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The Postnational SelfReview - The Postnational Self
Belonging and Identity
by Ulf Hedetoft and Mette Hjort (editors)
University of Minnesota Press, 2002
Review by Ludger Jansen, Dr. phil
Aug 28th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 35)

The Postnational Self is a collection that comes with a message: The age of the nation is over, whereas the postnational age is beginning to dawn. A nation, or so the editors set out in their introduction, is something where one feels at home, "a structured set of emotions and attitudes, shaped by an imagined oneness of political and prepolitical, contemporary and historical, rational and cosmological orientations" (xiv-xv). Our home, in turn, is "where we belong", with "belonging" separating in the two dimensions of "being" and "longing" (vii). In our days of globalization and "globality" (xv), of multiculturalism and internationalism, this conception is being challenged: emigrants are irritated by the otherness of their host-country, natives may be irritated by the otherness of immigrants.

As a result, "the organicism and essentialism of national identities are no longer just taken for granted" (xv). As John A. Halls puts it in his contribution to the volume: "Belonging needs to be reimagined because the world has changed." (53) People react with quite different strategies to this new situation: with revisions of the concept of a nation in civic, liberal or cosmological terms, but also with feelings of uprootedness or identity loss. Some react with the "construction of multiple homes and hybrid series of belonging", but others with "reaffirmations of old-style nationalism in nostalgic, secessionist, or 'new racist' forms" (xvi). As Seyla Benhabib puts it in her contribution, "global integration is proceeding alongside sociocultural disintegration and the resurgence of ethnic, nationalist, religious, and linguistic separatisms" (85). The situation is paradoxical in many respects. Not only is there a "resurgence of national identities in a global world" (3), but also a tendency that modern particularists increasingly employ universalistic arguments (invoking human rights etc.) to put forward their claims (140).

The chapters of the book explore these changes and the different reactions to them. The 15 authors and two editors come from a variety of academic fields, from international studies and sociology to social anthropology and comparative literature. They are all renown experts on the topics they write on, basing their contribution on broad research and scholarship. As varied as the authors' disciplines are there methods: some apply philosophical discussions, some report on their fieldwork, some discuss juridical or cultural developments.

The book divides into three parts. The first part, "Nationalism and Postnationality", contains chapters by Mark Juergensmeyer, Ray Taras, Philip Schlesinger, John A. Hall and Richard Jenkins. These contributions explore the broader political context of globalization (in the media, in economics, in professional collaboration), and how it effects identities. The chapters of the second part, "Self and Community", have been written by Seyla Benhabib, Riva Kastoryano, Yasemin Nuhoglu Soysal, James Tully, Michèle Lamont and Michael Herzfeld. They discuss the relationship between the political concept of citizenship and concepts like belonging and identity. Ulf Hannerz, Benjamin Lee, Orvar Löfgren and Jeffrey Herf contributed to the third part, "Images of Home, Belonging, and Exile". They explore topics like the relation between identity and space (Hannerz), the cultural history of the crossing of state borders (Löfgren), or the different strategies to cope with the Nazi-past in the two German states in the post-war era (Herf).

In the end, the collection itself proves that the use of the definite article in its title is mistaken: There is nothing like "the" postnational self, there are many of them. And, one might add, there are still national selves and also not-yet-national selves. The collection manages to present some of this richness. Plenty is left to be discovered.

 

© 2003 Ludger Jansen

 

Ludger Jansen, Dr. phil., Philosophisches Seminar, Universität Bonn, Germany


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