The Concept of the “Other”: Migration, Human Rights, and Formalized Identity Building Processes in Europe

The Concept of the “Other”: Migration, Human Rights, and Formalized Identity Building Processes in Europe

Daniele Ruggiu (University of Padua, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0891-7.ch014


This chapter intends to show how the absence of the right of immigration can create some malfunctions in the human rights law and how this is connected with our concept of identity. The failure of our migration control system and the impossibility of empowering human rights in the field of mobility reveals an enormous conceptual short-circuit in the structure of liberal countries in Europe, involving the relationship between the Self and the “Other.”
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Formal And Informal Processes Of Identity Building

Identity (Ruggiu & Mora, 2007; Porcelli, 2008; Ricoeur, 1999) is a relational concept (Cassinari, 2007). Indeed identity is the outcome of a relationship between the image of a present I and a past I. It is also a temporally oriented concept (Cassinari, 2007). This means that it indicates a forming process contributing to the self-comprehension of the Self. It is a building process where at the end of which one recognizes that he/she is what he/she is. This level of self-comprehension leads to the informal dimension of the identity building process.

In highly complex societies such as ours, the question of identity is all the more problematic because the same individual identifies himself simultaneously with a plurality of relationships and classes. As Michael Walzer pointed out, in a type of society, which is the outcome of a plurality of tribes, the I is at the same time a plurality of bonds, a plurality of houses, a plurality of different I’s: I am—Walzer says—“American, Jew. East Coast inhabitant. Intellectual, and Professor” (Walzer, 1991, p. 110).

The informal characteristic of identity as “belonging to” (a particular national community) emerges clearly in the debate between liberals and neo-communitarians. For neo-communitarians, identity as “belonging to” develops in the dimension of time. According to Alasdair MacIntyre, narrativity and temporality enter into identity building processes with two meanings. In the first, identity is expressed by a narrative I, in the sense that I am the outcome of my personal history that has brought me here, but my history is also, at the same time, the outcome of a plurality of histories such as my parents’ history, the history of the people I love, and the history of all the people belonging to my same national community. This introduces us to the second meaning of identity: the identity building process of the I as the outcome of a people’s myths, stories, and culture (MacIntyre, 1988).

In this regard, Charles Taylor drafted a genealogy of modern identity taking into consideration the sources of western culture, the different struggling identities causing the ongoing contemporary identity crisis of the modern Self. What is notable is not the critical situation in which modern identity lives, but that in order to recompose the broken framework of the Self we must consider not only the institutional history of nations, but also and perhaps more importantly the development of hypes and fashions characterizing the cultural features of modern identity (Taylor, 1993; Pariotti, 1997; Ricoeur, 2005).

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