Are we becoming more collective or individual

Cultural education

Heike Delitz, professor for comparative social research and sociology at the University of Bremen, spoke in her lecture about the handling and creation of collective identity. She illustrated her thoughts on the basis of statements by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and pointed out their possible implications for democracy.

Heike Delitz, Professor of Comparative Social Research and Sociology at the University of Bremen (& copy Ast / Juergens)

Jürgen Wiebicke introduced the lecture with a quote from the soon to be published book "Collective Identities" by Delitz. The search for answers to the question of identity is "working on the shared secret". This formulation by Bernhard Giesen is an exception in the social science discourse, added Delitz. After all, collective identity is rarely dealt with productively, but rather an attempt is made to deconstruct it. In this sense, her lecture could also be viewed as a criticism of the current discourse.

"We make it"

"Collective identities are - just like individual ones - impossible and at the same time necessary", with this paradoxical formula the actual lecture began. From a sociological point of view, one even has to go so far as to deny the existence of individual identities in their entirety: there are actually only collective identities Defamation of collective identity as (political) right also has the problem that it blinds you to your own identity politics - after all, recourse to human dignity must also be viewed as such. This is also reflected in Merkel's comment on the refugees "stranded" in Hungary low. Specifically, Merkel said after she had emphasized that one also had to deal with the technical processes: "That is why we have to apply some clear principles when dealing with people who now come to us. These principles come from no more and no less than Our Basic Law, our Constitution. First, the fundamental right of politically persecuted people to asylum applies. [...] The second principle is the human dignity of everyone. " Determining a collective as non-identical would be a determination.) At a later point, Merkel's remark, which became involuntarily famous, followed: "The motive [...] has to be [...] we can do it." (Press conference on August 31, 2015) In the field of the political, one can assume that recourse to collective identities cannot be avoided. However, these are impossible determinations, since an identity of the collective is impossible. "Exactly for this reason," continued Delitz, "because they are impossible, a unit has to be presented" - the imagination of an identity is required.

Imagination as a structural logic of society?

Firstly, the demarcation from other collectives, secondly, the sharing of a quality in time (e.g. that of the German collective) and, thirdly, the foundation by an extra-social reason (e.g. human dignity), Delitz referred to in relation to collective identity as Minimum determination. She pointed out that all of these collective determinations are counterfactual and meaningless constructions. The unity of a group can always be denied (modern societies in particular are pluralistic and heterogeneous). The demarcation from another collective is also not an immutable determination. What is delimited against can change as well as exist in different forms - the outside exists in different forms and numbers at the same time. And the determination of an extra-social reason is also empty, since it cannot be further justified.

Although the three aspects introduced are conceived for collective identity, they form the structural logic of society. The question of collective identity always arises when asked what a society is. The imagined unity of the members of a collective identity, which is actually constantly changing, is therefore impossible and necessarily at the same time. A society has to imagine that it has one characteristic over another. As this determination conflicts with the heterogeneity of the same, it has to redefine or provisionally determine the characteristics over and over again. In the case of societies, the second definition of collective identity usually means a kind of cultural identity. It often consists in the narrative about the respective society, as it is reflected, for example, in the narrative about the establishment of the FRG with the Basic Law of 1949. The constructed character of these narratives is already evident from the fact that such a narrative necessarily neglects or completely omits parts of the history. For a society, the foundation by an extra-social reason usually means that it presents itself as non-contingent. Examples are God-given norms or the values ​​of the French Revolution. So it is a made up meaning that is thought to determine us. These provisions apply to every form of company or collective.

The democratic paradox

But what are the specifics of modern societies? Delitz explained that modern (democratic) societies have at least two substantive expressions. Contrary to monarchist societies, which are founded on a concept of God, modern democracy relates to an idea of ​​human dignity and popular sovereignty. However, these two fundamental, extra-social foundations contradict each other. Dignity must be thought of as universal, while popular sovereignty requires exclusion - the determination of the people. This indissoluble tension can only be partially resolved through a hegemonic positioning in favor of one of the two. The tension described is at the bottom of every democracy. The fact that it is these two foundations is due to the fact that democracy is based on the structural logic of the monarchy: "In a moment when the absolute sovereign in his person, in his body embodied the entire society and was legitimized to do so from the outside, in this Situation, the revolutionaries have adopted this matrix of power ", ie the idea of ​​how society is represented." And instead of God they have placed human nature and instead of the sovereignty of the king stands the sovereignty of the people. " Determination, another paradox of democracy lies in the casting of votes. The people are supposed to express their will, but their vote is immediately divided into the multitude of ballot papers - the people are thus presented as one people and at the same time dissolved into the pure number.

Identity Politics of Human Dignity

What conclusions can be drawn from these statements? First of all, it should be noted that statements about collective identities are not essentialist. The idea that there is something that needs to be deconstructed contradicts the definition of collective identity as imagined. Nevertheless, the argument about them cannot be left alone. It has to be argued over and over again what constitutes "our" collective identity. Collective identity is only formed in conflict - it cannot be detached from discourse. The identity of contemporary German society may be based on conflict, disagreement, and difference. Furthermore, conclusions can be drawn for politics by determining which external outside of society a society is based on. Merkel's statement mentioned at the beginning is not an individual opinion. Contrary to what has often been stated, she does not follow her own emotions, but speaks in them a certain collective that tries to base the collective identity on universal dignity.

by Simon Clemens