An international conference on national stereotyping and cultural identities took place in Trinity this week. “The conference sought to investigate crucial cultural dimensions behind recent European crises. It aimed to interpret and critique these crisis discourses, to assess their impact, and to consider counter strategies,” explained conference organiser, Professor of German, Jürgen Barkhoff.
The conference was a flagship event of Trinity College Dublin’s interdisciplinary Research Theme, ‘Identities in Transformation’. It was organised in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Working Group of the Coimbra Group, a pan-European network of leading and long-standing European research universities, of which Trinity College is a member.
Serious economic, political, and societal crises have shaken Europe in recent years. Within these, and contributing to them, politicians, journalists, and other commentators across Europe have revived, revitalised, and instrumentalised deeply engrained and predominantly divisive patterns of national stereotyping. These patterns can be equally observed in Brexit and the financial crisis, in the Ukraine conflict, in anxieties and controversies around increased migration, and in the rise of populist neo-national parties and movements.
The Chair of European Studies and Modern European Literature, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Professor Joep Leerssen in his keynote address analysed the historic and anthropological roots of our fear of the cosmopolitan and the migrant by discussing the opposition between the ideal of a bounded house-space as the locus of sheltered domestic life and an unstable, nomadic existence
Narratives of culture clash and conflict such as the North-South divide, the East-West conflict, or the antagonism between Catholicism and Protestantism can be traced back to political and cultural fault lines going back centuries, or even millennia. They draw on historical myth, cultural memories, constructed self- and hetero-images, perceived and projected behavioural patterns, alleged cultural identities and stereotypes of national characteristics.
Experts from fourteen countries across Europe interrogated the uses and abuses of stereotypes and narratives of othering in crisis discourse through analytic approaches from fields as varied as cultural history, international relations, political science, translation studies and literary analysis. The critical methodologies and historic perspectives of experts from a variety of disciplines offer a deeper understanding of the cultural roots of such discursive instruments of cultural and political crisis as well as new insights into their application.
The keynote speakers at the conference included leading international pioneers in their respective disciplines: Ruth Wodak in Critical Discourse Analysis, Stefan Berger in Historiography, Wulf Kansteiner in Cultural Memory Studies and Joep Leerssen in Imagology.