Research Project:

E Pluribus Unum? Ethnic Identities in Transnational Processes of Integration in the Americas

Our focus as fellows in the research group 2008/2009 “E Pluribus Unum?” at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (Center for Interdisciplinary Research)is on religious identity politics. One goal of this cooperative project is to conceptualize a model of a “field of identity politics” with which the central operating methods of transnationally organized, ethnic and religious identity politics can be explained.

Direction: Sebastian Thies (Bielefeld), Josef Raab (Duisburg-Essen), Olaf Kaltmeier (Bielefeld)

This research group will explore (contemporary) constructions and uses of ethnicity in North, Central and South America against the background of intensifying transnationalism. Ethnicity will be examined in this inter-American context as a factor in positioning Self and Not-Self and as cultural capital. An important goal of this project is to refine Pierre Bourdieu's model of "field" and to apply it to identity politics in the Americas.

The age of globalization has spawned a renewed focus on political and cultural negotiations in what one might call with Bourdieu the field of identity politics. This development manifests itself throughout the American hemisphere: new indigenous movements have contested post-colonial forms of political representation in Ecuador and Bolivia; the debates on ecological consequences of industrialization and on intellectual property rights have put indigenous groups from the Amazonian region on international agendas; large numbers of people have been mobilized for and against immigration reform in the U.S.; and so-called "ethnic minorities" may decide the current electoral process in the United States. Academic debates on identity politics have shifted from assumptions of a "post-ethnic" age to the foregrounding of ethnically defined communities.

This renewed focus on ethnic identity demonstrates the need for a comprehensive and interdisciplinary model of analysis that incorporates the complexity of identity constructions in the context of transnational integration. The Research Group aims to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of key factors in the field of identity politics, of the changing semantics of ethnicity, as well as of the cultural practices of identity construction. How are identity-shaping strategies and discourses translated into everyday practices and how do social elites, political institutions, businesses, the media, and agents of civil society mediate between local, national, and transnational horizons of interaction?

It will be the goal of the opening conference in October 2008 to evaluate and further develop the suggested approach of identity politics. Between October 2008 and July 2009 four project phases will explore different areas of the topic, focusing (I) on theoretical foundations of the field of identity politics, (II) the role of media, (III) on urban spaces, and (IV) on strategies of ethnic identification. Four workshops and a concluding conference will apply the group's findings toward reshaping or differentiating the initial theoretical assumptions.

Team / Cooperations:

Heinrich Schäfer, Adrián Tovar

In cooperation with:

State of NRW through the ZiF


Schäfer: „Identität als Netzwerk. Ein Theorieentwurf am Beispiel religiöser Bewegungen im Bürgerkrieg Guatemalas.A In: Berliner Journal für Soziologie Bd. 15, 2005, Nr. 2, S. 259-282. [Download PDF]