29 SES 04, Arts Education and the Construction of Identities
This work stems from an ongoing research since 2016, in the scope of the PhD course in Arts Education, of University of Lisbon and University of Porto (Portugal). The theme of my project deals with national cultural identity and the discourses in its representations on visual culture, both in the artistic context and in the economic circuit of tourist souvenir shops. This paper, in particular, intends to give account and to envisage new angles of my PhD research.
The abundant literature on the subject of identity, at the national level, points to the idea that the construction of these collectives is based on bipolar axes, in the spectrum of which national identities are developed. The analysis of the literature review identified seven polarities, namely: Collective / Individual; Past / Future; Inside / Outside; Essence / Construction; Affect / Reason; We / They; Homogeneity / Difference. I also verified that, despite the support in several poles, the homogeneity factor is preponderant in the construction of national identities.
A certain idea of “We” is founded on the same shared past, the same territory, the same mother tongue, the same ethnic, religious or biological characteristics of its constituting elements. Everything that is different becomes an outsider, and therefore, off limits.
In a globalised world of constant changes, influences and displacements, it is difficult to maintain a sense of homogeneity. Hence the recurrent use of walls in everyday language. It seems that we cannot build collective identities that are based on difference because how could they be distinguished from each other? Homogenising collectives is the only way of being differentiated, by precisely excluding difference from them.
In the past, and today this still remains a reality, the national identity fantasy was fabricated by the elites based on the raw material of the cultural tradition, to which the people adhere by the force of inculcation, either through school education or through more subliminal strategies like Michael Billig’ flagging (2004). Supported mainly by the media, this form of nationalism of everyday life, described by this author, imprints an identity that is unconsciously appropriated, and as such is not clearly assumed, but is nevertheless weared with the conviction of belonging to it. What this strategy ignores is the input power of the subjects in a collective concept, since these constructions continue to be drawn and produced from top to bottom, from the personification of the collective to the individuals.
Stuart Hall considers that "a national culture is a discourse, a way of constructing meanings" (1997: 55), but the construction of collective identity is above all in the order of becoming real, in the appearance of fixity of the own matter that constitutes it, something that Judith Butler (1993) have been against. Identities are constructed and reified as static, stable, and watertight, almost as a common sense materialized by the sedimentation of meanings that, while not becoming real, obscure our vision in perceiving the different possibilities of imagining the real (Laclau , 1990).
The notion of instability and flutuation proper to the current understanding of identity (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000), whether through constant transformation or the activation and deactivation of identities, is consonant with the characteristics of liquid modernity described by Zygmunt Bauman (2001) which in turn allow a greater sphere of action to the individual, away from the rigid registers imposed by the social structure. Judith Butler (1990) with her understanding of identity as something performative, multiple and fragmented, is opposed to the reification of an original essence. But one can ask: "If [identity] it is fluid, how can we understand the ways in which self-understandings may harden, congeal, and crystallize?" (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000: 1). In fact, there are images that have crystallized in our memory as icons of the national cultural identity, symbols of a “We” that don’t reflect any of us, but us all. Is it then possible to build collective identities escaping the sedimentations of a discourse vertically constructed from the collective to the individual, implemented by top-down strategies, of which the State is the main agent and beneficiary? Could we rather think of a more performative register, of horizontal articulation, where matter is only valued by its always changing surface, in permanent dialogue with its surroundings? It is in this context that we consider the importance of horizontal flows between peers in the construction of national identity, and that we stand side by side with Eric Kaufmann (2017) that supports himself in theory of complexity to defend the dramatic impact that small individual efforts can have in the construction of collective identity. Building a collective identity is much of a nowadays challenge as it is an Arts Education one. Baldacchino draws this parallel by saying that "how we come to relate art with education pertains to the same sense of being by which many individuals or communities figured out how to think of the impossible" (Baldacchino, 2015: 77). In both cases, building solid collective identities based on the difference of its constituting elements, if not impossible, are certainly challenging.
Focusing my research on collective identities I certainly have much to learn about the discourses of collective identities based on homogeneity. However, when pointing to the construction of collectives based in difference is inevitable that the study of the very concept of Arts Education (challenging for itself) contributes with important insights to my research. Moreover, one of the expected outcomes of this project is that in some way my findings can feed the debate that circles the entanglement between the Arts and Education. In both cases, I am rejecting the legitimizing force of homogeneity, and arguing in favour of a more horizontal and participatory way of building a collective identity based on difference, be it a national cultural identity or the identity of Arts Education as a disciplinary field. From either one we can expect challenging differences from within.
Baldacchino, J. (2015). Art ± Education: The paradox of the ventriloquist’s soliloquy. Sysiphus Journal of Education, 3 (1), 62-79. Bauman, Z. (2001). Modernidade líquida. Rio de Janeiro : Jorge Zahar. Billig, Michael. (2004). Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications. Brubaker, R. & Cooper, F. (2000). Beyond “identity”. Theory and Society, 29, 1-47. Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter, on the discursive limits of “sex”. London: Routledge. Hall, S. (1997). Identidade cultural. São Paulo: Fundação Memorial da América Latina. Kaufmann, E. (2017). Complexity and nationalism. Nations and Nationalism, 23, (1), 6-25. Laclau, E. (1990). New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Times. London: Verso.
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