Cultural identity

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Under cultural identity refers to the sense of belonging of an individual or a social group at a particular cultural collective .

This can be a society , a certain cultural milieu or a subculture . Identity is created by the idea of ​​being culturally different from other individuals or groups, i.e. in a certain number of socially or historically acquired aspects such as language , religion , nation , values , customs and traditions or in other aspects of the living environment . The individual worldviews that shape a cultural orientation are heterogeneous and can certainly contradict one another.

Cultural identity thus arises from the discursive construction of what is “one's own”, which is evoked by the opposition to a real or merely imagined “other”. This process is strongly characterized by feelings, with one's own feeling of security, security and home.

In the face of the “other” or the “foreign”, which is often only defined as such in the process of identity formation ( othering ) , non-perception, insecurity, aversion and even hatred can develop. When a group suffers oppression , exploitation , marginalization or discrimination , the collective identity can give them the potential to assert themselves. In contrast, especially in traditional societies, cultural identity is expressed in an unquestioned identification with the existing order.

According to George Herbert Mead, cultural identity presupposes the willingness to internalize the attitude of one's own group, to direct the norms and values ​​of the community against oneself as well, and to take a responsibility that the collective formulates "onto one's own shoulders" and oneself to commit to the other community members. The individual is integrated into this cultural identity through socialization or enculturation .

The term came from the " cultural turn " in the social sciences reinforced in use and is very often conflicts between members of different cultural identities connotations , such as the defense of attempts a majority culture, a minority culture to dominate or assimilate . Efforts by traditional societies to strengthen their cultural identity despite adopting modern cultural elements are known as indigenization . When ethnic groups that have already largely been assimilated revive traditional elements and their ethnic identity and re- integrate them into their culture in a modified form, one speaks of re-indigenization .

Formation of cultural identities through codes

The Israeli sociologist Shmuel N. Eisenstadt and his German colleague Bernhard Giesen differentiate the formation of cultural (group) identities through four types of codes with increasing levels of reflection:

  • In the first, the primordial codes, group membership is seen as natural.
  • In the second group of codes, cultural identity is based on traditions and myths of origin.
  • The third group, which Delanty calls cultural codes, relates to religious or transcendental benchmarks such as God , reason or the idea of progress .
  • In the fourth group, the aforementioned codes would be criticized and broken; instead of myths , traditions or metaphysical ideas, social and cultural content of everyday life such as taste, material values ​​or privileges would come to the fore.

The British sociologist Gerard Delanty adds a fifth and final group of identity-forming codes, which he calls discursivity. Here, the strong exclusions that went along with the aforementioned codes would be withdrawn in the sense of a democratic awareness that the process of identity creation would be transparent and reflected.

Dimensions and levels of cultural identity

In 2002, the Dortmund political scientist Thomas Meyer set up a model of how cultural identities can be structurally distinguished from one another and examined empirically . He differentiates between three "basic styles of civilization", namely

Meyer leaves the question open whether there is such a thing as a right of existence for traditional cultures with their clans, families, ancestors, myths and gods, or just a right of individuals to cultural self-determination.

Across these styles of civilization, he diagnoses three different levels of possible values ​​and habits that can come together to form cultural identities:

  • the level of personal truths of faith and metaphysical meaning (ways of believing)
  • the level of everyday cultural lifestyles, from table manners and forms of living to work ethics (ways of life)
  • the level of socio-political community values, such as the question of how justice, freedom or security are defined in a culture and what significance they have (“ways of living together”) .

Theories on cultural contact

Since cultural identity can only be perceived in contrast to other cultural identities, cultural contacts are of great importance to them. These contacts, which are often conflictual, can be divided into three groups:

Cultural contact within a society

A dominance of the majority culture over that of the minority can often be observed here, in which the minority culture is discriminated against . On the one hand, this disadvantage can consist of exclusion or marginalization , e.g. B. in the ghettoization of Jews in the Middle Ages or in the apartheid regime in South Africa . The minority culture typically reacts to its marginalization by developing a defiantly proud cultural “resistance identity”. The Zionism or the South African Black Consciousness movement are examples. There can also be a self-exclusion of the minority culture in a parallel society, as is accused of some Turks living in Germany .

On the other hand, the discrimination can also consist in the fact that the majority culture wants to undo the cultural difference of the minority and puts pressure on assimilation. The affected minority usually uses all means to defend itself against such abandonment of its own cultural identity (see, for example, the school strike in Wreschen , with which the Poles fought against the Prussian ban on their language in religious education from 1901 to 1904).

Positive examples of the successful integration of minorities without giving up their own cultural identity or of the peaceful cross-fertilization of two cultures are relatively rare in the past and present. The Caliphate of Cordoba is often mentioned here , where there was great tolerance towards Jews and Christians who, as dhimmas , nevertheless had to pay a special tax. The situation is similar with Sicily under the rule of the Normans and under Emperor Frederick II , where the tolerance towards Jews and Muslims seems remarkable, especially in relation to other medieval practices of oppression. The frequently cited example of the US melting pot , in which the numerous immigrants in the 19th century would have been culturally fused with the citizens who have lived in the USA for generations, can also be seen with a view to the discrimination against non- Protestants of the second wave of immigration since the 1880s (especially Italians, Irish, Poles and Jews) are no longer fully maintained.

The American psychologist John W. Berry developed a scheme for the various forms of cultural contact within a society and the acculturation that goes with it, defined by the questions of whether the minority group wants / should maintain its own culture or not and whether any form of contact between the majority and minority or not: If both questions are answered with yes, Berry speaks of integration . Contact is desirable, but no retention of cultural identity, from assimilation . If contact is not desired, but the minority group is allowed to maintain its culture, segregation . Neither one nor the other is allowed, from marginalization or exclusion .

The coexistence of people of different cultural identities is currently being discussed under the heading of a multicultural society . Scientists such as Bassam Tibi and politicians such as Norbert Lammert question the desirability of such a society, since the equality of all cultural identities is seen as a relativism of values and a devaluation of one's own majority or dominant culture . It is also criticized that in a multicultural society the different groups would live side by side, so that parallel societies would develop. In 1992, the philosopher Wolfgang Welsch suggested the concept of a transcultural society , whose members develop their cultural identities through diverse contacts, but remain aware of the “foreign” parts of their identity concept.

Cultural contact through expansion after Urs Bitterli

Here the Swiss historian Urs Bitterli differentiates between cultural contact, cultural clash and cultural relationship, using the example of European expansion in the early modern period .

He understands cultural contact to be the mostly superficial (initial) contacts between the colonizers and the indigenous population . They were often peaceful, for example with the exchange of gifts or small business transactions, and initially had little influence on the cultural identity of either side. The Europeans brought with them a clear idea of ​​both themselves as culturally superior and of the people they met: They were either idealized as “ noble savages ” or demonized as “ cannibals ”.

Bitterli describes the violent suppression of indigenous cultures as a cultural clash , which occurred wherever Europeans encountered civilizations that were not technically equally strong. The cultural contact regularly turned into violence when the representatives of the indigenous culture felt that their way of life and their property were threatened by the attempts at mission and the pursuit of gainful employment of the Europeans. The Europeans regularly subjected the indigenous people to slavery or other forms of forced labor. Cultural misunderstandings also contributed to the fact that the initial trust and respect for the Europeans was quickly lost.

According to Bitterli, cultural relationships , i.e. a reciprocal relationship of give and take, were only possible when Europeans met civilizations of equal strength. In such a power-political stalemate, as it has long prevailed with the Islamic culture, with India and China, the relations between the two sides existed in an enriching exchange and showed in trade , but also in cultural influence in both directions, such as in the Jesuit mission in China , which in Europe faced a strong admiration for Chinese arts and crafts . Here, at least in the beginning, one can speak of mutual acculturation , that is, mutual cultural fertilization, enrichment and penetration.

Cultural encounter through global communication

In the age of globalization , the opportunities for cultural contacts are increasing rapidly, whether they take place via the media, world trade or tourism . Fewer and fewer parts of the world remain untouched by cultural contacts. In the competition between cultures that is made possible by this, the modern, economically successful and consumer-oriented cultures of the West , especially the USA, seem to be superior to other, more traditional cultures. The resulting threat to one's own cultural identity is criticized by both Muslim and European rights as cultural imperialism .

Cultural identity in the legal system

The legal system is faced with the task of adequately resolving the tension between the requirement of integration for an orderly coexistence and the preservation of their cultural identity in the case of foreigners living in the host or immigration country . The interests of the individual can be very different. A refugee or asylum seeker may feel closer to the host country than to his home country. On the other hand, employees of multinational corporations, foreign students, diplomats or other people who are willing to return will want to preserve their cultural identity as much as possible when assessing their highly personal matters. Many do not emigrate until they are adults, so that they are strongly influenced by their home law, especially in terms of their families.

When assessing such personal legal relationships that affect a natural person (personal status ), in particular legal capacity , the right to a name , legal capacity ( legal age) , incapacitation , a declaration of death , the requirements for marriage, the general effects of the marriage, the marital property regime , the right of divorce , the right of maintenance , the right of parentage , custody , adoption or legal succession due to death , the question arises whether the law of the permanent place of residence where the foreigner is to integrate or the law of the state to which the foreigner belongs , is preferable. This decision is up to private international law .

Many classic immigration countries , such as the USA or Australia, tie in with the law of permanent residence (domicile), which considerably increases the integration pressure on foreigners. In particular, this forces us to adopt the values ​​and laws of the immigration country in family matters too. Germany has decided to make the personal statute subject to the law of the state to which the foreigner belongs. This also applies if the home state continues to refer to religious law. This achieves a much more far-reaching preservation of the cultural identity. German authorities and courts only take corrective action if the regulations of the home state are incompatible with German values ​​( public policy reservation).


The notion of cultural identity is the mid-1990s in connection with the controversy over the 1996 published book The Clash of Civilizations ( The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order ) of the US political scientist Samuel P. Huntington come under criticism. Huntington advocated the thesis that world politics after the end of the Cold War was no longer determined by political, ideological or economic disputes, but by conflicts between members of different “ cultural groups ”. Especially in times of globalization, the need to differentiate oneself from others, i.e. to emphasize one's own cultural identity, is growing ever stronger. Huntington identified six cultural groups with their respective core states, namely China , Japan , the Slav - orthodox space with Russia , India , the Islamic States and the Western world . The center of each of these cultures is a series of fundamental values ​​that are fundamentally incompatible with one another. This would make conflicts between them - a real “clash of civilizations” - inevitable.

The events of September 11, 2001 with the subsequent wars on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the second Intifada since 2000, were variously interpreted as evidence of Huntington's thesis, as they were interpreted as a global struggle by the Western against Islamic culture.

The objection to Huntington's thesis is that, in the sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy, it first brings about the fight, since attempts to achieve a peaceful coexistence of different cultures would be presented as hopeless from the outset. The political scientist Thomas Meyer also shows that the differences in the assessment of various basic problems such as avoidance of uncertainty, inequality or individualism are greater between different Islamic countries than with individual countries from other cultures. The concept of a unified cultural identity of states and groups of states, on which Huntington's thesis is based, thus ignores reality:

“The ideology of the clash of cultures due to irreconcilable differences in their basic social values ​​is not confirmed in the empirical data. On the contrary: Cross-cultural similarities and overlaps can be seen between all cultures. The lines of conflict that are rooted in the matter run rather in the cultures. "

The Indian Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen argues similarly against Huntington's notions of conflicts that arise from differences in cultural identity:

"A person can be an American citizen, of Caribbean origin with African ancestry, Christian, liberal, woman, vegetarian, long-distance runner, heterosexual, tennis fan, etc. without any contradictions."

People are “different in different ways”: The concept of cultural identity is therefore not suitable for making predictions about the behavior of culturally defined collectives.

See also

Portal: Migration and Integration  - Articles, categories and more on migration and flight, intercultural dialogue and integration



  1. ^ Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, Bernd Giesen: The Construction of Collective Identity . In: Archives européennes de sociologie. 36 (1995), pp. 72-102.
  2. ^ Gerard Delanty: Inventing Europe: Idea, Identity, Reality. MacMillan, London 1995.
  3. ^ Thomas Meyer: Parallel Society and Democracy . In: the same and Reinhard Weil (ed.): The civil society. Perspectives for citizen participation and citizen communication . Dietz, Bonn 2002, pp. 343–372, quoted from Political Culture and Cultural Pluralism on the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung website , accessed on July 19, 2020.
  4. ^ Friedrich Heckmann : Ethnic minorities, people and nation. Sociology of Inter-Ethnic Relations . Ferdinand Enke Verlag, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-432-99971-2 , p. 49 f. (accessed via De Gruyter Online), p. 200 ff. and others; Petra Aigner : Migration Sociology. An introduction . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2017, p. 96 ff.
  5. Manuell Castells : The Power of Identity . Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2002.
  6. ^ Klaus J. Bade : Migration, integration and cultural diversity: historical experiences and current challenges , Cologne 2007; Haci-Halil Uslucan : People of Turkish origin in Germany. Homeless or at home everywhere? . In: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 11-12 (2017), accessed both times on July 19, 2020.
  7. Robert Spät: The “Polish Question” in the Public Discussion in the German Empire 1894-1918 . Herder Institute, Marburg 2014, pp. 61–80.
  8. Richard Fletcher: An elephant for Charlemagne. Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2005, pp. 52–60.
  9. Gunther Wolf : Kaiser Friedrich II. And the Jews. An example of the influence of the Jews on medieval intellectual history. In: Paul Wilpert (Ed.): Judaism in the Middle Ages. Contributions to the Christian-Jewish conversation . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1966, ISBN 9-783-11084-215-9, pp. 435-441; Hubert Houben : Emperor Friedrich II. (1194-1250). Ruler, man, myth . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2008, p. 156.
  10. ^ Susan J. Dicker: Languages ​​in America. A pluralist view . 2nd edition, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon / Buffalo / Toronto / Sydney 2003, ISBN 1-85359-651-5 , pp. 38-45 (accessed from De Gruyter Online).
  11. John Berry and David Sam: Acculturation and Adaptation. In: the same, Marshall Segall and Cigdem Kagitcibasi: Handbook of Cross-Cultural Psychology , Vol .: Social Behavior and Applications. Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights 1997, pp. 291-326.
  12. Bassam Tibi: Europe without Identity? Leading culture or arbitrary values. The crisis of the multicultural society. btb, Munich 2000.
  13. Interview: "Parliament has no monopoly on discussions". The new President of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert on the competition from talk shows and the loss of reputation in politics. In: The time . October 20, 2005, accessed May 14, 2010.
  14. ^ Wolfgang Welsch: Transculturality. Life forms after the dissolution of cultures. In: Information Philosophy. (1992), No. 2, pp. 5-20.
  15. Urs Bitterli: Old World - New World. Forms of European-overseas cultural contact from the 15th to the 18th century . CH Beck, Munich 1986, p. 17 ff.
  16. Urs Bitterli: The native in the world view of the Age of Enlightenment . In: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 53, Heft 2 (1971), pp. 249–263 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  17. Urs Bitterli: Old World - New World. Forms of European-overseas cultural contact from the 15th to the 18th century . CH Beck, Munich 1986, p. 200.
  18. ^ Abu Sadat Nurullah: Globalization as a Challenge to Islamic Cultural Identity . In  The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences: Annual Review 3, Issue 6 (2008), pp. 45–52; Roland Eckert : Cultural homogeneity and aggressive intolerance. A Critique of the New Right . In: From Politics and Contemporary History 44 (20107), accessed on July 19, 2020.
  19. ^ Karl Firsching, Bernd von Hoffmann: International Private Law. 5th edition, CH Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-42440-6 , § 5 Rn. 5 (JuS series of publications, no. 18).
  20. Also on the following see Samuel Huntington, Fouad Ajami et al .: The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate . Foreign Affairs (1996).
  21. Thomas Meyer: What is fundamentalism? An introduction . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2011, p. 92.
  22. Amartya Sen: The Identity Trap: Why There Is No War of Cultures . CH Beck, Munich 2007, p. 8 ff.