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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1–25 | Cite as

Are Europeans made in America? Identity, alterity and the United States as Europe’s ‘Other’

  • David Michael GreenEmail author
Article

Abstract

Theorists of political identity have long argued that such sentiments are often forged through the mechanics of alterity. The intersection of these theoretical ideas with the historical contingency of the George W. Bush administration and the availability of mass behaviour data measuring identity and related concepts creates a unique opportunity to put this notion to an empirical test in the important context of European polity-building. Did the transatlantic breach caused by the Iraq war and other US policies of the past decade create an ‘Other’ for Europe in the form of the USA, driving European Union citizens towards a European identity? This study examines both qualitative and quantitative data to test the hypothesis that US policy during the Bush administration served to foster a more robust European identity, ultimately uncovering mixed empirical evidence both supporting and negating the proposed relationship.

Keywords

European integration European identity political identity transatlantic relations American foreign policy mass behaviour political psychology 

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Notes

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    By political identity I refer to the constellation of cognitive and emotive affinities individuals possess with relation to geopolitical communities of which they are a part. Nationalism is, of course, the most prominent historical manifestation of political identity, but both sub- and supra-national political identities also exist in the form of feelings, attitudes and loyalties toward towns, regions and continents (among other ways, this is confirmed by considerable quantities of poll data, and not just for Europeans). Political identity, for the most part, is exclusive of other forms of identity, such as perhaps class or religion, but there can be enormous overlaps as well, as in the role language plays, for example, in defining British or French nationalism. Nevertheless, by use of the term political identity, I seek to describe a specific kind of identity, and one which is typically more narrow than broad societal concepts such as Edward Said’s notion of ‘The West’, which I employ herein chiefly to establish the significance of alterity as a mechanism in identity formation.Google Scholar
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    The ‘made in America’ construction requires two important clarifications. First, with respect to the objections of many that the USA is not the same thing as America, I have tried to avoid the latter usage as much as possible, with the exception of quotations, locations where overly awkward phrasing would result, and in the catchphase that forms the title of the study, which is an allusion to a common expression in the USA concerning the origins of manufactured goods. Second, for purposes of this study, what is actually, literally meant by this phrase is ‘George W Bush’s America’. It is an interesting an open question, for example, whether the replacement of the Bush presidency with the Obama administration has shifted identity sentiment in Europe. But it is also a complicated one. Many Europeans perceive the Obama administration to be less conservative and militarist than Bush’s, but arguably the opposite is a more accurate apprehension, stylistic differences between the two administrations notwithstanding. For instance, while Bush fought a generalised war on terror and two more specific wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has maintained all three commitments, tripled American forces in the latter, and added engagements of significant scale (though perhaps not rising to the level of warranting the appellation ‘war’) in Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. Likewise, Obama’s policies on the International Criminal Court (ICC), Guantánamo and global warming, for example, are not substantially different than Bush’s. This means that any identity differences in Europe, should they appear, would be driven by largely false perceptions of changed policies in the USA. Thus, while a subsequent analysis examining this question with the addition of Obama era data would be an interesting supplement to the present study, it would pose some complicated questions of interpretation.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceHofstra UniversityUSA

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