Blood and Culture

Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary Germany

Blood and Culture

Politics, History, and Culture

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 6 tables Published: August 2009

European Studies, Globalization and Neoliberalism, Sociology

Over the past decade, immigration and globalization have significantly altered Europe’s cultural and ethnic landscape, foregrounding questions of national belonging. In Blood and Culture, Cynthia Miller-Idriss provides a rich ethnographic analysis of how patterns of national identity are constructed and transformed across generations. Drawing on research she conducted at German vocational schools between 1999 and 2004, Miller-Idriss examines how the working-class students and their middle-class, college-educated teachers wrestle with their different views about citizenship and national pride. The cultural and demographic trends in Germany are broadly indicative of those underway throughout Europe, yet the country’s role in the Second World War and the Holocaust makes national identity, and particularly national pride, a difficult issue for Germans. Because the vocational-school teachers are mostly members of a generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s and hold their parents’ generation responsible for National Socialism, many see national pride as symptomatic of fascist thinking. Their students, on the other hand, want to take pride in being German.

Miller-Idriss describes a new understanding of national belonging emerging among young Germans—one in which cultural assimilation takes precedence over blood or ethnic heritage. Moreover, she argues that teachers’ well-intentioned, state-sanctioned efforts to counter nationalist pride often create a backlash, making radical right-wing groups more appealing to their students. Miller-Idriss argues that the state’s efforts to shape national identity are always tempered and potentially transformed as each generation reacts to the official conception of what the nation “ought” to be.


“Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s fascinating study of attitudes to nation, identity and right-wing extremism among young people in Berlin provides some surprising insights. . . . Miller-Idriss’s work is important because it records the voices of ordinary working-class students and their teachers.” — Joachim Whaley, Journal of European Studies

“It is difficult to do justice to the richness of this book. It would be of interest to any educator interested in citizenship and state, in generational studies and generational theory, in extremism and radicalisation, in the perceptions of culture and race. . . . This study of one nation has so many resonances for other countries. In the English speaking world we are fortunate to have this book written in English and to ponder such resonances.” — Lynn Davies, Educational Review

“Miller-Idriss’ book gives an informed overview of the general frame and recent issues of German national identity and belonging, with sober and well-documented analyses, and she highlights and documents important processes in the changing German national identity. It can be recommended without reserve.” — Jochen Steinbricker, Contemporary Sociology

“Ultimately, Miller-Idriss provides an enlightening account of shifts in German national identity across generations. . . . [H]er ethnographic focus on the narratives of ordinary citizens provides a glimpse into how German national identity is imagined and reimagined over time.” — John Mei, Nations and Nationalism

“While skillfully weaving insights from quantitative studies into her own argument, Miller-Idriss’s unique ethnographic perspective allows her to engage questions that often fall beyond the purview of research on nationalism. . . . [T]he book will be of great interest both to researchers with a focus on contemporary Germany and to scholars of nationalism more generally. Miller-Idriss’s clear and readable style and her masterful balancing of appropriate background with original analysis make Blood and Culture an accessible study, suitable for use in a variety of academic and pedagogical levels.” — Nitzan Shoshan, American Journal of Sociology

Blood and Culture is an extremely important ethnographic account of a phenomenon that is often examined in a quantitative or theoretical manner. Cynthia Miller-Idriss talks to working-class German youth—high-school students in the process of studying for a ‘trade’—and elicits from them their experience of what it means to be German in a country that is increasingly diverse and where the memory of World War II can no longer serve as an ‘excuse’ for not expressing national pride. She makes a convincing case that nation-ness differs not only across nations but across generations within the same nation-state.” — Mabel Berezin, author of Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Culture, Security and Populism in the New Europe

“In this rare work on ‘everyday’ understandings of citizenship and nationhood, Cynthia Miller-Idriss helps to dispel stereotypes about allegedly ‘blood’-based and ‘racial’ ideas of German nationhood. She shows that ordinary people (even those particularly suspected to hold ‘racial’ ideas, such as working-class youth), espouse a cultural and behavioral, rather than biological, idea of nation. Moreover, in making generational experience key to national self-conceptions, she proposes a dynamic, change-centered notion of nationhood.” — Christian Joppke, author of Selecting by Origin: Ethnic Migration in the Liberal State


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Cynthia Miller-Idriss is Assistant Professor of International Education and Educational Sociology at New York University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Abbreviations xvii

Introduction: Citizenship and National Belonging as Cultural Practices 1

1. Who Belongs to the Nation? 23

2. Being and Becoming in Germany 46

3. Germany's Forbidden Fruit: National Pride and National Taboos 63

4. Raising the Right Wing: Educators' Struggle to Confront the Radical Right 93

5. Teaching and Un-teaching National Identity 122

6. Blood, Culture, Birthplace 149

7. Generational Change and the Re-Imagining of Nations 169

Appendix A. Overview of the Case Studies 182

Appendix B. Methodological Overview 188

Notes 201

Bibliography 207

Index 229
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Winner, Griffiths Research Award (presented by the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4544-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4527-5
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