The Challenge of Cultural Heritage and Identity for Inclusive and Open Societies

Young People's Perspectives from European and Asian Countries

by Louis Henri Seukwa (Volume editor) Elina Marmer (Volume editor) Cornelia Sylla (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 382 Pages


Issues of cultural identity and cultural heritage are at the heart of contemporary discourses in many parts of the world. They are used to identify and address the inequalities by marginalized groups; however, they also feed the re-nationalization and ethno-purist fantasies. But what exactly is culture? In this volume, the authors explore how culture is conceptualized and practised by young people in eight countries in numerous and very diverse contexts – schools, interest clubs, organizations and informal youth groups. The chapters show that concepts of culture vary widely within and across sites, regions and countries, highlighting the common, as well as particular, challenges that notions of identity and heritage pose for young people who often aspire to an inclusive and open society

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction ((by Louis Henri Seukwa))
  • Part I Cultural literacy in formal education
  • Chapter 1 Schools as a package of cultural participation for youth raised with digital technology in Turkey ((by Yıldırım Şentürk and Ayşe Berna Uçarol))
  • Chapter 2 Questioning cultural homogeneity: Negotiating cultural plurality by young people in formal educational settings in India ((by Chandrani Chatterjee, Swati Dyahadroy and Neha Ghatpande))
  • Chapter 3 Threatened? The understanding of culture, identity and diversity in the Slovak educational system ((by Monika Bagalová and Ľubomír Lehocký))
  • Chapter 4 Normative multiculturalism and the limits of inclusion in school lives: Qualitative insights from three secondary schools in England ((by Eleni Stamou, Anton Popov and Ebru Soytemel))
  • Chapter 5 “Who is a German?” Young people’s cultural identification and the issues of belonging, memory and participation in Hamburg schools ((by Elina Marmer))
  • Part II Cultural literacy in non-formal education
  • Chapter 6 The past as a dream and a nightmare: Cultural heritage and identity in a Slovak non-formal educational environment ((by Matej Karásek))
  • Chapter 7 Attempts of simultaneous preservation and modernization of traditional Georgian culture: Observation of martial arts and folk-dance groups in Tbilisi ((by Rati Shubladze and Anano Kipiani))
  • Chapter 8 From distinction to resonance – outline of a spectrum of youth culture in Germany ((by Cornelia Sylla))
  • Chapter 9 Post-coloniality, social capital and difference trumps hierarchy: Non- formal cultural education of youth in India ((by Shailendra Kharat, Anagha Tambe and Priya Gohad))
  • Part III Cultural literacy in informal education
  • Chapter 10 The significance of discrimination and stigmatisation in cultural practices and identities of young people in Germany ((by Awista Gardi))
  • Chapter 11 ‘Undocumented culture’: Ethnography on BEK social centre in Zagreb ((by Dino Vukušić, Rašeljka Krnić and Vanja Dergić))
  • Chapter 12 The Nightingales: Tactical positioning of young middle-class pious Muslim women in Turkey ((by Ayça Oral and Ece Esmer))
  • Chapter 13 Creating youth-determined contact zones in the public space and through local and global communities: Street dance in Barcelona ((by Nele Hansen))
  • About the Authors
  • Series index

(by Louis Henri Seukwa)


Choir of the marginalized (very quietly, only heard in the background as a slight murmur):

I want a place where I can feel comfortable.

A place where I can do something with others.

Where I can get inspired by what the others do,

I want that place and what is happening there to be inspiring.

I want it to be a place where we can hang out together. And suddenly someone has an idea and says: Let’s do it.

I would like - very specifically - to be satisfied with the people who surround us there.

I want there to be a lot of free space and material to create this place always new and temporarily and differently.

Haschemi, Meyer & Rotter, 2017, in: Kulturelle Bildung im Kontext Asyl. Ein Dossier. Berlin (Cultural Education in the Context of Asylum. Translated by authors)


A common conception of European identity is that it is constructed around values like liberty, democracy, international integration, and human rights. These values, however, appear to be threatened by recent political developments. Neo-nationalist movements are on the rise in almost all European countries and beyond. According to Bergmann (2020), who thoroughly analysed this phenomenon, in the post-war era, and especially after 1989, there seemed to be no ideological space for overt nationalism and nativism until these dramatically emerged more recently:

Three decades on, however, we now know that the story was not to be that rosy or that simple. The promise of 1989, of ever-increasing and globally spreading liberal democracy, did not materialize. Despite the multicultural and integrationist response to devastations of the two world wars, nationalism was still always an undercurrent in the post-war years, though perhaps mostly dormant at first. (ibid.: 6)

The spread of new information technology has led to globalisation and further polarisation of cultural discourses. Social media platforms make all kinds of information available to almost everybody without clearly distinguishing factual ←7 | 8→from nonfactual, or scientific evidence-based realities from so-called fake news (manipulative fabrications created to raise fear or hatred, among other reasons). This makes political participation seemingly more accessible but at the same time more difficult to fully comprehend. Populist parties all over the world offer simplistic answers to perceived problems, creating the need for mainstream parties to “follow suit in the wake of the populists” (ibid.: 14), which leads to the general erosion of democratic values in politics.

From a postcolonial perspective, the very construct of Europe as being based on human rights and international integration has been fundamentally questioned. Theorists like Césaire (1955) and Fanon (1961) argued that, historically, notions of liberal and democratic Europe have been deeply intertwined with colonialism, racism and discrimination. Rommelspacher (2002: 175) terms the contradiction between Europe’s democratic ideals and its exclusivist and discriminatory reality the “European dilemma”. The liberal nation-state was never conceived to integrate all members of society into its concept of égalité. For instance, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, written in the 18th century, was specifically created for white men; at the same time, the Code Noir regulated the treatment of enslaved and free Black people, as well as Jewish people.1 Europe was still the coloniser of large parts of the world at the time of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and European democracy has always been rooted in nationalistic concepts as much as it is tied to the idea of nation states and borders. Even today, Europe is a major contributor to the production of global structural inequality, and its migration politics are “de facto in contradiction to the ethical consensuses formulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or even EU Charter of Fundamental Rights” (Seukwa, 2018). From this point of view, current developments are far less surprising. They are just a new configuration of a historical tradition characterised by the self-referential narrative of Europe as having universal cultures and values. Fanon denounced this tradition when he wrote:

Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries, Europe has stopped the progress of other men and enslaved them to its own ←8 | 9→designs and glory; for centuries, in the name of a so-called “spiritual adventure”, it has suffocated almost all of humanity. (Fanon, 1961: 371)

One common feature of nationalistic discourses and narratives across the European continent and beyond is the appropriation of “culture” for purposes of division and exclusion. An illustrative example of this is the current debate on separatism in France, which began in mid-2020; for this purpose, the government officially launched a campaign against so-called ‘Islamo-leftism’. This term, used by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, refers to an imagined conspiracy against France fomented from within by traitors to the nation. The identified traitors named by the French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech on 2nd October 2020 are academics, “children of the Republic, sometimes from elsewhere, children or grandchildren of citizens today of immigrant origin from the Maghreb, from sub-Saharan Africa, revisiting their identity through a post-colonial or anti-colonial discourse” (Macron, 2020). The philosopher Nadia Yala Kisukidi analysed this statement as follows:

Attacks against postcolonial and decolonial studies are open attacks on academics who are perceived as exogenous elements of the nation and whose work is concerned with dismantling or analysing the forms of inequality and domination that structure contemporary postcolonial France. They are clearly labelled as enemies not even from within but from without (Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa), despite their belonging to the republic, to whom France, victim of its generosity, would have attributed too much space by leaving the doors of republican meritocracy wide open. (Yala Kisukidi, 2021)

Such heated debates about nation and identity assign specific importance to “culture”, and have accorded the word with a whole new meaning. In the aftermath of World War Two and the Nazi regime, racism based on assumed biological hierarchies became increasingly discredited. This type of racism was gradually replaced by the concept of inherent group “culture” and the assumption of insurmountable “cultural differences” between groups. This turn to the irrevocability of cultural differences is a form of neo-racism that Balibar (2004) and Hall (1994) call “racism without races”. Old and new narratives of cultural difference are booming worldwide. Dominant political actors in many countries strive to establish the “culture” of the respective dominant group (conceptualised as ethnic, religious or both) as essentially the national and, hence, the normative culture. This leads to demanding assimilation from those who are conceived to be “culturally different” – migrant communities, marginalised religious and lingual groups, etc. Understanding of what actually constitutes “culture” can be diffuse in such a context, but it is assumed to be inherited, rather homogenous, unchangeable, and profoundly important for social cohesion and peaceful ←9 | 10→coexistence within the borders of a nation state. In reality, however, full assimilation is not even an option for many racialised minorities, who are perceived as different as long as they are visible. This pressure on marginalised groups often leads to their re- and self-ethnicisation, and to the revival of traditionalist and sometimes exclusionist identities (Ha, 2000). These trends reflect struggles for cultural interpretation and legitimisation and, thanks to the social and political tensions they foster, endanger social cohesion in several countries. Yet there is also another, parallel trend: in-between spaces are being appropriated by young people who refuse to be reduced to a fixed traditionalist and exclusionist cultural identity. Instead, they seek allies across ‘cultural’ groups to create new hybridities and innovative cultural productions, which appear, perhaps unintentionally, to be a form of resistance to monolithic and exclusionist perceptions of culture (Harris, 2009). In these “third spaces” (Bhabha, 1994), cultural identities can be formed and reformed, giving “rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation” (211).

It is in this context that the transnational cooperative research project ‘Cultural Heritage and Identities of Europe’s Future’ (CHIEF) identified the need to enhance cultural literacy among young people to give them a more inclusive understanding of culture. The CHIEF project studied different forms of youth cultural education in different countries with the aim of analysing how and why perceptions of cultural identity are developed by young people in Europe and beyond.

Therefore, a consortium of nine international research teams was created, made up of three ‘old’ EU countries – UK, Spain and Germany; three ‘new’ ones – Slovakia, Croatia and Latvia; and three countries outside the EU or Europe – Georgia, India and Turkey. This consortium was set up to conduct a transnational collaborative research project as part of the Frame of European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme. The CHIEF project lasted for 42 months, from May 2018 to October 2021, and was executed by 10 international partner institutions:

  • Aston University, United Kingdom, project lead
  • Culture Coventry, United Kingdom
  • Daugavpils Universitate, Latvia
  • Institut Drustvenih Znanosti Ivo Pilar, Croatia
  • Caucasus Research Resource Centers, Georgia
  • Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Turkey
  • Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Spain
  • Univerzita Komenskeho V Bratislave, Slovakia
  • The Savitribai Phule Pune University, India
  • Hochschule Fuer Angewandte Wissenschaften HAW Hamburg, Germany

←10 | 11→

In all nine countries, a re-nationalisation shift can be observed, albeit on different levels. The UK, one of the ‘old’ EU countries at the time when the project proposal was drafted, is harvesting the most serious of consequences by, in 2021, becoming the first country to leave the European Union. In the Catalan region of Spain, where the Spanish research was carried out and where separatism and nationalism are historically rooted in the left, the drive for political independence from Madrid led to a major political crisis in 2017. The right-wing extremist party AfD has been represented in the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) since 2017, as well as in all 16 Länder governments, and has a tight grip on the mainstream discourse formation in the country. A similar trend can be observed in Eastern European countries. Slovakia’s current PM (in April 2021) is widely considered a right-wing hardliner. In Croatia, the mainstream conservative party has adopted the discourses of the extreme right to some extent, while the rising radicalisation of young people has been observed in the context of football hooliganism. In Latvia, nationalistic citizenship and language politics aiming at marginalisation, especially of Russian speakers, are turning a historically multicultural and multilingual country into a de jure monolingual state. Such ethnonationalism has been commonly observed across almost all post-USSR countries.

Our aforementioned approaches to conceptualise nationalistic trends are centred on Europe; however, we are not dealing with a purely European phenomenon, as the situation with our non-European project partners looks similarly grim. Far-right narratives have been able to gain mainstream legitimacy in post-Soviet Georgia; they are not openly condemned by the ruling party and are supported by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the 2016 coup d’état attempt, a nationalistic Islamist regime is being consolidated in Turkey, with a no-tolerance policy towards the opposition. Finally, the government of India, a classical example of a pluralistic and diverse nation, is redefining Hindu nationalism and encouraging the violent exclusion of Muslims in the form of a 2020 citizenship law.

Though their political and historical contexts might differ, each country involved in the research project is clearly experiencing a rise in nationalism and populism, a rightward shift in mainstream discourses, and increasing exclusionist rhetoric and actions aimed at marginalised groups. These tensions tend to be constructed around ethnicity, religion, language and, inevitably, ‘culture’.←11 | 12→

Key concepts, research objectives and methodology

Untangling the various meanings of ‘culture’ and the constructs of ‘cultural identity’ and ‘cultural heritage’, which are implicitly and/or explicitly used by the dominant as well as counter-discourses, is crucial to making sense of the recent developments described above. Therefore, a theoretical discussion on the various definitions of “culture” is the starting point for our conceptual framework.


Based on the definition by Verdery (1999: 34), we see culture as a performative concept. Culture can thus be everything that people define as such, every action that is led by values or ideas considered meaningful by an individual. Moreover, we argue that broadly-applied “traditional” ethnological and anthropological concepts of “culture” are deeply rooted in colonial discourses on European/Western superiority and serve to segregate and hierarchise groups, be it in terms of ethnicity, race, religion, ability, gender, or any other category. Appropriated in different national and political contexts, such concepts legitimise ethnocentrism and ideas of nationalist superiority. We present a postcolonial critique of these concepts, along with notions of culture, identity and heritage as being fluid, interconnected and continuous. In our view, postcolonial as well as post-structuralist approaches to culture (which became prominent through the emergence of Cultural Studies) are better suited as a base for the development of more inclusive concepts of cultural education. A more inclusive understanding of identification processes can empower young people to resist nationalistic trends and the accompanying dehumanisation of and discrimination against all those who are considered to deviate from dominant “cultural” norms.

Concepts of culture – relevant dimensions

In a very broad and basic definition, culture can be seen as everything created by humans. Therefore, culture is often understood in opposite to nature, this being one of the binaries on which so-called Western conceptions of culture are often based. However, as Mbembe (2015) argues, especially in the view of the ongoing environmental destruction and rapid climate change, there is an urgent need to recognise that human history is entangled with multiple other entities and species, and therefore “the dualistic partitions of […] nature from culture can no longer hold” (n.p.).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 382 pp.

Biographical notes

Louis Henri Seukwa (Volume editor) Elina Marmer (Volume editor) Cornelia Sylla (Volume editor)

Louis Henri Seukwa is professor of education at the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences and head of the Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice (CMRIP) at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW), Germany. Elina Marmer is a senior researcher at the Centre for Migration Research and Integration Practice (CMRIP) at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW), Germany. Cornelia Sylla is a postdoctoralresearcher at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Rostock, Germany.


Title: The Challenge of Cultural Heritage and Identity for Inclusive and Open Societies