Conditioned Identities

Wished-for and Unwished-for Identities

by Flocel Sabaté (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 467 Pages


This book contains selected papers from the meeting «Conditioned Identities. Wished-for and Unwished-for Identities», held in the Institute of Research in Identities and Society (University of Lleida) in 2013 and attended by participants representing different disciplines, discussing the imposition and acceptance of identities. The different chapters of the book, written by scholars and researchers from all over the world, analyse the conflict between attributed and chosen identities in History, Language, Literature, Sociology and Anthropology across various historical periods and geographical regions. Theoretical and practical studies are combined in order to contribute to a renewal of perspectives regarding a key issue for understanding the roots of our current society and the problems surrounding conviviality in today’s world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Conditioned Identities. Wished-for and Unwished-for Identities
  • A History of Europe: Identities, Languages, Nations
  • Language, Normative and Identity
  • Les juifs du roi : conflit et coexistence dans l’Angleterre d’Henri III (1216-1272)
  • La création de l’identité dans la mémoire écrite : le cas de la ville de Balaguer au bas Moyen Âge
  • Europe and Others. Identity and Otherness in the 16th Century America
  • L’identité de Jésus (entre textes et représentations iconographiques)
  • Identities and Literature in Catalonia: 1858-1868
  • Hanging Spain on the walls: Images and building of national identity from the schools (1875-1975)
  • The process of symbolic legitimacy of Francoism in the city of Lleida. A Visual Anthropology approach
  • The representation of a wished identity through the cultural heritage: Elche, the two World Heritage City?
  • The Building of the Catalan Nation in the Works of Maria Aurèlia Capmany
  • Jamil Almansur Haddad and the paradoxes of an identity in transition
  • “Maybe you’re too young to remember”: Baby Jane and the sin of acting against one’s age
  • Neither Miss Marple nor Miss Havisham: Stereotypes of Ageing Women and Identity in Later Life in Donna Leon’s Drawing Conclusions285
  • Alternative futures: Ageing and Identity in Contemporary Women’s Writing
  • Gender and Nation: Conditioned Identities
  • Representations of childhood and education in the initial training of teacher’s identities
  • Students’ Facebook: the magnifying glass on the social construction of teenagers’ reading identity
  • Processes and dynamics of building an identity for intercultural mediators
  • Bilingualism, multilingualism, immersion: Towards the construction of identity in Northern Catalonia
  • Identities in conflict: Lessons from the former Yugoslavia
  • Why does Liberalism not actually oppose the Nation-State?
  • Identité et interculturalité: perspectives de recherche et réflexion en littérature comparée
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 →Conditioned Identities. Wished-for and Unwished-for Identities


Universitat de Lleida

“Like all children, I was fascinated by the Nazi paraphernalia. Uniforms, flags and parades I loved”. Hans Massaquoi wanted to be a good Nazi, like all his school and playmates in 1934 Hamburg. However, although he was the child of a German mother, his father was the son of the Liberian consol general in Hamburg, and his skin was black like his father. This led him into a contradiction between the desired identity and the criteria required for him to be granted that identity. Thus, decades later, on recalling his childhood passion for Hitler, he added that “like everyone around me, I cheered the man whose every waking hour was dedicated to the destruction of ‘inferior non-Aryan people’ like myself”1.

In the 12th century, Chrétien de Troyes expressed like nobody else the impossibility of surviving without identity when he depicted the Knight of the Lion who, on not recalling anything he had done until then – ne li souvenoit de nule riens qu’il eüst faite –, moved away from human habitats and took refuge in the forest, where he ate raw meat and lived like the animals until he recovered his memory, and then, on remembering his own identity, once again behaved like a person2. Identities, whether individual or collective, are always based on a memory taken as one’s own. Thus, when referring to the authors who wrote about the origins of the peoples in the 12th century, Bernard Guenée stated that fueron los historiadores quienes crearon las naciones. No hay nación sin historia nacional (“it was the historians who created the nations. There is no nation without a national history”)3. Precisely in the 12th century, the notion of people acquired a political ← 9 | 10 → vigour (“exegetes endowed the people with constitutional rights and advocated popular duties with far-reaching – at least in theory political consequences”)4. This framed the recognition and incidence of national groups, making it easier to define and assume specific, often idealised, origins for each national group. Thus, we have the Swiss, imagined as being descended from heroes, the Swedes from brave ancestors, the Danes from good rulers or many others from memorable civilisations, like Troy or Rome5.

The Carolingian counties situated in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula evolved in a similar way between the 9th and 11th centuries. They were situated on the Muslim frontier and had growing mutual links in the political, economic and cultural spheres. At the start of the 12th century, when the campaign by various cities on the Christian shore of the western Mediterranean against Muslim Majorca under the command of the count of Barcelona was explained in Pisa, he was described as catalanicus heros or catalannesis dux6. The inhabitants of the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula were not then politically united and this was the first time from outside that they were mentioned with a common adjective, all being perceived as Catalans7. There was no political union in that case, but rather a cultural and social concordance had facilitated a common perception from abroad. In the same scenario, during the same century, with the closer social and economic links and the cultural concordance between peoples where Latin had evolved into Catalan, common institutional traits were gradually adopted which showed the assumption of a common identity8. This example enables us to see the two basic axes in the generation of identity: the external perception and internal assumption.

← 10 | 11 → From the mid 11th century, the Church adapted to a feudal Europe that was socially and economically expansive9, while the predominantly Platonic philosophical base of the 12th century gradually acquired new traits10 that culminated in the 13th with an interpretation of Christianity from the parameters of Aristotelian realism11. Thus, the doctrine that guided the ideological behaviour of Europe became surer in its own beliefs and, in passing, became increasingly intolerant of the inassimilable otherness, whether these were Muslims, Jews or heretics12. The fact that the 13th century is defined as a century of preaching13 expresses the need to assimilate this difference and that, when the difficulty of that mission was realised, otherness came to be regarded with fear, as “the enemy”14. From here, if finally the others could not be assimilated, their annihilation would even be proposed, as Roger Bacon predicted in the 13th century about the Muslims15. Thus, identity is reinforced by its contrast, in other words, by the alterity, which is often not merely described through its different characteristics, but also perceived by its opposing features that lead to a contraposition and, if necessary, a collision.

The institutionalisation of the forms has conditioned the historians when interpreting the start of the social processes in moments when these were really nothing more than their stabilisation. A clear example is the late-medieval cities, where the stabilisation of municipal governments culminated a prior social, economic and political evolution16, but was also ← 11 | 12 → preceded by a period in which local elites, often with specific names like probi homines, adopted decisions that affected everyone, even claiming a representativeness17. This is what Susan Reynolds warned about in 1982,

The richest and most established burgesses or citizens of a town, like the bishops and nobles of a kingdom, were those who were perceived as the most solid, respectable and responsible members. Representation was not a matter of representing individuals (hence the frequent vagueness about who attended or had the right to attend meetings), but of representing communities18.

To approach representativeness, the ruling elites developed discourses that backed both the representative position and the cohesion of the group represented. Thus, during the late Middle Ages, such terms as the land, a general or mystic body, adopted a social and political function that justified a representativeness over cohesive groups of their respective identity19. The natio was thus filled with a shared sense that could be expressed in vitals symbols of cohesion, as Léopold Genicot stated: la nación era, pues, un sentimiento naciente (“the nation was a rising sentiment”)20. It was, however, a sentiment promoted by the sovereign power that sought a higher circle of cohesion to link transversally those who assumed certain cultural traits21.

The concepts of community and collective solidarity that tightly bound people to the groups of belonging in the Middle Ages, clearly backed by contemporary thought22, have their continuity in the modern centuries23. ← 12 | 13 → Indeed, the collective responses were maintained in different aspects of society24, the affective links of identification between collectives and territories were accentuated25 and a national feeling was developed26, fuelled by the assumption of founding myths and the unifying function of the language27. However, these collective identities were still under the wing of the invoked representativeness with which the elites played a tense power game28, because the old medieval participative formulae – the mixed government of sovereign and the estates – were challenged by new formulae based on a greater concentration of sovereign power29.

It is thus no surprise that, in the 18th century, Rousseau called for a new order in which society would not be structured around the arguments of the politicians but rather on the national identities really shared by the social groups. Rousseau himself emphasised that, to achieve a veritable social cohesion, the legislator has to encourage this sentiment of mutual links through national identity30. Yet, the task of the legislator as a guide can compromise this objectivity. In first place, by claiming to base society on the nations that really existed, efforts were required to detect and define these, which led to rigid classifications, as bodies with soul, interpreted ← 13 | 14 → this latter through the combination of language and people, as Herder stated, with an impermeable character31 that predisposed them to confrontation. Then, under the guise of assuming this naturally, the 19th century saw a string of national constructions through the erection of numerous references and custodies of memory – museums32, pantheons33, archives34, monuments and works of art35, festivities36 –, all coherent with the historical tales now elaborated37 and spread through society with the extension of new educational systems38.

Having defined identity above from the external perception, the internal assumption, the confrontation with otherness and the incidence of representativeness, we must now add the provision of a specific discourse. This contributes a narration linked to a specific shared memory, with common myths that accompany a veritable biological continuity39, paired with a cultural singularity expressed in the language40, all properly orientated by an ideology that, while still accommodative, aims to steer ← 14 | 15 → the interpretations of identity and national destiny41. The new mass culture means that the approach is soon shared and assumed, apparently naturally, by the population42.

Thus, an axiology made up of adequately hierarchical values is adopted. Once the identity has been defined and a segmentation imposed regarding the difference, the values assumed set the degree of intolerance to otherness. The 20th century contributed deep and painful examples of societies structured around parameters of clear and full rejection of otherness43, always with the full coherence of having taken the singularisation of identity and its opposition to otherness to the extreme:

making the nation an absolute, as practiced first of all by the “integral nationalists”, later on by the Fascists, and especially by the Nazis, meant making its enemies an absolute too, and with it, the war which now overrode all conventions hitherto established by European civilization44.

The intolerance of otherness forms part of the very rigid unifying discourses. Mohammet Chiguer called these la pensée piégée (“the trap thought”) because the discourse that sustains the identity of the group imposes rejection of the others, as it is clear in the case of religious fundamentalism:

Aussi se considère-t-elle porteuse d’un message universel qu’elle doit livrer à l’humanité et dont elle a la charge de mettre en exécution. Pour cela, elle use la force, utilise d’une manière systematique la violence et recourt à la terreur aveugle pour instaurer la peur et promouvoir la Fitna.

← 15 | 16 → It believes to be itself bearer of an universal message, which must deliver to humanity and thus, it is responsible for putting in execution. For this, it uses force, applying in a systematic way violence and resorting to indiscriminate terror to create fear and promote the “Fitna”45.

However, the discourse of identity adapts to the times and the experience accordingly. It is worth recalling Amin Maalouf’s comments about the adaptability of a person who, over a few years, coinciding with the changes in his country, would have had to progressively adapt to feeling and defining himself sincerely as a Yugoslav, a Muslim and a Bosnian46. In any case, the evolution of the justifying discourse modifies the limits of tolerance to otherness, with serious consequences. Pero the Croat met a stranger in 1992. If he had met him a few years earlier, they would have shared a pride in being Yugoslavs. In contrast, at the time of their meeting, the acceptance of the discourses of identity and rejection of otherness considered intolerable meant things went as follows:

En un pequeño bosquecillo de nogales, a unos cien metros de la primera línea del frente, el croata Pero, miembro del Consejo de Defensa croata, se encontró con un soldado que no conocía. Llevaban el mismo uniforme, hablaban la misma lengua. Poco después, refugiados detrás de un árbol, se fumaban el mismo cigarrillo.

— Y díme, amigo —declaró al fin el desconocido—, nos estamos fumando este cigarrillo juntos pero aún no nos hemos presentado. ¡Soy Boro, serbio de Crkvina…!

Por toda respuesta, Pero disparó una salva con su fusil automático.

In a little walnut grove, a hundred metres behind the front line, the Croat Pero, member of the Croatian Defence Council, met a soldier he didn’t know. Both were wearing the same uniform, both spoke the same language. Shortly after, sheltered behind a tree, they shared a cigarette.

And tell me, friend the stranger eventually said , here we are sharing a cigarette but we haven’t presented ourselves. I am Boro, a Serb from Crkvina…!

Pero’s only reply was to pull the trigger of his sub-machine gun47.

← 16 | 17 → This behaviour is an evolution in the concept of identity, but can also be dealt with as dysfunctions, as the elements we repeat as a constituting the identity external perception, internal assumption, definition of otherness and cohesive discourse can disengage from each other, leading to contradictory situations. What is felt and what is perceived may not match. Given the concordance between the individual and collective identities, it is a suggestive perspective for study and research, focussed on the dysfunctions raised by binomial wished-for and unwished-for. Identity is an indelible trait: l’identità si presenta perciò come irrenunciable, non è na faccenda che si possa procrastinare (“identity is presented as irrenunciable therefore, it is not a thing that we can postpone about”)48. And this same permanence means investigating its contradictions if the official discourses match the real experience. We can remember here Fatéma Mernisi’s childhood memories, when her mother attributed her identity as a woman to immobile contents, as a kind of fate, although, in contrast, they surprised her:

Quand ma mère eut fini l’histoire de Schéhérazade, je me suis mise à pleurer: « Mais comment apprend-on à dire des histoires pour plaire à un roi? ». Ma mère a murmuré, comme se parlant à elle-même, que c’était là le destin des femmes.

When my mother had finished the story of Scheherazade, I started crying: “How is it possible to know and tell stories just to please a king?”. My mother whispered, as if speaking to herself, that this was the fate of women49.

The transgression of the imposed order can generate a clash of identities, as Nazario attempts to reflect through a striking literary title: Disecció del suïcidi quotidà d’un sant gai que volia ser màrtir (“Dissection of the everyday suicide of a gay saint who wanted to become a martyr”)50. In fact, the social order can even be altered if we attempt to modify the functions that each group identifies itself through: the medieval peasant who wants to eat in a refined delicate way, as if he were a lord, falls ill and only ← 17 | 18 → gets better when he goes back to his own place, eating beans and peas accompanied by bread dunked in milk51.

One way or another, the clash between the attributed and desired identities is reiterated in the attribution of roles in society. The study of these situations thus becomes a challenge that requires a very global approach to society and each individual, including all the formulae of expressivity, understood as the channelling of the tensions that really exist and are felt, knowing that, in fact, the history that humans weave is a patchwork of “the places and spaces of emotion”52. A few years ago, Burke and Stets stated that “future research for identity theorists involves systematically examining the contextual factors that interact with the verification process to produce different emotions”53. In fact, if the Social and Human Sciences look into the different aspects of the how individuals fit into society, all inherent expressivity becomes a subject for study, while the necessary plurality is required to cover the different channels of expression: literature, art, the anthropological or sociological footprint, the historical references, talks on the management of the memory or any other indicator.

With this in mind, the Institute for Research into Identities and Society organised a meeting at the University of Lleida that was held between the 13th and the 15th of November 2013. Oustanding specialists in a range of aspects of the Human and Social Sciences were invited to contribute their knowledge, alongside a specific call for papers to tackle the different aspects of research into conditioned identities. The work was divided into six specific strands: Solidarity and identity groups throughout History; Curriculum and national identity; Symbolic depictions of social reality; Literature and Identity; Spelling and linguistic codifications and Identity construction in multilingual learning and use. After a process of peer-review, 67 communications were presented. The selection published here derives from this set of papers, after a specific re-evaluation for publishing. ← 18 | 19 → We sincerely believe that its diachronic and multidisciplinary character makes it a good contribution to individual and collective identities from a perspective that, despite not have been the focus of much research in itself to date, is a vital prism for knowledge and one of the keystones of social cohesion: wished-for and unwished-for identities. ← 19 | 20 →


1Hans Massaquoi, Destined to witness. Growing up black in Nazi Germany (New York: Perennial, 2001), p. 2.

2Chrétien de Troyes, “Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion v. 85c/2799”, <http://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Yvain_ou_le_Chevalier_au_Lion> 17 August 2013.

3Bernard Guenée, Occidente durante los siglos XIV y XV. Los Estados (Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1973), p. 65.

4Philippe Buc, “‘Principes gentium dominantur eorum’: Princely Power between Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Twelth-Century Exegesis”, Cultures of Power. Lordship, Status, and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe, Thomas N. Bisson, ed. (Philadelphia: Univeristy of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), p. 325.

5Flocel Sabaté, “Els referents històrics de la societat: identitat i memòria”, L’Edat Mitjana. Món real i espai imaginat, Flocel Sabaté, ed. (Catarroja-Barcelona: Editorial Afers, 2012), pp. 22-23.

6Jaume Vidal, Liber Maiorichinus. Text, traducció, notes i introducció (Barcelona: Universidad de Barcelona, 1976), p. 52.

7Flocel Sabaté, “Identity, perception and cohesion of a medieval region: Catalonia”, Different Europes. The historical evolution of territorial identities and attachments as formative forces in a changing Europe, Dick de Boer, Bar Spierings, Nils Holder Pedersesen, eds. (forthcoming).

8Flocel Sabaté, “Els primers temps: segle XII (1137-1213)”, Història de la Corona d’Aragó, Ernest Belenguer, dir. (Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2007), vol. 1, pp. 62-65.

9Augustin Fliche, La Réforme grégorienne et la Reconquête chrétienne (1037-1123) (Paris: Bloud&Gay Éditeurs, 1950).

10Jean Jolivet, La filosofía medieval en Occidente (Madrid: Siglo XXI editores, 1990), pp. 154-146.

11Eudaldo Forment, “La integración de la ética aristotélica en la síntesis aristotélica”, Actas del II Congreso Nacional de Filosofía Medieval, Jorge M. Ayala, coord. (Saragossa: Sociedad de Filosofía Medieval, 1996), pp. 51-85.

12Jean Flori, Croisade et chevalerie XIe-XIIe siècles (Paris-Brussels: De Boeck Université, 1998), pp. 60-64.

13Jacques le Goff, Lo maravilloso y lo cotidiano en el Occidente medieval (Barcelona: Editorial Gedisa, 1985), p. 127.

14Robert N. Swanson, Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215 - c. 1515 (Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 267-270.

15Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages. A Study in Joachimism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 399.

16Jean Schneider, “Libertés, franchises, communes: les origines. Aspects d’une mutation”, Les Origines des Libertés Urbaines. Actes du XVI Congrès des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (Rouen 7-8 Juin 1985) (Rouen: Publications de l’Université de Rouen, 1990), pp. 7-29.

17Flocel Sabaté, “Ejes vertebradores de la oligarquía urbana en Cataluña”, Revista d’Història Medieval, 9 (1998), pp. 130-136; Flocel Sabaté, Història de Lleida. Alta Edat Mitjana (Lleida: Pagès Editors, 2003), pp. 355-366.

18Susan Reynolds, “Medieval urban history and the history of political thought”, Urban History Yearbook 1982 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1982), p. 15.

19Flocel Sabaté, “Expressôes da representatividade social na Catalunha tardomedieval”, Identidades e Fronteiras no Medioevo Ibérico, Fátima Regina Fernandes, coord. (Curitiba: Juruá Editora, 2013), pp. 68-79.

20Léopold Genicot, Europa en el siglo XIII (Barcelona: Editorial Labor, 1976), p. 130.

21Gisela Naegle, “Diversité linguistique, identité et mythe de l’empire à la fin du Moyen Âge”, Revue Française d’Histoire des Idées Politiques, 36 (2012), pp. 253-264.

22Pierre Michaud-Quantin, Universitas: Expressions de movement communautaire dans le moyen-âge latin (Paris: J. Vrin, 1970).

23Keith J. Stringer, “Social and political commuinities in European history. Some reflections on recent studies”, Nations, nationalism and patriotism in the European past (Copenhagen: Academic Press, 1994), pp. 11-12.

24Paolo Prodi, Valerio Marchetti, eds., Problemi di identità tra medievo ed età moderna (Bolonya: Clued, 2001).

25Robert von Friedeburg, “The problems of passions and love of fatherland in protestant thought, Melanchton to Anthusius, 1520s to 1620s”, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance History, 2/1 (2005), pp. 247-253.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 467 pp., 1 b/w ill., 2 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Flocel Sabaté (Volume editor)

Flocel Sabaté is Professor of Medieval History and director of the Institute of Research in Identities and Society (IRIS), at the University of Lleida (Catalonia, Spain). He has led various research projects attending interdisciplinary approaches to social identities and has conducted many studies, especially about the European Medieval Society.


Title: Conditioned Identities