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Community and identity in late modernity: Part Five

By Mark Wegierski
web posted September 8, 2008

Multiculturalism is generally seen by liberals as an entirely benign phenomenon. But it could be seen as part of a complex of ideologies and pop-cultural trends that sometimes have less-than-benign effects. Some traditionalists would pointedly argue that most current-day Western societies tend to exalt anything and everything that would impede, as far as possible, decent, normal, relations between men and women of the majority population, and especially attack their prospects and possibilities of having any (or more than one or two) offspring. Some of these traditionalist critics might indeed argue that the life and flourishing of various minority communities and outlooks implies the undermining of the moral and physical coherence of the majority.

As a heuristic device to challenge both the Right and Left oversimplifications in the area of community, it would be helpful to put together an anthology from several persons from divergent groups "in search of identity" -- an anthology of writings by decent, intelligent people, searching for some sense of stable, meaningful identity in what is seen as today's increasingly fractured, dystopian world.

Among the theoretical questions that could be asked in a work of this type is the overlapping nature of ideological, religious, national, ethnic, regional, local, municipal, and "community" and "small-community" identities. One might think about identities such as nation and religion in conflict, e.g., historically-speaking, French Protestant, or English Roman Catholic. One might also examine what type of assimilationist pressures in a given society are to be seen as legitimate, and which are not. What degree of perceived loyalty or perceived adherence to symbols of loyalty is sufficient to be considered loyal members of the broader society? Is there usually a "mixture" of ideas that is generally acceptable? Do some stances and practices among groups like new immigrants have to be seen as highly questionable?

There is also the salient question of distinctly "modern"-seeming identities (for example, consumer tribes, hobby groups, the rainbow coalition) in counterpoise to more traditional categories like nation and religion.

One should also note the question of what is usually the great contrast between the identity of immigrants -- and of children of immigrants -- and how long can the line of succession actually continue? The identity of adult immigrants will almost always be set closer to that of their country of origin; whereas the children of immigrants are presumably more able to choose their identity.

Indeed, the numerous crosscurrents of types of identity possible today (e.g., ethnicity; "consumer-tribes"; hobby-groups; nothing beyond formal membership in a state, and so forth), might be seen as a distinctly "post-modern" phenomenon and problem. The large-scale immigration across the planet, which is one of the distinctive features of late modernity, creates a whole new set of issues for community/identity.

Some might see the use of community as a "nonvaluative" word – that is, not requiring the use of the term "community" to meet any coherent definitional standards -- as problematic. Some ultra-traditionalists would use the word community only in a strict sense (i.e., as one rooted in the received religion, land, consanguinity, and folkways). The use of the term in the sense, for example, of a "hobby-community" (rapport ludique; communauté ludique) would be highly questionable to them.

In regard to a person's sense of identity, especially in the context of large urban agglomerations, one may notice different degrees of membership in different communities by the same person. A possible thumbnail sketch for someone might be divided by percentages. In trying to define issues of the saliency of a given aspect of one's identity, one could perhaps try to envision these like "voting-blocs" when a given person tries to make a decision. What constitutes a concrete "decision" for which the different facets of one's identity are brought to bear, would have to be defined, as well.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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