Negotiating Identities

My organisation is currently leading on an Erasmus Plus Strategic Partnership dedicated to the Third Space, and more specifically, to negotiating (European) identities therein [1]. The project is in its final year, and while we’ve really moved forward a lot in our understanding of the Third Space, we’ve spent far less time talking about the negotiation of identities. One reason for this seems to be that, as the project has progressed, we’ve come to realise that we’re not entirely agreed on the relevance of this aspect.

Members of the Irish group, for example, have previously spoken about the concept of a global identity, which apparently is gaining traction in Ireland, particularly among young people. We’ve not been to Ireland yet, so there hasn’t yet been any in-depth discussion of this. However, in its brief mention it was suggested that a global identity transcends all others, and in particular a national identity. This global identity is so inclusive and all-encompassing that it makes negotiation between people superfluous: we all partake in it. In a sense, therefore, this global identity also turns identity in general into an outdated idea.

A brief Internet search led me to an article in the Irish Times published in 2016. The then 23-year-old author describes what I perceive to be that concept of a ‘global identity’. He writes, ‘[Young people in Ireland] subscribe to a homogenous and pervasive culture that exists without nationality. To be Irish, British or American on the Internet is defunct because for the most part there is no fundamental difference between our cultures.’ He goes on to note: ‘To be Irish becomes a passive description and to a certain extent nationality is renounced in favour of joining this global network of people. We forgo our Irishness to become an Earth citizen, which is a far more harmonious and inclusive concept.’

For the author, the source of this global (sense of) identity is the Internet [2]. The Irish partners in our project also referred to the Irish Diaspora as making any ‘Irish’ identity necessarily global, in that ‘Irish’ people now live all around the world. This opens ‘Irishness’ up to include other ‘nationalities’ (if I understood this correctly). In an article titled ‘Globalised Ireland, or, contemporary transformations of national identity?’ [3], G. Honor Fagan also points to the Irish experience of emigration. But in her account, instead of making Irish identity transcendentally global, she rather suggests that the Diaspora have, not the least in a joint effort with the people left in Ireland, re-invented the Irishness of the Irish identity.

For example, Riverdance, along with Irish films and other phenomena, are today widely viewed as Irish culture (and thus an expression of an ‘Irish’ identity). Fagan notes, however, that these ‘may be partly constituted locally but it is with reference to a global cultural market’ (117). Traditions play a central role in this process (as did Irish dance in Riverdance), but Fagan rightly stresses that traditions have never existed as immutable. They were always invented, and the Diaspora has played a central role in these re-inventions of Irish traditions. Even the framing of Ireland as ‘home’, which apparently has been pushed more recently by Irish politicians, is part of this joint creation of Irishness, and thus Irish identity.

What emerges, then, is not so much a global Irish identity, but rather a globally constructed Irish identity still reliant on inventions of Irish traditions and notions of (a geographical) Irish home.

In my reading of the above, I feel that there is a lot of negotiation of identity going on after all. Even the young author of the Irish Times article concludes that, ‘… the notion of sacrificing my Irishness is too much for me…I’m an Irishman.’ His anguish at being torn between the desire for a harmonising global identity and his experience of, and love for, a particular national identity is probably something many of us share. It is perhaps also the reason why we so often avoid talking directly about (national) identities. They just sound like a certain recipe to engender conflict and divide people. Nobody wants that.

However, to negotiate identities to me is actually the opposite of othering people and excluding them. To negotiate means to be transparent and open, and to engage in a dialogue among equals. The developments of recent years, from Black Lives Matter to #MeTwo and #vonhier, have all highlighted the existence of unspoken definitions of identity (such as Germanness) that have in fact excluded people. It is only through these movements that we’ve finally acknowledged real issues and begun a discussion. To me, negotiating identities means we can mould them into a vision that can accommodate and inspire us all toward a peacefully shared future.

The Third Space seems a really good way of facilitating that negotiation. I look forward to thinking more about that in the months ahead.

Notes

[1] I’ve blogged about the Third Space before here.
[2] In terms of Third Spaces this is quite interesting. It is on the Internet, in a virtual space, that people jointly created, in the author’s view, a new global identity. This has all the markings of a Third Space. And yet, in our project, views are divided on whether a virtual space can be a Third Space at all. But more about that another time.
[3] Fagan, G. H. (2018). ” Globalised Ireland, or, contemporary transformations of national identity?”. In The end of Irish history?. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.manchesteropenhive.com/view/9781526137715/9781526137715.00012.xml

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