Negotiating Identities

The Approach: State, Nation, Community

Kastoryano saiys her study is different to other studies of negotiation of identities in the way she deals with “state”. While other studies deal with the intercultural negotiation between groups or minorities sharing public space, her study focuses on “the state and minorities” (Kastoryano, 2002: 4). To put her idea differently, she analyzes two political entities, state and immigrant, instead of majority and immigrant (minority) sharing a public space. She argues that state:
…is not seen simply as an administration and juridical power whose role in matters of immigration is limited to the control of flows and thus to the protection of national borders. (Kastoryano, 2002:5)

Her assumption of the capability of state to play more roles is obvious in her statement:
By state, I mean an institutional reality that, although influenced by external forces, has its own internal logic, born of history and nourished by ideology, acting directly on civil society and shaping its political life (Kastoryano, 2002: 5)

However, she does not explain what she means by “institutional reality” and how the state “… has its own logic” or how we ably know state’s logic. She, as far as research methodology is concerned, did not explain. While she claims that her study is different in the way she puts state and minority, she also considers state as a nation, when she says “…state, whose substance is the nation…” (Kastoryano, 2002: 5). In other words, her research may include negotiations between “nation and minority”. Furthermore, the concept of “state” becomes more undefined when she uses other words that she treated as state, such as public authorities and machinery of the state (Kastoryano, 2002:5).

To this point, I can not understand what makes her research distinct from other research on negotiation of identities, because state is nation, and state is public authorities. If Kastoryano really wants to claim that her research is new, she has to convince the reader first. She can not deal with state as an object of study if she treats many various political entities as interchangeable. State, nation, nation-state, community, public authorities, and machinery of the state should be defined as clearly as possible; otherwise, she will fail in dealing with the role of the “state” in negotiating identities. I will show the result of this ambiguity on the next section.

Minority versus Majority

Because Kastoryano fails to define the state, and tends to treat state, nation, community, and public authorities, as interchangeable, we find that she includes almost everything, except the minority, as representations of “state” — law, government and public authorities, politicians, public opinion, poll, media, academia, and culture majority, as “the state” vis-a-vis the minority.

In the Chapter One, “The War of the Word”, on the word immigrant, she indeed refers to law in France, while not mentioning any reference to any law for the word gastarbeiter in Germany. Further, she refers to politician, public, political parties and their leadership (Kastoryano, 2002:17), and then she referred to academia and an article in newspaper (Kastoryano, 2002: 18). This is also the case when she discusses “threshold of tolerance” and “the battle of numbers”, where she refers to politicians, headline newspaper, journals, and political party (Kastoryano, 2002: 19-22). By referring to public entities (media, academia, politicians) as much as to public authorities, the readers are not convinced by her statement that she deals with “state” and “minority”. I think it will be problematic to put politicians and newspapers as representation of the state.

A probable explanation of all this ambiguity seemingly lies in her approach, which combine institutional and cultural approach together. As I mentioned before, by using two approaches together, she can not describe well “the role of state” because in her explanation she mixes the role of the state as represented by public authorities and other public actors that, in fact, contribute to the negotiation as much as state — not only as a context for the state policies. When she tries to give a context for state policy, she describes the role of politicians and media in negotiating identities. State, in this case, is not single determinant anymore.

Alternative Approach

Kastoryano’s ambiguity raises question about the validity of treating the state as an autonomic subject with “… its own internal logic” as she claims. In the concept of nation-state, there is a merger between two different entities. One is cultural entity (nation), and the other is institutional entity (state). In this merger, state is the means of the nation to achieve its objectives. Since state is only means, it does not have “… its own logic”.

From any approach, state is an indifferent entity depending on the logic’s of nation. From the point of view of the cultural approach, we can not understand what the “state” does unless we understand the nation’s discourses (from a prime minister, politicians, academia to the media) in the public space. Alternately, viewed from the institutional approach, we can not understand the state unless we understand the law made by the legislative and its implementation by the government. There is no such state with its own logic, and Kastoryano’s study in fact confirms such understanding. What she shows in her study is not the state’s logic, rather the nation’s logic shaped in the public space by many stake holders, especially the majority voice of a nation.

Viewed from such understanding, she actually explains well how identities are negotiated in the public space by the constituent of the state: the majority and the minority. We find in her study that government policies are influenced by public discourse and not only by government logic. In a democratic country such Germany and French we can not expect government (“state” in Kastoryano’s methodology) implements its own logic — government tends to meet majority’s demand.

In the conclusion chapter, where Kastoryano said “Relation between state and immigrant are often expressed in term of conflict and allegiances” (Kastoryano, 2002: 181), it is difficult to imagine such expression other than the conflict between majority ruling the state and the minority. Additionally, when she says, “these raise question about the nature of the national community…”, it really confirms that the negotiation occurred between the majority (the national community) and the minority (the immigrants). Therefore, I don’t agree with her claim that the state “…is not seen simply as an administration and juridical power”. In the context of negotiation, the proper role of a democratic state apparatus is a referee in the battle (negotiation) of identities between the majority and the minority. Because, in a democratic system, the ideal state is the one who, if we use Putnam’s theory, is responsive and efficient: in this context, it is responsive to majority whose identity is threatened, and to the minority who want to maintain their own identity; and efficient in mediating two parties. Therefore, the state has no its own logics.(*)

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