The SG’s subject area
Despite – or because of – its complex nature, identity is of great and growing relevance for social and political life. The more we seek to understand the causes and consequences of social change for politics, the more the dual character of identity as both an individual and collective phenomenon has proven to open up new perspectives in political science research.
As for the first aspect, individual identity is linked to the micro-dimension or subjective underpinnings of politics, especially citizens’ political orientations and behaviour. The second identity aspect refers to both social and political identities that can be studied, in turn, on an individual as well as a collective or group level of analysis.
Collective identities, in particular, have increasingly attracted the attention of scholars from nearly all sub-disciplines of political science. While political identity is not only a key factor in state formation and state failure, but also a relevant variable regarding international cooperation and regional integration, it is of growing interest to scholars of international relations, nationalism, peace and conflict research, development studies and European integration. Moreover, the great variety and variance of collective identities, based, for instance, on ethnicity, religion, class, ideology or gender, is mirrored in numerous and still expanding research fields of political science such as studies on democratization and immigration, research on political parties and social movements, contentious politics or politics of recognition.
What is more, the dynamics of social and political change from within and outside individual nation-states – such as the internationalization and globalization of economy, politics and culture, the technological progress, the diffusion of the internet and spread of mass communication, the demographic clash and transformation of labour – provoke new ‘identity questions’ as well as the enduring task for political scientists to find answers to these questions. However, as ‘identity’ appears as both a dependent and independent variable, it can also be studied as a driving force for change as well as a causal factor for individuals’ and groups’ failure to adapt to new challenges. In addition, since ‘having an identity’ is a psychological imperative as well as a sociological constant (Liah Greenfeld), identity research will always be an interdisciplinary endeavour.
Thus, the subject of identity offers a great potential of collaboration with scholars from other disciplines such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, philosophy and history.
Why we need an ECPR Standing Group ‘Identity’
Due to the significance of identity for social and political life, exploration of identity is a promising and necessary strand of research in political science which has a potential of crossing interdisciplinary boundaries. However, identity research is also a demanding task for at least three reasons:
First, we are facing a severe theoretical deficit, since we still have problems to define the very concept of identity, in particular, when it comes to collective identities.
Second, lacking an unmistakable concept specification we also run the risk of developing unsuitable operationalizations and unfitting measuring instruments, which is why we cannot trust the validity and reliability of our findings. Further progress in research on identity accordingly depends on whether we are able to consolidate our empirical knowledge, which, in turn, is contingent on our capability to clarify what we speak of whenever we refer to ‘identity’.
Third, the more definitions of the key concept vary, the greater the problems of generalizing and communicating new insights. Since researchers are unable to communicate with each other, they either talk at cross purposes or disregard the work of their colleagues. In fact, there is some evidence in the research literature on identity that not only scholars from diverse sub- areas of political science but also students representing different normative and empirical perspectives within the same sub-area are prone to ignore each other.
In view of these challenges, the ECPR Standing Group ‘Identity’ wants to encourage social scientists of varying perspectives, distinct theoretical approaches and different methods to learn from each other by sharing their insights into the identity phenomenon and its impact on social and political life. The ECPR Standing Group ‘Identity’ wants to stimulate scholars to systemize their knowledge, collect and exchange data as well as benefit from each other in developing measurements and new ideas for theory-building.