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Politics, Society and Political Identity


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Title: Politics, Society and Political Identity

Politics, Society and Political Identity
  • Alistair Cole

What is Political Identity?
  • Has Identity been murdered? Is it useless
    scientifically (WJM MacKenzie)
  • The phrase identity does not refer to an
    objective phenomenon and there is no agreed
  • The meaning of identity has evolved, indeed been
    misused. Identity started off as meaning
    sameness of two objects, in the sense of
    identical. It then evolved to mean the continuity
    of an individual personality, hence difference.
  • By extension, The phrase is a metaphor, moving
    from individual to collective.
  • In a metaphorical sense, identity can signify a
    broader use in social identity/collective
    identity, the social or collective is given an
    individual personality.

Identity and the social sciences 3 classic
  • Cultural anthropologists, such as Margaret Mead
    writing in the 1920s, use identity as culture,
    to refer to whole societies. Mead assumed that
    each culture was unique, consistent and binding.
    Individual identity could not be comprehended
    outside of a collectivity.
  • Cultural identity theorists became tared with
    the brush of national character.
  • Other end of the spectrum For psychologists,
    such as Erikson, identity played out within an
    individual personality.
  • Sociologists (Goffmann), identity was only
    comprehensible in a social - group - context,
    since identity was shaped by interactionism. For
    Goffmann the individual exists only in
    situations of social interaction.

A Compound meaning
  • Whatever its initial meaning, identity has a
    compound sense identity can be individual,
    social (society), or collective (group). In
    practice these levels interact and are mutally
  • At the macro level, political identity can be
    understood as common purpose, as an entity that
    persists through time.
  • Collective forms of political identity are class,
    race, religion and nation. In most cases, a
    rhetoric of identity strengthens - or otherwise -
    the cohesion of a group.
  • As a collective entity, we understand identity
    as common purpose, something that persists
    through time. It consists of a combination of
    myths, symbols, rituals and ideology. Myths the
    founding images of groups, nations, social
    groups, regions. Symbols, such as flags, signs,
    language rituals especially understood in a
    political sense ideology coherent patterns of
  • But this throws up serious methodological issues

Methodological issues
  • There are methodological issues concerned here
    does it apply to individuals (individual-level
    analysis?) Or to collective entities (class,
    gender, race and so on) ?
  • Can we make any assumptions about collective
    entities from individual analysis? In the worst
    cases, identity becomes a form of primordialism
    or essentialism, in which individuals are
    credited with ascriptive (that is, not chosen by
    themselves) identities which are assumed to guide
  • Is identity (mainly) an individual level
    phenomena? If we ascribe individuals to
    categories, such as class or gender, how do we
    know that these are meaningful for these
  • There is a tendency to use identity as a master
    category, so that ethnicity or gender determine
    behaviour as class once did

Three contemporary research traditions
  • Ethnographical analysis researcher as a
    participant observer imbued with the culture of a
    group/tribe. Individual little autonomy
  • Macro- Statistical analysis political culture
    studies of the 1960s and studies of values of
    political scientists such as Kitschelt
  • Post-modern analysis 1). individual has recovered
    autonomy both from group and societal pressures
    2). Individual chooses between identity choices
    and distinctive identity markers. Identity is
  • Studying identity thus involves two-three
    different levels of analysis 1). individual (how
    do individuals mix their identities, or do
    they? 2). Intermediate how are individuals
    influenced by class, religion, race, ethnicity?
    Societal what is the value of reasoning in terms
    of political culture?

Tradition 1. Identity as national cultures
  • Almond and Verba The Civic Culture, 1963.. Modern
    values-based research such as that of Inglehart
  • Identify broad traits of a political culture by
    means of a mass survey approach
  • National stereotyping? Largely discredited in its
    original form. The nation unit of analysis is
    problematic, at least in terms of values
  • Link with political development discredited
    today an ethnocentric approach that took the US
    as the core benchmark for liberal democracy and
    looked to identify the cultural conditions for
    stable democracy
  • Deducing system-wide conclusions from questions
    asked of individuals
  • More purchase at the level of sub-cultures (e.g.
    Communist or Catholic sub-cultures)

Tradition 2 identifying Heavy sociological
variables 1.
  • Identity as forms of social cleavage. Cleavages
    are social or value-based conflicts. The term
    cleavage structure refers to the main lines of
    political division within a society.
  • In their classic work, Lipset and Rokkan identify
    three main sources of division within European
    societies society
  • Anticlericalism Republic/Church , from the
    French revolution and subsequent wave of
    anti-clericalism across Europe (eighteenth)
  • Centre-Periphery, from the imperfect process of
    state formation across Europe in the nineteenth
    century (19th century)
  • Social class, inherited from the industrial
    revolution and the conflict between capital and
    labour, which largely structured 20th century
  • For Lipset and Rokkan most of the key cleavages
    in place in the 1960s were in place by the late
    nineteenth century their thesis on the frozen
    character of cleavages remains very influential.
  • Different countries can be characterised by the
    importance of one, or more than one cleavage
    and this cleavage structure has had a very
    important effect in structuring the party system.

Heavy Sociological Variables 2
  • Tim Bale identifies nine key cleavages that
    structure politics in Europe today in order of
    their appearance, these are
  • Land-industry (18th century), representing the
    conflicting interests of the aristocracy and the
    emerging bourgeoisie gradually victory of the
    bourgeoisie and creation of bourgeois parties
  • owner-worker, giving rise to the classic
    labour-capital division and to the birth of SD
  • urban-rural cleavages, especially in countries
    such as Norway where the urban middle classes
    were of foreign extraction and the rural areas
    were peopled by poor indigenous peasants
    (agrarian parties, today largely disappeared)
  • centre-periphery (regionalist/ minority
    nationalist parties)
  • church-state (clericalism/Christian democracay
    against anti-clerical parties)
  • Revolution-gradualism ( Social Democracy and
    Communist parties in 1917)
  • Democracy-totalitarianism (rise of fascists in
  • modernism/post-materialism(environmental and
    quality of life issues, from 1960s onwards
  • multiculturalism/homogeneity (far-right and

Cross-cutting cleavages
  • These cleavages could stand alone where there is
    only one line of cleavage the normal or
    residual social class one then this acts as the
    fundamentally structuring element.
  • But other cleavages might cut across the class
    one, and be more pertinent politically this can
    be the case of religion, for example, where
    religious behaviour is very closely associated
    with a conservative orientation in most
    countries, whatever social class one belongs to.
  • On the other hand, lower-level cleavages might be
    nested in higher order cleavages thus, the
    centre-periphery cleavage where minority
    nations resist the construction of a state
    might strengthen divisions based on social class
    especially if members of a minority community are
    also in an unfavourable socio-economic position.
  • Thus cleavages can be structuring reinforcing or
  • Remains seminal for considering contours of
    European party system

Tradition 3 Post-modern identity markers
  • Individual chooses between identity choices and
    distinctive identity markers. Identity is
  • It is very unusual for individuals to have only
    one set of identities much more usually the case
    for individual identities to be complex sets of
    allegiances, some of which are reinforcing,
    others not.

Identity Markers in contemporary Europe
  • The most powerful traditional identity markers
    are nation, race, religion, class, territory and
  • Race has been virtually discredited as a means of
    identity. Pseudo-scientific racial studies have
    been discredited. Gene pools have been mixed
    everwhere, depriving racial analysis of any
  • Religion is a source of cultural and semantic
    identity that we will consider below.
  • Nation is an obvious source of identity, as are
    other forms of imagined community.
  • Class has everywhere been declining as a source
    of identity.
  • Territory and language will be considered in the
    next lecture

National Identity?
  • National Identity? The question of identity is
    most frequently posed at the level of the
    nation-state Political Culture theorists in the
    1960s sought to link attitudes distributed
    throughout the population with the overarching
    features of political systems. These attempts at
    linkage were not very successful
  • Nations are imagined communities each nation
    has historic symbols that sometimes are reflected
    in the state but not always, notably in the
    case of divided societies such as Belgium, or
    countries where there are strong regional
    distinctions as in Spain. National identity is
    constructed in rather different manners across
    the key states in the EU.
  • National identity a set of myths, symbols,
    rituals.but these are difficult to generalize,
    as they vary in the context of each nation-state
  • Stateless-nations?

Problems with national identity
  • Some key problems with national identities where
    are the boundaries of the nation? Is it based on
    blood ties or on adhesion to a common set of
    values? Does the nation coincide with the
    boundaries of the state? Is the nation
    inclusive, or, as in the case of Nazism,
    exclusive? Does national identity signify
    constitutionalism nationalism? Or triumph of one
    core group over another

Social class and politics
  • In Wales, studies of identity have concluded that
    it is not focused principally around locality, or
    language, or symbols such as flags but around
    the perception that people in Wales are working
    class. Here a strong sense of class identity is
    more salient than anything else. Social class was
    long considered - and to some extent still is -
    to represent the core source of political
    IDENTITY within older European nations,
    especially in the UK, Germany and the Scandiavian
  • These nations are countries with relatively
    developed social classes, and with, historically
    speaking, a high degree of class consciousness.
    Although in no one country have political
    divisions been reduced to those of class, class
    identities have generally been to some extent
    predictive of political loyalties - to a greater
    or lesser extent according to the existence of
    other significant sources of division.

Class as the main cleavage
  • The model of residual class-based politics has
    traditionally been given as that of Britain this
    does not necessarily mean that class politics are
    more intense in Britain than elsewhere, but it
    does signify that class has usually been regarded
    as the most significant indicator pointing to
    political choice.
  • According to the findings of Butler and Stokes
    in the 1960s, at the height of the two party
    system, social class corresponded closely with
    political choice, with industrial workers largely
    favouring Labour over Conservatives (65/35), and
    non-manual strata overwhelmingly favouring the
    Conservatives (75-25). Indeed, class voting was
    taken for granted, so much so that all else was
    embellishment and detail.
  • Partisan and class dealignment... But class has
    been perceived to be important in British
    politics because there has been no other major
    source of division, such as religion or
    linguistic conflict (except in specific

Class and intensity
  • The British model- class as the only significant
    source of identity/conflict - can be seen as the
    European exception. All other countries had
    rather more complicated cleavage structures
    based notably on religion, on the rural/urban
    dichotomy, on regional identities, on the
    divisive role of language. But, even where other
    sources of political division exist, social class
    has usually - historically - performed an
    important role as well, with class differences
    often reinforcing other divisions, such as those
    seperating catholics and anti-clericals.
  • The impact of social class must also be assessed
    in terms on the intensity with which class
    sentiments are held and the degree of class
    conflict within a society. For example, whereas
    industrial workers constituted a majority of the
    population in Britain, they were never more than
    a geographically concentrated and resentful
    minority in France, with the result that
    industrial workers came to form a strong
    inward-looking sub-culture isolated from the
    mainstream of French society, which for several
    generations saw its salvation in the
    revolutionary appeal of the Communist party.
    Thus, to understand identity we need to observe
    issues of intensity.

  • The church-State cleavage and the role of
  • Opinion surveys throughout Western Europe have
    repeatedly shown that religion can have a
    significant impact upon how an individual
    perceives of political issues, and his or her
    role within the political system. Moreover,
    religion often - but not always collides with
    social class to reinforce loyalties adopted by
    particular individuals. In Italy, for example,
    the industrial working class was traditionally
    been both anti-clerical (on account of the
    support of the Catholic Church for the existing
    social hierarchies) and left-wing (on account of
    the close connection of the Church with the
    former DCI).

Declining religosity
  • Religious identities come in all shapes and
    sizes. In the context of European politics, the
    religious/anti-clerical division has a central
    place. There has been a decline in religiosity
    and also a declining capacity for the Church to
    intervene in politics. Gordon Smith two levels
    of religious disengagement 1). The Church no
    longer intervenes directly in politics, or, when
    it does so, it is defeated (e.g. divorce
    referendums in Italy in 1970s)2). Relationships
    between religious affiliations and voting choice
    begin to weaken. If the first level of religious
    disengagement is general, the religious
    identification is still the best indicator of
    voting behaviour anti-clerical stance is
    correlated with atheism and a left-wing vote,
    while religious behaviour is linked to a
    rightwing vote.
  • New religious fervour?

Language and linguistic identity
  • The process of state building in Western Europe
    takes as its great reference point the French
    revolution of the late eighteenth century and the
    national unification movements of the nineteenth
    century. The process has continued in the
    twentieth century.
  • The role of language is important in several
    respects. There has generally been a coincidence
    of national state boundaries, and linguistic
    entities. In certain countries - such as France
    - the emergence of a strong central state was
    accompanied by a gradual suppression of all
    linguistic and regional identities in this
    instance, the idea of nation was largely
    synonymous with that of the state itself.
  • In Germany, by contrast, the process of
    unification brought together German speakers
    previously dispersed through a wide range of
    separate states the Federal character of German
    postwar Republic recognises the cultural and
    regional diversity of the German people.

Centre-periphery cleavages
  • The rise of minority nationalism has been one of
    the major developments in western European
    countries in the past twenty years
  • In Spain, in particular, there has been a move
    to a form of asymmetrical federalism, where the
    three nations Catalonia, Basque Country and
    Galicia are recognised as historic
    nationalities in the 1978 constitution and given
    extended devolved powers.
  • In the UK, the minority nationalist question has
    been nested in a broader class cleavage in both
    Scotland and Wales, national identity came as
    a result of a specific feeling of class identity
    and of being different from the rest of the UK.
  • If there are fashions, this is one. In Italy, a
    move to regional evolution has accompanied more
    assertive regional claims, such as that of
    Padania in the north.
  • But much less so in central and eastern Europe

Political Identity Using the Moreno Scale to
measure identities
  • Alistair Cole

Constructing identities the case of territory
and identity
  • In the constructivist tradition, individuals
    choose between varying identity markers.
  • The Moreno question offers a measure that
    allows individuals to combine their
    ethno-territorial (regional) and their civic
    state (national) identities.
  • Other scales ask citizens to distinguish between
    up to four levels of identification with
    locality, region, nation and Europe. These are
    difficult to operationalise. They assume the
    voter/citizen has the ability to integrate four
    or more dimensions

What is the Moreno scale?
  • The Moreno question measures dual identities
    through asking respondents how they combine their
    ethno-territorial (regional) and their civic
    state (national) identities. The Moreno identity
    scale was initially developed as a means of
    mapping the revival of ethno-territorial
    identities in the union states of Spain and the
    United Kingdom.
  • Logically, this measure only makes sense where
    there are overlapping identities. Rather than
    withering away, as predicted by modernistic
    social science, minority nationalism has emerged
    as a powerful force across Europe. There has been
    a revival of ethno-territorial identities and a
    challenge to the centralist model of the unitary

Multiple identities
  • Though civic and ethnic nationalism are often in
    conflict, the core of Morenos argument is that
    modern states have witnessed the emergence of
    multiple identities.
  • There is evidence that citizens in advanced
    liberal democracies seem to reconcile
    supranational, state and local identities, which
    both majority and minority nationalisms often
    tend to polarise in a conflicting manner (McEwen
    and Moreno, 2005 22).

Constructing Identities
  • Moreno develops an ideal-type against which to
    measure ethno-territorial identities.
  • Ethno-territorial identities reflect themselves
    in sub-state political institutions, distinctive
    party systems, language rights movements and
    cultural traditions and specific forms of elite
  • This measure has been used to measure dual
    identities in Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, Basque
    country, Flanders, Brittany
  • A. Cole used this scale to measure dual
    identities in Wales and Brittany

Brittany and Wales Strong Identity Regions
  • Brittany and Wales are both historic regions with
    complex but strong identities. Both Brittany and
    Wales possess distinctive institutions and strong
    political and/or cultural identities, features
    that set them apart from most other regions
    within their respective nation-states. The
    research design is thus based on the most similar
    comparative case study (Ragin, 1997).
  • These two regions are broadly comparable in terms
    of the challenges they face. In historical terms,
    both Brittany and Wales correspond to those
    regions identified by Rokkan and Urwin (1982), in
    which the development of regional consciousness
    is a function of economic dependency and the
    persistence of a strong cultural identity.

Brittany and Wales Strong Identity Regions 2
  • Brittany and Wales are both located on the far
    Western Atlantic seaboard of Europe, on the
    geographical margins of traditionally
    highly-centralised states. Both regions have
    strong cultural, linguistic and political
  • Closely-related Celtic languages, Breton and
    Welsh, are spoken in both regions, which provide
    a direct object of comparison.
  • Religion has been important in shaping regional
    identities. Catholicism in Brittany, one of
    Frances most pious regions, for long performed a
    critical role in defining acceptable political
    and societal choices. Non-conformism in Wales had
    at least as strong an influence.
  • There are many similar characteristics, but one
    major difference the overarching state
    structures that are more or less permissive
    towards territorial asymmetry and expressions of
    regional identity.
  • Research into compound identities of any sort is
    rare in France. In the mainstream French
    Republican tradition, territorial (especially
    regional) or ethnic identities are considered a
    threat to a neutral public sphere that can alone
    guarantee political and civil rights.

Comparing Brittany and Wales
  • Modern Brittany is a French region with a
    difference. Unlike many other French regions, it
    can look to its past existence as an independent
    political entity, with its own founding myths and
    political institutions
  • Though the symbols of statehood have long since
    disappeared, the region retains many distinctive
    characteristics. In theory, Brittany possesses at
    least some of the key features identified by
    Moreno to develop an ethno-territorial
    identity a pre-state political existence, an
    autonomist Breton political movement, a language
    rights movement, strong cultural traditions and
    specific forms of elite accommodation. Wales
    shares these characteristics
  • Wales and Brittany therefore provide a robust
    case for testing the importance and limitations
    of the relationship between dual identities,
    institution-building and political and discursive
    opportunity structures.

Contrasting national and EU environments.
  • Both regions operate within overarching national
    and EU environments. Neither Brittany nor Wales
    can escape from the legacy of its past. The
    contrasting prospects for Brittany and Wales of
    autonomous forms of regional governance today are
    to some extent tied into their different
    experiences of nation-state building.
  • The French State building enterprise has,
    historically speaking, been remarkably successful
    in inculcating deeply rooted beliefs linking the
    national territory with social progress.
  • The UK Union State was far more permissive and
    inclined to take into account territorial
    differences. The UK was less insistent than
    France on linking uniform state structures and
    the enjoyment of civil and political rights.
  • In both states, the degree of autonomy enjoyed by
    these distinctive peripheral regions has been
    defined by central government, rather than by the
    regions themselves.

Polling Identities
  • At the heart of the Moreno method is the
    empirical investigation of dual identities in
    territories where there are overlapping
    loyalties. Brittany and Wales were identified as
    potentially comprising such territories and two
    polling organisations were commissioned to carry
    out parallel surveys in June 2001
  • At the macro-level, we investigated the linkage
    of identities with institutions, political
    parties and cultural and language rights
    movements. For contextual purposes, we also
    contrast patterns of elite accommodation.
  • At the micro-level, we formally identify a series
    of independent variables, based on territory,
    age, social class, education and language,
    against which to calibrate dual identities in
    Brittany and Wales.

The Moreno Identity Scale for Brittany
  • Do you consider yourself...
  • Breton, not French 2
  • More Breton than French 15
  • Equally Breton and French 57
  • More French than Breton 17
  • French, not Breton 7
  • Dont know 2

The Moreno Identity Scale for Wales
  • Do you consider yourself...
  • Welsh, not British 20
  • More Welsh than British 17
  • Equally Welsh and British 35
  • More British than Welsh 22
  • British, not Welsh 6
  • Dont know 2

  • Dual identities are more easily assumed in
    Brittany than in Wales.
  • There is little perceived conflict between being
    Breton and being French, while for an important
    minority of Welsh people Britishness is perceived
    in negative terms.
  • Brittany manages to combine ethno-territorial,
    civic and supranational identities in a mutually
    reinforcing manner. Breton and French identities
    appear complementary, the median position (As
    Breton as French) being the overwhelming
  • On the other hand, our findings explode the myth
    that there is only one French identity
    three-quarters of the survey declared themselves
    to feel at least as Breton as French.
  • In Wales, in contrast, we observe a much higher
    incidence of divided identities. A sense of
    Welshness as being essentially opposed to
    Britishness is firmly rooted in a sizeable
    minority of Welsh people.

Identities and Institutions
  • There is a debate today in Wales on the future of
    Devolution. Which one of the following options do
    you prefer ?
  • Abolish the National Assembly for Wales 24
  • Retain a National Assembly with limited powers
  • Create an elected parliament with tax-raising and
    legislative powers 38
  • An independent Wales 11
  • Dont Know 3

Identity and Institutions cross tabulated
  • Those with an exclusive sense of Welsh identity
    (17) are more favourable to independence than
    any other group (26)
  • Those with a primary sense of Welsh identity
    (17 20, the first two positions, i.e. Welsh
    not British, more Welsh than British) are more
    favourable to either independence, or a
    Parliament with tax-varying and legislative
  • The starkly opposed positions in relation to
    identity and institutional preferences suggest
    that opinion in Wales was divided about
    institutional futures. Even those with an
    exclusive sense of Welsh identity, however, are
    reluctant to espouse the solution of full
  • Brittany number of exclusive identity Bretons
    too weak to measure meaningfully the link with
    political independence

Comparing Wales and Brittany the role of the
Party system
  • Our analysis demonstrates that the party system
    and electoral choice are important explanatory
    variables differentiating ethno-territorial
    constructions in Brittany and Wales.
  • In Wales, divided identities fed through directly
    into the party system, via the presence of an
    important nationalist party.
  • In Brittany, the discursive and political
    opportunity structures provides less fertile
    terrain for the development of sub-state
    nationalism and shared identities are distributed
    fairly evenly across existing political

Identity and electoral choice
  • Amongst those with an exclusive sense of Welsh
    identity, preferences were evenly split between
    Labour and Plaid Cymru, with the other parties
    registering virtually no support.
  • Those considering themselves as more Welsh than
    British also divided their support mainly between
    Labour and Plaid Cymru.
  • While Labour maintained its support in all
    identity configurations, support for Plaid Cymru
    steeply declined amongst those considering
    themselves as equally or more British than Welsh.
  • Conversely, the Conservatives were supported by
    those with a primary or exclusive sense of
    British identity.
  • From this indicative survey, Labour appeared as
    the pivotal party in Wales, able to appeal across
    the entire identity spectrum. Plaid Cymru support
    is limited to those who identify themselves
    primarily as Welsh Conservative support is
    confined to those identifying themselves mainly
    as British. The Liberal Democrats can also
    mobilise across electorates, but from a much
    weaker numeric base.
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