Learning to belong : citizenship, schooling and national identity in contemporary Germany / by Cynthia Miller Idriss.
A new cultural formation of national belonging is emerging among young, working-class Germans, in which culture dominates biology in explanations of “who belongs” in Germany. Relying on ethnographic research conducted in three vocational schools in Berlin over 18 months in 2000–2002, including classroom observations, semi-structured interviews with students and teachers, and focus groups with students, I demonstrate that these students' cultural articulation of the nation radically redefines a dominant narrative of German national belonging based on “blood” or ethnic heritage. Despite the seeming openness to difference in these young people's constructions of national belonging, I find that the criteria for belonging are often ethnocentric, prejudiced, and in some cases, culturally racist. While most of these young Germans assert that anyone born in Germany is German, this belonging is predicated on cultural assimilation to a German “way of life.” In expressing resentment for the Mosque in the cityscape, for the “loudness” of foreigners on the subway, or for the cultural practice of hijab , these young people demonstrate exclusionary views and behaviors. Schools and teachers, unprepared for this form of national chauvinism, miss culture's significance in their efforts to address national identity or xenophobia. Teachers' efforts are further complicated by the persistence of another dominant narrative about German national belonging, which is characterized by a pervasive collective shame. As a consequence of the Holocaust and an accompanying anti-nationalist consensus invalidating national pride as a legitimate expression of national belonging, young people wind up conceiving their nation in terms that often make the radical right wing seem attractive. By limiting space for rethinking the nation, teachers and authorities unintentionally deny the possibility for reconstructing a sense of national identity that might enable a multicultural sense of Germany to develop. I conclude with suggestions for how this new expression of difference, within the nation, might be incorporated better into schooling German citizens. While classroom instruction and discussions about historical racism and the atrocities of the Holocaust are necessary and important, I argue that educational practice should also incorporate efforts to confront racism in the contemporary setting.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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