THE CORE |UNDERSTANDING EUROPE, UNDERSTANDING IDENTITY
The core of the Identities and Cultures of Europe course is made up of two compulsory modules that introduce students to the question of identity by providing them with a strong historical and theoretical grounding in identity issues in Europe and beyond. The core modules explore a range of key topics relating to notions of identity and their practical implications in European societies, including myth, the Enlightenment, otherness, nation-building, pan-Europeanism, social class, language, religion, gender, collective memory, performance, ecology, (post-)modernism, technology and the information age. The modules encourage reflection on, and engagement with, the question of identity on both a conceptual and empirical level, elucidating identity issues in a variety of contexts (cultural, linguistic, political, philosophical, historiographical, religious, ecological, etc.) and across different media (literature, film, theatre, museums, memorials, digital platforms, etc.).
The core modules are taught by a team of colleagues, each exploring a different identity-based core topic. The standard format for each topic includes an introductory seminar/lecture on the theoretical implications of the topic, followed by a seminar looking at case studies. (Core topics may vary from year to year, depending on staff availability and timetabling constraints.)
QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY IN EUROPE - PART 1 (Michaelmas Term)
This core module is taught in Michaelmas Term and consists of a range of core topics. The core topics for Michaelmas Term 2022 are the following:
Introduction: The Age of Identities (Dr Hannes Opelz)
This seminar serves as a general introduction to the core modules.
1. The Myth of Identity (Dr Hannes Opelz)
These seminars explores the question of identity through one of the most pervasive and enduring mechanisms applied in the West to construct and effectuate identities: myth. The seminar examines two contrasting but equally powerful accounts of the function of myth in Western societies: The Nazi Myth (1980; 1991) by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, and Prefigurations (1980; 2014) by Hans Blumenberg. In particular, the relationship between identity and myth is examined at the intersection of rhetoric, philosophy, anthropology and politics.
2. Nations and nationalism (Dr Balázs Apor)
These seminars focus on the construction and development of national identities in Europe in modern times with a particular emphasis on the homogenising aspects of modern nationalism. The two cases studies discussed in the framework of this topic address the constructed nature of national identities in the context of the Soviet Union, and the most extreme outcome of nationalism’s homogenising ambitions: genocide.
3. Intersectional identities beyond the State (Dr Catherine Barbour)
In these seminars we will engage with key debates in contemporary feminism and gender studies, drawing on the framework of intersectionality to examine how gender interacts with minoritized and non-state identities. In what ways are issues relating to language, nation, community and migration informed by discourses of gender? How do tensions between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ play out when interrogated through an intersectional feminist lens? If the nation is a heteropatriarchal construct, how do women writers envisage the collective imaginary, particularly in the context of minority languages and cultures? Our case studies consist of a range of texts written by women from Galicia, north-west Spain, a non-state nation where national identity is both highly contested and contentious.
4. My language is my home (Dr Rachel Hoare)
These seminars explore the connections between variation in language use and the construction, negotiation, maintenance and performance of identities at the level of the individual and the group at the intersection of the region and the nation. Examining a range of issues around the language/identity nexus, this core topic focuses on complex identity contexts and transnational identities in order to gain clearer insight into the identity-making and marking functions of language. The seminars draw upon a range of perspectives from social-psychology, sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology and social psychology.
5. Living the past (Prof Mary Cosgrove)
These seminars explore some of the core concepts in memory theory, such as collective memory, multidirectional memory, prosthetic memory, and post-memory. Taking as a case study the Holocaust memorial to the Jewish victims of National Socialism in Berlin, the seminars use theory to evaluate, first, how in recent years the memorial has been rejected by elements of the growing far right in Germany; and, second, to examine critical responses to this development. In this way, the seminars examine how the past gets instrumentalised for present political purposes, also connecting what is happening in Germany to larger shifts in contemporary transnational politics, culture, and memory of western democracies.For full details (including indicative bibliography), please consult the full module descriptor for Part 1 (ID7001).
QUESTIONS OF IDENTITY IN EUROPE - PART 2 (Hilary Term)
This core module is taught in Hilary Term and consists of a range of core topics. The core topics for Hilary Term 2023 are the following:
1. Who are they? (Dr Zuleika Rodgers)
These seminars address the discourse around the construct of group identity and the ‘other’ in European society. In particular, this core topic examines the politics of difference based on genealogy, geography and religion, exploring both ancient and modern examples of the phenomenon. After a theoretical and historical survey, Jews and Judaism are taken as a case study.
2. Are you postmodern? (Dr Radek Przedpelski)
These seminars examine cultural expression in a range of media (literary and popular fiction, cinema, visual arts and visual culture) through the theoretical lens of postmodernity. First, we explore concepts of postmodernism, looking at the work of key theoreticians, with particular focus on the emergence of the idea of the postmodern from the modernist movement in mid-late 20th century, as well as the points of intersection between postmodernism and postcolonial theory. Second, we focus on visual arts and visual culture, exploring various trends and media, including photography, street art, installation art and performance art. Discussion focuses on both ‘classic’ postmodern art of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as more recent problematics around technology and the posthuman. Finally, we look at cinema and film media, with a focus on features of recent cinema such as genre-blending, narrative disruption, polystylism and meta-reference.
3. What did Earth ever do for us? (Prof Michael Cronin)
The advent of human-induced climate change and the entry of humanity into the new geological era of the Anthropocene raises fundamental questions about the nature of what it is to be human in such radically altered circumstances. In these seminars, we explore the emergence of the concept of ‘transversal subjectivity’ (Braidotti) as a way of trying to think about new forms of human subjectivity in the context of the relationship to other animal species and to the world of the organic and inorganic elements in which humans are immersed. Questions of sustainability, resilience and biocultural diversity are also examined in the framework of changing paradigms of the human and post-human.
4. The Brain Identity (Dr Hannes Opelz)
These seminars explore some of the ways in which recent developments in neurobiology and philosophy are changing our understanding of human identity. The seminars examine a selection of works by contemporary philosopher Catherine Malabou, with a particular focus on her concept of plasticity. Key issues to be discussed are the ways in which brain plasticity relates to capitalism, trauma, and artificial intelligence.
5. The Gaia Science (Dr Hannes Opelz)
These seminars explore some of the ways in which the Gaia hypothesis – the theory that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating system that helps maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet – has been reshaping our notions of identity in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In particular, we will examine works by microbiologist Lynn Margulis and philosopher Emanuele Coccia, focusing on concepts of symbiosis and metamorphosis.
Conclusion: Beyond Identity (Dr Hannes Opelz)
This seminar serves as a conclusion to the core modules. It will also give students an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about the module, particularly in relation to their course work in the run-up to submission.For full details (including indicative bibliography), please consult the full module descriptor for Part 2 (ID7002).