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Struggle over Identity

Nelly Bekus

Part VI. Cultural Manifestation versus Social Reification

Chapter 22. Two Approaches to the Politics of Identity

Texte intégral

  • 1 Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, 224.
  • 2 S. Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity, ed. J. Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wish (...)

1The question of the mechanism of internalization of national ideas in constructing people’s self-perception does not have a simple and single answer. Certainly, the language of political declarations, even if it is backed by the corresponding historical narratives, is insufficient for a formation of the national identity space. Following the path of distinguishing two different approaches to defining the “nation”—as a constructed entity or as a cultural whole—one can presume that these are also the ways to two strategies of identity formation. In the first case one can speak about the social reification strategy, which combines efforts of the educational system, press, and various civil rituals and social practices intended to establish close correlation between the state and the people via the “nation” as a concept of belonging. In the second case one can speak about the wide area of public and cultural representations through which the memories and myths from the past acquire “symbolical flesh and blood,” becoming a part of the mass consciousness, penetrating into the space of self-images and self-representations. As P. Bourdieu writes, “The fact that struggles over identity […] concern the imposition of perceptions and categories of perception helps to explain the decisive place which, like the strategy of the manifesto in artistic movements, the dialectic of manifestation or demonstration holds in all regionalists or nationalist movements.”1 As a matter of fact, both of these strategies imply the identity notion understood as a process, widely represented in theories of identity. “Instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, a representation.”2 Indeed, representations and manifestations of identity do not simply transmit patterns and ideas of self-perception, but rather constitute the process of identity’s symbolic reification.

  • 3 Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” Theory and Society 29 (2000): 1–8.
  • 4 Brubaker and Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” 5.
  • 5 Brubaker and Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” 5–6.

2Identity is understood here as a phenomenon that manifests itself in the collective and individual consciousness and actions. It is seen here as a “situationalist” phenomena, as a constantly changing construct produced by the interaction of a number of discourses and social practices. This approach can be described as “soft” in the sense defined by Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper.3 These authors understood identity not only as a category of analysis but also as a category of practice, by which they mean “categories of everyday social experience, developed and deployed by ordinary social actors.”4 As a category of practice it is “used by ‘lay’ actors in some everyday settings to make sense of themselves, of their activities, of what they share with, and how they differ from, others. It is also used by political entrepreneurs to persuade people to understand themselves, their interests, and their predicaments in a certain way, to persuade certain people that they are (for certain purposes) ‘identical’ with one another, at the same time, being different from others, and to organize and justify collective action along certain lines. In these ways the term ‘identity’ is implicated both in everyday life and in ‘identity politics’ in its various forms.”5

3To understand how the two concepts of Belarusianness as the basis for the national self-determination interact with the public consciousness, a comparison of the techniques that guarantee their participation in the practices of the identity formation is required. In fact one can state that how the project of social and cultural reification of a certain type of Belarusianness is realized largely determines the course of events in the country.

  • 6 Valer Bulgakau, Gistoria belaruskaga natsiianalizmu (Vilnius: Instytut Belarusistyki, 2006), 315–1 (...)

4The strategies of actualization of the alternative and the official Belarusianness are based on different principles of identity formation. The official Belarusianness is reified by numerous social practices on the microand the macro-levels of everyday life, in which the state is involved directly and indirectly. The alternative Belarusianness is represented by profound historical and political narratives supported by a number of cultural manifestations. These cultural manifestations provide an access of definite ideas to the public; that is, to those who are expected to become carriers of articulated and represented ideas. In this context, an analysis of cultural representations of the concepts of Belarusianness is actually an analysis of those cultural happenings and events that put definite ideas of the Belarusian nation, in its present and historical dimensions into the reality of the cultural practice. These cultural manifestations create the sphere of objectification, in which certain ideas and values are exposed to the public and can be experienced by an individual. In this perspective of the cultural project of the Belarusian nation the proponents of alternative Belarusianness criticize the Western strategy of support for Belarusian democracy. Bulgakau considers the Western way of political engineering “fatal” in relation to Belarus. “Instead of building the Belarusian nation, concentrating on the support of cultural projects, it was decided to organize a network of recourse centers throughout the country, with whose assistance, in the opinion of their founders, the public would be able to overcome the dictatorship in a short period of time.”6

5However, in Belarusian reality the influence of cultural manifestations of the alternative Belarusianness on Belarusians is limited by the oppositional policy and those cultural spheres where adherents of the alternative discourse of Belarusianness work. They have various instruments of public manifestation at their disposal. These are the independent press, the alternative cinema, music, Belarusian literature, youth clubs, and other spheres of subculture. All these kinds of cultural activity win over a certain number of people to the alternative Belarusianness. Their main “technical” deficiencies, however, are a disconnected event-trigger character and an irregular (sometimes, hardly any) access to the official public space. Several examples of public and cultural manifestations of the alternative Belarusianness have been chosen and are described below. These examples differ in scale and means of realization as well as in forms of existence in the cultural and public space. They are practically unrelated cultural projects or initiatives, each aimed at its own audience. Some of these cultural initiatives are openly engaged in political confrontation, others are outwardly neutral with respect to politics. The one thing that unites them is the availability of a definite ideology of Belarusianness, which does not agree with the official version of the national idea.


1 Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, 224.

2 S. Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity, ed. J. Rutherford (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222.

3 Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” Theory and Society 29 (2000): 1–8.

4 Brubaker and Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” 5.

5 Brubaker and Cooper, “Beyond Identity,” 5–6.

6 Valer Bulgakau, Gistoria belaruskaga natsiianalizmu (Vilnius: Instytut Belarusistyki, 2006), 315–16.

© Central European University Press, 2010

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