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Julia Leser

Julia Leser is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Leipzig University and a researcher affiliated with the BMBF-funded project ‘Strangers in Their Own Land?’ (Leipzig University), the BMBF-funded project ‘Beyond the Glass Ceiling’ (TU Darmstadt, HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen), and the DFG-funded project ‘Institutionalizing Human Trafficking – A French-German Comparison’ (Leipzig University). Leser studied Political Science and Japanese Studies at Waseda University (Japan) and Leipzig University (Germany), where she obtained her PhD degree in 2019. Her research interests relate to understanding the politics of policing and the politics of affects, and further include national security and migration control, nationalism, populism, political ethnography, and state theory.

Doing the Nation – How National Identities Are Performed and Narrated

‘Identities are the expressivities of a situation—capacious performances and a work that has to be done’ (Berlant & Stewart 2019, 17). In our research project Strangers in their own land? (Leipzig University, 2018–2021), we explore with the use of ethnomethodology how the nation is done, and how national identities in Germany are being practiced. A national identity, as is argued in this paper, is not a concept or a reality that simply exists. Identities, as Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart wrote, are always expressions of a concrete situation. Identities are therefore considered performative, and they are stabilized by being practiced continuously. As Kathleen M. Blee (2018) and Donna Zuckerberg (2018) have shown in their research on the far right in the US, performing an overarching narrative is central to how nationalist (and national) identities are being construed. As Jerome Bruner argued, social agents organise their experiences and memories
mainly in the form of narratives, which ultimately are ‘a version of reality whose acceptability is governed by convention and “narrative necessity” rather than by empirical verification and logical requiredness’ (Bruner 1991: 4; see also Ewing & Silbey 1995; Somers 1994). From our empirical research, it can be shown that national narratives are not chosen arbitrarily to simply construct a particular identity. For McCrone and Bechhofer (2016) have shown that the identification of nationals as nationals is primarily a tactical and functional construction. Identity markers can be fluid or fixed but are mobilized to make a claim in regard to the question of who belongs and who does not, and whom to include as ‘one of us’ and whom to exclude. In this paper, I explore some of the prevailing national narratives in Germany and the ways they are being practiced, and present theoretical implications for conceptualising national identities.
Keywords: national identity, nation, nationalism, narrative, practice