Like other communities around the world, Europe is a project of collective political, social, economic and cultural imagination. According to government professor Peter Katzenstein, one must explore institutional and individual expressions of the European community to understand its complexities.
Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell, spoke on “Europe in The World” on April 1. His talk was part of the project and competition “Europe in the World: Perspectives on Communities,” hosted by Cornell University Library and the Cornell Institute for European Studies.
At the same event, winners of a student competition to create academic projects on European identities were announced (see sidebar).
“The topic of this event is Europe in the world, not Europe as the world,” Katzenstein said, adding “…the students’ projects here demonstrate this fact, not just illustrate it.” Western Europe once dominated the global effort to construct social and economic reality. Today, however, Europe is discussed in its contemporary form: a political project of economic integration.
Katzenstein addressed issues of conceptualizing Europe: Where does it begin or end geographically or culturally? Are Russia and Turkey part of Europe? Is Islam a part of Europe? According to Katzenstein, the answers are in the affirmative, albeit contingent on the lens one looks through.
“It is a difficult, complex political issue to delimit Europe,” he said, and “there are limits to the imagination of those who conceive it: public intellectuals, academics and politicians.”
According to Katzenstein, imagining community becomes the central point of inquiry into projects like the European Union. One can be part of as many imagined communities as one feels culturally inclined to.
“I feel part of the community of this library in which I have spent long periods of my life,” Katzenstein said. “… I also feel alive in a similar institution in other parts of the world – Japan, Korea or Germany. Students and professors around the world, despite cultural differences, feel belonging to a larger academic community, demonstrating the fluidity of communities we subscribe to in our lives.”
One can therefore be part of multiple, parallel projects of community spanning the globe. This is a microcosm of modern Europe, according to Katzenstein.
The enforcing mechanisms of community, according to Katzenstein, come in two forms: consensus and conflict. China is an example of the former, where a central government seeks to unite a vast land mass and population in the name of a common history, culture and race.
Europe, Katzenstein said, is an example of where “communities form around common points of disagreement.” It is no surprise then that xenophobes and liberals, German and Turkish football fans, and anti-immigration and pro-immigration populations coexist in Europe, and no one of these communities can claim exclusive ownership of the European enterprise.
Communities reside in the minds of socially connected individuals. The individual, Katzenstein said, is “defined by her arguments and where she stands on issues that define social life.”
“Europe is a mirror for us. Not because it is like us, but because it teaches us about geography and imagination, and about conflict, consensus and community,” Katzenstein concluded.
Umang Prabhakar '13 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.
'Europe in the World' competition winners
The Cornell Library asked students to create academic projects on European identities and communities, using digital or mixed media tools and resources. All of the projects are on display on the main and ground floors of Olin Library and will remain there through the summer.
Kornelia Tancheva, director of Olin and Uris Libraries, awarded cash prizes to the winners.
- First place: Faye Tsakas, $1,000 for her ethnographic short film, “Dans le Metro”
- Second place: Anna Walling, $500 for her poster, “Bridging the Gap: Architectural Design and the European Union’s Search for Cultural Form”
- Third place: Christopher Levesque, $250 for his presentation, “Berlin Migration and its Political Effects on Immigrant Communities”
- First place: Amit Gilutz, $1,000 for his concert piece, “The Task of Interpretation (a counterpoint to Edward Said)”
- Second place: Johannes C. Plambeck, $500 for his poster, “The Phenomenon of Unidentified Flying Objects in Western Europe”
- Third place: Diana Garvin, $250 for her image set, “Consuming the Body Politic: East Africans in 1930’s Italian Mass Media”