Working Paper 116

The Formation and Mobilization of Collective Identities in Situations of Conflict and Integration

Brian Donahoe, John Eidson, Dereje Feyissa, Veronika Fuest, Markus V. Hoehne, Boris Nieswand, Günther Schlee, Olaf Zenker

Department ‘Integration and Conflict’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 116

The authors propose a framework for the comparative analysis of collective identities and corresponding processes of identification. “Collective identities” are defined as representations containing normative appeals to potential respondents and providing them with the means of understanding themselves, or being understood, as members of a larger category or assemblage of persons. The term “processes of identification” refers to the ways in which actors respond to or engage with the appeals inherent in collective identities and to the combined effects of such responses or engagement. After a critical review of the secondary literature and brief comments on the social, cultural, and historical contexts of collective identities and processes of identification, the authors explicate the two central concepts and their interrelationship. Discussion of the concept of collective identity covers dimensions and markers of collective identity, the semantic relations among different collective identities within larger systems of classification, and the variable significance that collective identities may have for actors in diverse social situations and under changing circumstances. Processes of identification are examined in terms of three (sets of) concepts corresponding to major approaches in social and anthropological analysis: “structure and function, culture, and meaning”; “practice and power”; and “choice.” Rather than being mutually exclusive, the approaches based on these concepts throw identity variables into relief in different ways and to different degrees, and they highlight different processes of identification.

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