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How to Approach Europe’s Identity Crisis: an Annotated Bibliography

One of the greatest challenges for Europe in the current climate of Euroscepticism is the region’s identity crisis. As yet there is no established or universally agreed vision of what a European identity represents, and this absence has left open the opportunity for multiple conflicting and contesting identities to grow in strength, producing the recent wave of Euroscepticism that has brought populist, nationalist political parties to the fore and produced consequences such as the UK’s Brexit vote in June 2016. To better understand the new European context and the direction that European integration (or disintegration) will take in the coming years, based on this wave of Euroscepticism, it is essential to understand how European citizens view themselves in relation to their national identity, to any regional or transnational identity, and to any sense of a European identity.

         While we are indeed witnessing the resurgence of nationalism and a turn away from cosmopolitanism, identity is rarely a binary either/or decision and is instead multi-layered, for which reason it is also useful to research the emergence of transnational groupings or “multiple Europes” to inform the analysis of the current identity crisis. Specifically, this interdisciplinary bibliography provides a good starting point for the study of identity formation within Europe and the different factors involved, including imagined communities, nationalism, Europeanisation, cosmopolitanism, globalisation, transnationalism, post-nationalism, multiple Europes and the role of collective memory in identity.


Anderson, Benedict. Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso, 1983.

Political historian Benedict Anderson’s critically acclaimed 1983 book is an essential component of any study of nationalism or national identity, as it pioneered the modernist theory of nation-states as socially constructed ‘imagined communities’, whose members will never all meet each other face-to-face, yet still manage to imagine a sense of shared national identity and loyalty to that national community. Almost all subsequent literature on nationalism builds upon or references this seminal work. Furthermore, the book holds particular relevance to my research as the theory is based upon analysis of the historical construction of European nations, attributing importance to the advent of the printing press and the rise of literacy and vernacular languages. In this way, in addition to its theoretical framework, Anderson’s book can also inform my research by providing a historical overview that can help explain the status quo of identity in Europe.

Keywords: cultural studies, globalisation, history, imagined communities, nationalism


Assmann, Aleida. “Transformations between history and memory.” Social Research 75, no. 1 (2008): 49-72.

In the relatively nascent field of memory studies, cultural anthropologist Aleida Assmann is a respected figure, considered an expert in cultural and collective memory. This article provides a critical overview of the various theoretical frameworks in the field of collective memory and explains the role that collective memory plays in linking history to identity, with a particular focus on national memory, making it a useful text for the study of nationalism and identity. To do this, Assmann draws from her own theories and a wide range of well-known and recognisable sources to balance and lend her arguments credibility. She also calls for historians to approach collective memory differently and question the implications of a selective memory on identity formation, for example by investigating changes over time in history textbooks. Her critical approach and broad overview makes this article an excellent introduction to identity formation studies as seen from a historical perspective and is therefore relevant to my research into European identity formation. (Read my critical review of this article here).

Keywords: collective memory, history, identity, mnemohistory, narratives


Beck, Ulrich, and Ciaran Cronin. “The European Crisis in the context of Cosmopolitization.” New Literary History 43, no. 4 (2012): 641- 663.

World-renowned sociologist Ulrich Beck was particularly noted for his critique of methodological nationalism and his work in the field of cosmopolitanism, specifically within a European context. In this article he asserted the relevance of cosmopolitization as a suitable lens through which to analyse the current crisis in Europe, presenting it as a research programme to study the reality, in contrast with cosmopolitanism as a normative theory. The author further defined cosmopolitization by placing the concept in the context of transnationalism and globalisation and applying it to Europe and Europeanisation through numerous examples. Identifying the current identity crisis in Europe, characterised by a turn away from cosmopolitanism and a return to nationalism, his analysis concludes with the proposal of four solutions for a contrat social to avoid the catastrophe threatening Europe, building on Rousseau’s 1762 Social Contract. Precisely because this work addresses so many relevant philosophies of identity and proposes four tangible solutions to the current crisis, it is a valuable source for my analysis of the future direction of European (dis)integration.

Keywords: cosmopolitization, Europe, Europeanisation, globalisation, transnationalism


Bekemans, Léonce. Chapter 3: “Identity-building in Europe.” In Globalisation vs Europeanisation: A Human-centric Interaction, 63-74. Brussels: PIE-Peter Lang, 2013.

Within his interdisciplinary book on the relation between globalisation and Europeanisation, economist Bekemans’ third chapter tackles the topic of identity-building. Through explaining three available models of identity-building in Europe (of cultures, citizens and encounters) and providing a historical overview of the EU’s approach to identity through treaties and legal texts, he reaches the conclusion that there is a need for more political consensus across Europe and increased democratic participation of the European population. He claims that this would give legitimacy to the EU and inspire loyalty and a shared identity among its citizens, embodied by common values and principles. Furthermore, he supports cosmopolitanism as a solution for Europe, which would fulfil the motto of ‘unity in diversity’ by promoting the equality of ‘unity’ while recognising the differences of ‘diversity’. This chapter’s focus on the actual treaties and texts of the EU is an interesting perspective to identity and his practical solution is of great relevance to my particular research into the future direction of Europe.

Keywords: cosmopolitanism, European integration, EU treaties, globalisation, identity-building


Boatcă, Manuela. “Multiple Europes and the Politics of Difference Within.” World and Knowledge Otherwise 3, no. 3 (2013).

This article by sociologist Manuela Boatcă tracks the geopolitical origins of the multiple Europes found today, which she classes into three hierarchical categories: decadent Europe, heroic Europe and epigonal Europe. To reach this classification she cites classic works by Samuel Huntington (1993), Edward Said (1979) and Immanuel Wallerstein (1979), which address Orientalism and Eurocentrism, and she analyses the impact of these geopolitical, religious and cultural boundaries on the identity discourse in these multiple Europes, with particular focus on the epigonal Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This classification of the different Europes is of particular value to my research, as it informs how different transnational populations within Europe view European identity through different lenses, and how their attitudes towards Europeanness are influenced by geopolitical inequalities. While Boatcă is not yet a recognised or definitive authority on the this subject, making reference to the essential theories mentioned above strengthens her arguments and makes this a worthwhile text to include in my research.

Keywords: Eurocentrism, Europe, geopolitics, identity politics, Orientalism



Delanty, Gerard, and Chris Rumford. Chapter 3: “Is there a European identity?” In Rethinking Europe: Social theory and the implications of Europeanization, 50-80. London: Routledge, 2005.

This chapter provides an overview of the Europeanisation of identity in the context of cosmopolitanism and post-nationalism, specifically regarding the objectives of and the implications for the European Union. Sociologist Delanty and political scientist Rumford critically analyse the idea of a European collective identity as presented in the post-liberal, constructed motto of ‘unity in diversity’ and they evaluate the relationship between unity and diversity in four different theoretical arguments. Their conclusion that the challenge for the development of a ‘thin’ and ‘fluid’ European identity is not cultural, but rather political, and should be rooted in the European emphasis on socialism, which they demonstrate by comparison to the capitalism of the United States. This primarily theoretical analysis of European identity highlights the role of EU policy and treaties in the evolution of European self-understanding and complements other evidence-based studies included in my research.

Keywords: collective identity, culture, EU policy, Europeanisation, politics


Risse, Thomas. Chapter 2: “Multiple Europes: The Europeanization of Citizens’ Identities.” In Community of Europeans?: Transnational Identities and Public Spheres, 37-62. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.

While international relations scholar Risse’s entire book is of relevance for the subject of European identity, chapter 3 regarding Europeanisation of identity is particularly useful because of its basis on empirical data from Eurobarometer surveys. Risse argues that a collective European identity does exist and demonstrates a convincing statistical correlation between inclusive or exclusive nationalism and support for or opposition against European integration. Analysing models of multiple identities and the causal factors of this cleavage leads him to identify two distinct Europes: firstly the political Europe of the EU, favoured by inclusive nationalists; and secondly the cultural vision of Europe defined by the othering of non-Europe, favoured by exclusive nationalists. This practical approach at the level of citizens’ identities complements the many theoretical studies included in my research. For this reason Risse’s empirical study is a useful tool in addressing the current identity crisis unravelling at the level of the citizen and in assessing the subsequent impact on the direction of European (dis)integration.

Keywords: European integration, Europeanisation, identity, imagined community, nationalism


Stråth, Bo. “A European identity to the historical limits of a concept.” European Journal of Social Theory 5, no. 4 (2002): 387-401. 

Historian Bo Stråth’s work on the history of European integration has produced this useful overview of the historical development of European identity, which emphasises the role of demarcation and othering of non-Europe in its formation. However, while this is interesting, what really makes this article stand out is Stråth’s critical analysis of European identity in recent decades as a fiction and an ideologically loaded concept or discourse used in a political agenda for integration, rather than as a true expression of an imagined community. He argues that the term ‘identity’ is no longer suitable in the current crisis and he proposes a new, more open conceptualisation that is less Eurocentric, less exclusive and less dependent on the othering of non-Europe. This idea of identity as an outdated concept will be a valuable counterbalance to other theories on identity I am consulting in my research.

Keywords: Europe, heritage, history, identity, the other


White, Hayden. Chapter 2: “The Discourse of Europe and the Search for a European Identity.” In Europe and the Other and Europe as the Other, edited by Bo Stråth, 67-86. Brussels: PIE-Peter Lang, 2000.

Bo Stråth’s selection of essays on European identity, from various authors, aims to illustrate the complexities and contradictions of the concept of European identity. This very interesting chapter by American historian of literary criticism, Hayden White, offers a critical and controversial critique of the very ascription of identity to any concept. He applies Roland Barthes’ 1967 theory of semiotics from The Fashion System to the process of European identification, analysing in turn the role of history, science and tradition in the attempt to search for an identity. Particularly interesting are his arguments that no such European identity exists to be found, that it can only be constructed by discourse; and his critique of the very motives behind this search for an identity, as a means to forget and mask the dark, anti-Semitic episode of the 20th century and instead invent a new, more noble identity for Europe. While his chapter does not tackle the current challenges of the identity crisis in Europe, it offers a novel perspective on the very process of European identification that the other sources in my research lack.

Keywords: discourse, history, identity, language, semiotics


Wodak, Ruth, and Salomi Boukala. “European identities and the revival of nationalism in the European Union: A discourse historical approach.” Journal of Language and Politics 14, no. 1 (2015): 87-109.

While several of my other sources focus on the historical development of European identity over time, this article written by two scholars of political discourse, Wodak and Boukala, as recently as 2015 provides a more up-to-date analysis of the current context, specifically citing migration and the economy as the two key factors at the centre of the political debate. Through a Discourse-Historical Approach to two political speeches, by Geert Wilders and David Cameron, they consider the way these two themes emphasise “us” and “them” distinctions and the subsequent impact this has on discursive constructions of European identities. While the concept of Othering is dealt with by various sources in this bibliography, this article adds an alternative disciplinary perspective from critical discourse analysis, which is of increasing relevance given the current climate of European elections and referendums. Expanding my research into this discipline and drawing on different methodologies in this way introduces more varied angles into my research.

Keywords: discourse historical approach, European identity, national identity, nationalism, politics


This annotated bibliography was written in January 2017 for an academic skills course called ‘Eurocompetence I’ , completed as part of the University of Groningen’s Master’s degree in Euroculture: European Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context. It also serves as a preparatory literature review ahead of a research paper I am currently writing on the topic of identity in Europe.

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