Negotiating National Identities (Research in Migration and Ethnic Relations Series)

Karner, Christian
Ashgate, Aldershot
9780754676386 (hb)

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Cover of book Christian Karner's Negotiating National Identities is, in essence, a photo album. Through a collection of snapshots Karner takes us through contemporary Austria and its various discourses on national identities in the context of political, social, cultural and economic globalisation. Although primarily a case study of modern day Austria, the identity negotiations outlined can easily be applied to other countries and contexts.

Applying a discourse analytical research design, analysing national and international media across the political spectrum, Karner acknowledges right-wing tendencies within Austrian society. However, and in opposition to the perception of a nationalist revival, Karner challenges the notion that "a nation is a collective with shared psychic properties" (p. 9). Moreover, Karner argues that Austria's national identities are subject to what he calls 'pluralistic counterpublics', or ongoing negotiations involving competing visions of social order, alternative interpretations of history and delineations of a national self.

Each chapter focuses on a different field of identity negotiations, for example national symbols (chapter 2), the relationship between the nation-state and the European Union (chapter 3), or human rights and citizenship entitlements (chapter 5). At the beginning of each chapter Karner briefly introduces the theoretical context, then goes on to identify the different prevalent discourses in this field and proceeds to leave the Austrian context to show if and how these identity negotiations are manifest in other European nation states.

Regarding self-other relationships and migration policy, he identifies instrumentalism as the now dominant discourse, in which 'desirable' immigration is being defined as bringing benefits to the nation (such as skills, taxes, etc.) - a discourse that "leaves little room for ethical considerations on a universalist understanding of human rights" (p. 186). The prevalent discourse of instrumentalism is being challenged, however, by integrationist discourses, but also by conviviality and syncretism, for which Karner finds a significant number of examples in the Austrian press.

One of the book's few weaknesses lies in the applied method of discourse analysis. Chapter 3, for example, aims to offer an understanding of how ordinary citizens make sense of recent developments and crises. In order to do so, the author offers a lengthy analysis of readers' letters of the Kronen Zeitung, Austria's biggest newspaper, a populist tabloid leaning very much to the political right. The chapter offers a good description of the dynamics of discursive chains like 'crime-immigration-open borders-EU'. While this analysis is interesting, the question remains as to how far a detailed analysis of readers' letters of a single newspaper is able to produce valuable insights into prevalent discourses in a given society or in how far this constitutes a too 'impressionistic' approach. (cf. Stubbs 1997, Widdowson 1998). The author himself admits that the readers' letters are only part of the picture and that a "wider and accurate understanding of contemporary Austria demands broader contextualization." (93)

In this context, the volume would have benefited from an even broader corpus of different media. For example, chapter 7 examines migrants' self-definition and self-portrayal, but intra-group debates are almost entirely missing from the description. While magazines such as the Austro-Turkish Yeni Vatan or the Austro-Polish Polonika are mentioned, none of these magazines are analysed in detail.

In summary, Negotiating National Identities offers an insight into the multitude of voices that take part in the discursive negotiation of national identities and identifies how globalization and the anxieties it produces have the ability to turn previously taken-for granted cultural meanings into varied ideological positions. In this sense, the volume has relevance far beyond the Alpine Republic and is of interest not only to researchers in the field of Austrian/German/European studies, but to anyone working in the field of national discourse analysis.

Dan Jendrissek
University of Southampton


STUBBS, M. (1997) Whorf's children: Critical comments on critical discourse analysis. In A. Ryan & A. Wray (eds.), Evolving models of language. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 100-116.

WIDDOWSON, H. (1998) The theory and practice of Critical Discourse Analysis. Applied Linguistics 19 (1): 136-151.