Early states had discovered a threefold patent recipe: to centralize territorial sovereignty (if need be by divine kingship), to enforce a state monopoly on legitimizing means and measures of coercion, and to organize economic and ecological redistribution. These states, importantly, were not nation-states, but multi-ethnic empires, whether emerging independently in the Middle East or South America, East Asia or, as pocket editions, in environmentally troublesome bits of Europe. Europe around 1500, however, invented the hyphen that transformed the state into a so-called nation-state, thus translating an efficient form of multi-ethnic organization into a purportedly cultural identity, and hence starting up entirely new, and often self-destructive, mechanisms of civic and cultural inclusion and exclusion.
The transient colonial victory, from 1500 to 1960, of European nation-states over the world of ‘the people without history’ would have been an aberrant episode, were it not for the legacy of colonialism (Wolf 1982; Giddens 2006). Almost all state elites now think that their states should be one-nation states, and all but a handful have taken over the recipes that failed and ruined their colonial ex-masters.
In times of globalization, this error in thought and deed has quickly turned from counterproductive to self-defeating, so it is worth rethinking the other two corners of the triangle.
Ethnicity describes at once the scientifically vaguest and the subjectively most recognizable corner of the conceptual triangle. By commonsense perceptions of ethnicity, we somehow ‘recognize it when we see it’, but we really do not know what it is. In that sense, it is like the fictional and scientifically content-free cipher of ‘race’. The human and social value and anti-value of such terms must not be discredited; but, as I have suggested elsewhere (Baumann 1999), there are no identities, only identifications in changing and opaque contexts.
Still, ethnicity as a criterion of (self- or other-)identifications does not go away just because it is unscientific. First, most political and economic structures, as well as most social and even cultural hierarchies, still bear annoying family resemblances to ethnic categorizations. To illustrate it somewhat provocatively, prison statistics and unemployment rates reverberate with rap and Britney, boardrooms and universities resound with remixed Bach pops. Second, people desire a sense of ethnic commonality, whether to rely on in daily praxis, to cherish by feeling, or even to transgress by an act of personal agency. These ethnic bonds are not primordial, as if given by nature or biology; yet like kindred and indeed whole kinship systems, even a knowledge of their social constructedness and contextuality does not stop them from ‘feeling’ primordial, even when one negates them by an act of rebellion or individuation, depending on context or conviction.
What, then, is cultural community, and how can we rethink this concept to get us out of the fix between ‘scientifically false but experientially authentic’? Here, we go to the essence of a non-essentialist understanding of culture. Most good ethnographers of the past twenty years have seen the problem in precisely those terms, and diaspora studies had a lot to do with it. When we study diasporas – a word one may critique, but which we use as an obvious shorthand – we usually study people negotiating different cultural commonalities with the utmost flexibility in the most divergent circumstances.
Thinking of cultural commonalities either given or demanded by my nation-state of residence, I must take account of some of these conventions, in order to communicate effectively. Sometimes, these demands are naive, sometimes downright fascist. Let me therefore contrast the oldest trend, the selective de-ethnicization of citizenship, with an intervening one, the racist re-ethnicization of citizenship, with the newest one, the current ethicalization of citizenship.
Most successful European nation-states began their sixteenth- to nineteenth-century nation-building by de-ethnicizing citizenship, at least within their state borders.
Whether a citizen of France was an ethnic Breton or an ethnic Corsican, or a Spaniard was Castilian or Basque, the ticket to active civil rights and successful participation was a process that Schiffauer et al. (2004) call ‘civil enculturation’. Condensed into its core demands, this was to leave your ethnic or religious community identity at home before you entered the public sphere, to learn a self-standardizing national language and the corresponding hegemonic values, and then to compete with all others admitted as fellow neo-nationals. Metropolitan cities from Amsterdam to St Petersburg selectively stretched this recipe beyond national boundaries, attracting foreign immigrants who offered either special, and often transnational, social capital or exceptionally cheap labour. The nineteenth century saw, in all but some backwater states of Europe, a radical expansion of this de-ethnicization by means of nation-state schooling, universal military conscription and national and nationalist cults tailored to the many, the latter even including women in national public life. The classic example, the nineteenth-century state project of converting ‘Peasants into Frenchmen’ (Weber 1976), was path-breaking in its methods, but soon paralleled in most other successful nation-states with comparable methods. This selective de-ethnicization of national citizenship as an ‘imagined community’ and cultural identity (Anderson 1983) almost always stopped short of what were thought to be ‘racial’ boundaries, and nationalism rightly became the byword for the racism that it still remains.
Misguided ideas about ‘race’ indeed spelled an opposite trend after a con-catenation of nation-state world wars and in the course of global decolonization. National identity as a cultural identity and a supra-ethnic community was re-ethnicized systematically almost everywhere, leaving aside a handful of hesitant exceptions such as population-hungry Canada and Australia, rich Malaysia and poor Surinam. Almost everywhere else, nationalist efforts to control an unprecedented global flow of worldwide labour migrations re-ethnicized citizenship to the point of racial regimes.
Since post-1950s Europe depended on labour and capital immigrations from overseas, old racisms and new re-ethnicizations of citizenship closed ranks in blatantly racist populisms (Gingrich and Banks 2006) and even EU-wide repressive directives and laws. The policies of a ‘Fortress Europe’ did not work, since they were neither enforceable nor intelligent.
On the contrary, their brute forces of xenophobic exclusion predictably provoked counter-forces of non-state ethnic community-building, be it in the banlieues of France, the inner cities of Britain or the putatively dreaded Parallelgesellschaften in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The latter three, as well as the Netherlands, are prime examples of a third process that may be called the ethicalization of citizenship. The best examples of this tongue-twisting mind-bender are the increasingly widespread citizenship tests.
The difference of prepositions masks two moral universes. ‘Integration into’ means submitting to a predefined whole: you fit in, or you go home, since this nation could gladly remain without you. ‘Integration with’ would be a dialogic process of mutual adjustment between hegemonics and diasporics. Ironically, dialogue takes place as it must in states with democratic and cosmopolitan claims, but witness the following exchange in a legally mandatory citizenship test class, mid-2006 in the Netherlands:
Teacher: Do the Dutch watch their pennies?
Students (delighted they know): Yes, they do!
Teacher: But think of the tsunami! Didn’t we show the greatest generosity?
Students (hesitantly): Yes, they/we did …
Teacher: So do the Dutch watch their pennies, or are they generous?
Students (now enculturated): Yes, the Dutch people are generous!
Despite the real-life farce, which I owe to one of my students, Feia Tol, the point is serious. After selective de-ethnicization of citizenship and racist re-ethnicization of citizenship, and after the countervailing reinforcements of ethnic or religious community solidarities, even secularist liberal states turn to an ethicalization of citizenship, in order to integrate people with previously full legal entitlements ‘into’, not ‘with’, a nation-state advertising itself as a supreme moral community.Are these states haunted by the spectre of disloyal diasporics with multiple identifications, or do they doubt their own democratic credentials?
Transposing this question on to a more abstract level of debate, one can recognize the two core problems of the nation-state, though now with a special emphasis on diasporic dynamics amid runaway globalization. One, the states that most humans want to live in, and be in as diasporics, are more or less secularist about religion, but never secular about themselves.
Otherwise, it would face a breakdown not only of taxpaying morale, but of daily civility. Since religious riots at home or abroad are expensive beyond calculation, civil religion must be revived by state-running elites, if this time without systemic rhetorics of religious exclusion. Second, the nineteenth-century remnants of the state as an ethno-national self-fulfilment are discredited, but far from dead. They are revitalized especially by the losers of globalization, both among ‘natives’ and diasporics, sometimes pitching one against the other, and often helplessly echoed by the winners of globalization who want to console their voters or just to keep the populace or their investors in check. At the same time, however, community remains a problematic idea. The ethno-national state promised ‘community’ at its peril, only to bury it in the burning ruins of self-inflicted wars. Ethnic and religious ‘cultural communities’ are no better, supervised as they are by random selections of gatekeepers, power-hungry ‘righteous advocates’, and sometimes the benighted – much like states.
Must we then take leave of all three guiding notions at once: nation as community, ethnicity as community, and religion as community? Different disciplines take different views. The best political scientists have long argued we must (Young 1990), yet the best alter-globalization economists argue now that we must not (Stiglitz 2002; Mander and Goldsmith 2003). As anthropologists, and indeed as citizens, we stand between these and must weigh them up. It may seem odd, but when locality is no longer an independent variable by which to analyse or shape the world we inhabit (Gupta and Ferguson 1992), there may be wisdom yet in the oldest form of human sociality that we know: hunters and gatherers. Metaphorically, we are all hunters and gatherers, running after life chances and relativizing community pleasures as the world economic environment dictates. Historically, hunters and gatherers are of course the people whom we sacrificed to territorial and, later, nation states. Philosophically, however, they managed three things that we are all searching for anew: one, an intuition or a conscience collective (Durkheim 1971 ) of moral community combined with personal agency. Second, we seek trustworthy networks across vast territorial distances and even unpredictable intervals between contact times – as we practise them by email and web every day in this ‘information age’ (Castells 1996). Third, we secretly desire a fiction (and reflexively, that would be enough) of moral convergence across nation-state borders, such as we celebrate in our converging faiths in human rights (Dembour 2006). Clearly, we are not hunter-gatherers in any literal sense; but in those three senses, we are all diasporics now.
This is an extract from Diasporas, a collection edited by Kim Knott and Seán McLoughlin
Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.
Baumann, G. (1996) Contesting Culture: Discourses of Identity in Multi-Ethnic London, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
— (1999) The Multicultural Riddle: Re-thinking National, Ethnic and Religious Identities, New York: Routledge.
Gingrich, A. and M. Banks (eds) (2006) Neo-Nationalism in Western Europe and Beyond: Perspectives from Social Anthropology, London: Berghahn.
Schiffauer, W., G. Baumann, R. Kastoryano and S. Vertovec (eds) (2004) Civil Enculturation: Nation-State, School and Ethnic Difference in Four European Countries, Oxford: Berghahn.