HomeIdentities: the concept, manifestations and evolutions

HomeIdentities: the concept, manifestations and evolutions

Identities: the concept, manifestations and evolutions

Les « Identités » : le concept, ses manifestations, ses évolutions

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Published on Thursday, April 21, 2016


The complex and polysemic notion of identity offers great opportunities for reflection. Historians, geographers, sociologists, ethnologists, political scientists, geo-politicians, economists, linguists, philosophers, semiologists, theologians..., among others, with methods specific to their discipline, analyze identity, its formation, its relationship with the territory and surrounding populations, the symbolic, written and verbal communication with group members or neighboring groups, changes over time and space. Thus, each particular identity and appears to understand it, we must analyze the highly variable combination of multiple constitutive factors themselves change over time and space.



"Tunisian-Mediterranean Association for Historical, Social and Economic Studies" & "Tunisian World Center for Studies, Research and Development" will organize on 24, 25 and 26 November 2016 the ninth international symposium on the theme: Identities: concept, its manifestations, its evolution.

The complex and polysemic notion of identity offers great opportunities for reflection. Historians, geographers, sociologists, ethnologists, political scientists, geo-politicians, economists, linguists, philosophers, semiologists, theologians..., among others, with methods specific to their discipline, analyze identity, its formation, its relationship with the territory and surrounding populations, the symbolic, written and verbal communication with group members or neighboring groups, changes over time and space.

I. The concept of identity      

The term identity, often attached to the word "national", appears delicate to define.  According to the philosopher Georges Gusdorf, "the idea of nation seems to refuse any satisfactory definition."[1]The historian Pierre Nora, before proposing its definition, warns: "The expression, for an historian is to avoid or employ with tweezers."[2] This explains the diversity of interpretations. If we stick to those that have been proposed since the French Revolution, we can quote the analysis of Sieyès which in 1789, influenced by Le contrat social of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, sees in an identity group, voluntary and contractual association of equal citizens. In the nineteenth century, Augustin Thierry emphasizes the progressive unification of disparate elements first. Michelet observes the construction of the national group that mixes different individuals in a fight against a common adversary.

In 1882, Ernest Renan, in a famously conference, establishes the nation on free adhesion of the individuals concerned: "It is (...) the actual consent, the desire to live together (...). Having suffered, enjoyed, hoped together (...). The existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite ". The writer Maurice Barres sees in the cult of the homeland and ancestors, an essential unifying principle. The geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache, in its Tableau géographique (1903), emphasizes the secular interaction between man and nature: according to him, more is rooting old in one place, plus the assimilating force of this place operates . André Siegfried, with the methods of political science and social psychology, research the invariable elements of national identity and this "permanent fund that is always found."[3] As said the doctor and esthete Elie Faure, "climate, terrestrial backbone, atavism, education, the local economy gradually shape an language, an architecture, a literature, a painting, a music and a story that are not the same if it is a marine people or a people of soldiers, a people of farmers or nomadic people. "[4]

The reflexion held in the past on the concept of identity offers many ideas or intuitions that, despite their diversity, can feed current research. He first appears that the investigation must raise the traces of the past in the present time, objective or not traces. This was the objective of the program of the great historian Fernand Braudel in the French case: "So what can we hear by identity of France? (...) The living result that the endless past has patiently deposited in successive layers (...). In short a residue, an amalgam, additions and mixtures. To see onseself to a thousand of tests, beliefs, speech, alibis, vast unconscious without shores, obscure confluences, ideologies, myths, fantasies. "[5]

In his classical approach, we can define identity through three sets of factors: a territory and its symbols, education and common behaviors.

- Attachment to a region, often the place of birth, is evidenced by opinion polls. Landscapes, some villages or urban areas, territories considered as sacred, places of memory recalling an important event or symbolizing the essential values engender a sense of belonging more or less binding.[6] This is particularly embodied in symbols like a flag, hymns, a crescent and a star for Muslims, a cross for Christians, the hammer and sickle for the communists, sometimes an animal like the Algerian fennec, the Congolese okapi, the Ivorian elephant, the German eagle, the Swiss bear, the Gallic rooster, the Cameroon "indomitable lion", plus the Congo-Kinshasa leopard or animal-gods in pagan societies. The national mottos  also appear heavy symbolic such as "God, the country, the king" in Morocco, "Unity in diversity" in South Africa, "From coast to coast" in Canada, "We want to remain what we are "in Luxembourg," our language is our treasure "in Moldova," Liberty, equality, fraternity "in France. The motto of the latter country is so full of meaning that the reactionary Vichy regime replaced it with "Work, family, fatherland."

- The second strong element of identity lies in education. From the earliest age, children receive the imprint of a particular idiom. We must stress the importance of it. Modern linguistics shows that language is solidary to society and reflects this. The work of lexicometry reveal that the vocabulary and word associations convey specific messages.[7] Besides the politicians around they are today communications specialists who suggest their expressions likely to hit the opinion and gain the support. Emil Cioran, Romanian established in France in 1937, voluntarily detached from any form of belonging, however, had learned French and wrote in that language whose rigor, contrasting with the exuberance of his native idiom, fascinated him; he drew this conclusion: "We do not live in a country, we live in a language. A country that's it, nothing else. "[8] This attachment to language is often advanced to justify and legitimize secessionist fever in English-speaking Cameroonians who prefer to identify with the British rule administration than the "Republic".[9]

In traditional societies, education passed by the ancient builds an identity that changes little as the contacts maintained with the outside world are limited. In modern countries, primary and secondary education provides young people with training generally defined by official programs. Some writers, famous embody national soul, come to exercise a fundamental influence in some countries, like Homère, Virgile, Ibn Khaldoun, Dante, Cervantès, Goethe, Voltaire, Victor Hugo ... etc. History which provides many examples generally chosen by the government also offers turn of identification schemas. The geography, sometimes, completes this process. Thus, under the Third French Republic, textbooks taught that France should to be loved by her children because she had a hexagonal perfect shape, was ideally located in the heart of the temperate zone, had a remarkable harmony because it had a half its territory in the plains and the other half happily placed on the periphery mountains, was open to the Mediterranean, full of exceptional heritage of civilization, and the Atlantic, vector of modernity. Religious education completes the formation of identity. The great texts like the Vedas and Upanishads Hindus, the Chinese Tao To King, the Bible, the Koran, the Torah ... etc. transmit the basic principles that shape society.

- The existence of common behavior is considered as a third component of identity. Theories of researchers who, in the first half of the twentieth century, wanted to prove that each nation has its own mentality are nowadays regarded with caution. But the opinion, without necessarily knowing scholarly works, believes that there is a constitutive character of each human group and singled by original behaviors. Travels and contacts with immigrants whose difference is measured seem to prove that there are many features of identity, often identified as: the German discipline, the Scottish greed, the Spanish pride, the Italian gaiety ... etc. Basically, whether the portrait has a scientific value or it conveys the stereotypes: the fact that we believe real introduces a new level of identification.

These three invariants however place the question of identity from of individuals point of view and groups in their experimental immediacy. This approach excludes a heuristic comprehensive career and pragmatic of identity, which placing the analysis in a geo-historical perspective, liberates additional identity invariant make it a civilizational marker. This is for example the discord node that weakens the Mediterranean project by opposing an Europe jealous of its socio-economic superiority and techno-scientific to Maghreb and Middle East whose pride is often rocked by the backing to the mythical nostalgia of al-Andalus. Moreover, the differential identity of civilizations was staged by the famous "Clash of Civilizations" by Samuel P. Huntington[10], a book that, as far as the "Grand Chessboard"[11] of Zbigniew Brzezinski, attempts to show the civilizations special characters and thus founded the anthropological and socio-symbolic criteria as essential constants from which can be mapped the civilizational "habitus" and thus fix the identities of peoples in time and in space. It is also consistent with these authors to note the supremacy of Western civilization with American dominance over other civilizations of the world, such as Africa does not even exist in their classification scales because being without identity.

In Africa specifically, and to the chagrin of this approach, the question of identity is becoming the central criterion of socio-political explanation.

At the individual and civilizational identity that we have mentioned above are places side by side what might seem like a political identity, or because it aggregates the resentment of individuals claiming a socio-anthropological group, a perspective that is observable in the movements of political disintegrations which will fuel the now well-known period of democratic transitions in Africa in south of the Sahara and, more recently, the cycle of the Arab Spring, either because it allows the same that in all systems and political fields, to designate the political spectrum, democracy with the face of the dominant political identity. Beyond that, the question raised by Achille Mbembe "moving borders of the African continent,"[12] highlights the resilience of the anthropological compositions that colonization work has not totally eradicated. The maneuvers and the construction end emancipation of ante-colonial identity sets, within the States, in the image of the separatist thrust of Biafra in Nigeria, as in border areas, today affects the stability of African states and tends to impose the need for a redistribution of spaces.

The question then arises is: should we make a new partition of Africa, state borders following the winding course and heterogeneous identity of lines? Thus, each particular identity and appears to understand it, we must analyze the highly variable combination of multiple constitutive factors themselves change over time and space.

II. Identity events

The identity is expressed in the collective and individual framework. The influence of the environment, norms and values it transmits, the resulting behaviors appear important. In the collective, tribal identities we will report, regional, national, identities in border regions, which often host traits from the neighboring country. In a broader dimension, global and international identities embodied for example in the Arab cultural areas, German, Iberian, Western, African ... etc. We must question the existence of very large sets of identity extended to an entire continent: does it exist a global African identity, Asian, South American or North ...? If this concept has a meaning, is it the result or the average of several narrower national identities?

Collective identity also has very close relations with the great religions which have a secular influence. In contrast, agnosticism and atheism are antagonist’s choices. It will be interesting to study the relationship established between religious values and secular values.

Political and union orientations give rise to other collective identities. Right, left, extremism, centrism supervises individuals ideologically and provide their grids judgment. Alliance, rupture, election clashes rhythms of public life. The coexistence of different identities or their struggles in the same space or within borders opens up vast prospects for reflection. Some multiethnic regions such as Central Europe often described as a "mosaic of peoples" have experienced over the centuries many battles caused by incompatibilities identity.

Professional identities are multiple. Farmers cultures, workers, bourgeois, aristocratic fragment into many subgroups. Each of these is distinguished by its values, its traditions, its pride, its claims. Gestures work, costume, kitchen, table practices, the relation to education individualize among many other signs, the particularities of these groups. Sociology and ethnology attach great importance to codes and behavior in everyday life which for these sciences overpass the anecdotal significance to become indicative of the profound identity.It is important to remember that many identities can coexist in the same individual and the countless life experiences alter the balance of these personal affiliations.

III. Identity changes

If we put aside some isolated communities, not maintaining contacts with the outside, the identity groups are experiencing more or less rapid change. Very slow is generally changing rural societies loyal to ancestral customs. Urban and industrial societies, friendly modern technologies, are marked by an earlier and broader education. They are also influenced by the presence of political parties, trade unions, mass media and shows having taken the opinion and experience more rapid change.

Wars, conquests, revolutions can, in the long run, lead to transformations that alter the identity of the vanquished. Thus, the Arab conquest led to the gradual disappearance of Christianity in North Africa. European colonization was to disrupt or dislocate the identity of the subject peoples. Subsequently, new configurations were outlined amalgamating some surviving elements of indigenous cultures and contributions of domineering powers, often the language. The results proved very variable. For example, current research shows that the Italian fascist colonization was massively rejected by Ethiopia because it was based on a violent racism, while in neighboring Eritrea, where the Italian presence was older and more liberal - mixed marriages were allowed in the nineteenth century - a "hybrid identity memory was formed" because the Italian presence there appeared "rewarding and valued."[13]In modern times, vast social transformation, economic, political, cultural introduce important questioned identity. The erasing of some great ideologies, such as Marxism and its Maoist incarnation, affects the collective personality of countries subject to these totalitarian systems for many decades.

The decline of traditional religious values within Christianity in Western Europe is changing behavior. If space is marked by the cross, the names of towns, streets and neighborhoods devolved to the saints, if time is punctuated by the ancient festivals, Christmas, Easter, Ascension, All Saints ... etc., churches weight on society decreases; the Magisterium is no longer able to impose its rules, its sexual morality, its ideological choice, attending religious services; the knowledge of dogma appears very low.

The construction of large international projects like the European Union, which weave many supranational bonds, distend in several areas the national independence. The globalization of culture, often on the American model, threatens the old national identities.In this area, the alarm was given from the interwar period by intellectuals, particularly in France, such as Georges Duhamel (Scènes de la vie future, 1930 ; Au chevet de la civilisation, 1938), Robert Aron and Arnaud Dandieu (Le Cancer américain, 1931) denouncing the emerging consumer society, the tyranny of advertising, the cult of production, the invasion of the machine. Nevertheless, the "Yankee" lifestyle has spread, translates through words used in everyday vocabulary, "jeans", "polar", "fast food", "Walk man", "rock", " hip hop "," google "," facebook "," twitter "," marketing "," management "," pop art "... etc.

The Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou observes: "We are in a culture of interbreeding."[14] The danger of suffocation of national culture, thus weakening identity, has led the French Government to raise a dam since 1993. It is the "cultural exception", that is to say a limitation of free trade that the United States wanted to impose on the matter. Aurélie Filipetti, French Culture Minister, condemns the logic of the market which "uniforms, flattens, simplifies to please the greatest number."[15] Many think that the culture stay alive when there is diversity in its expressions.

Increased leisure time is another factor of standardization. The acceleration of contacts in reading, cinema, television, internet opens new horizons. Tourism that has democratized enables direct contact with other cultures. The whole gives rise to ways of thinking and original expression, leads to new experiences and imposes modes.

The scale of international migration, because of work or political asylum, creates new human intermixing. In history, the European colonizers diffused their culture which was juxtaposed that of the subject countries. Thus were formed vast linguistic areas, French, English, Spanish-speaking, and Portuguese-speaking. , Etc. Fleeing the genocidal madness of the start of the 90s and its consequences, millions of Rwandans and Burundians swarmed the central African countries causing regulatory revisions to protect citizenship and national identity in some countries. Cameroon, for example, which already had considerable pressure of economic refugees from West Africa, will change its national representation order of 1982 civil status to introduce a clause which now requires accurate the original nationality of the newborn.

The population and ethnic mixes compose sometimes very colorful country on the identity of which one must wonder: in Panama, the 2010 census reported 55% mixed, 18% of blacks and mulattos, 17% White, 6% of native and 6% Asian. In Ivory Coast, the foreign population,  from 700 000 people in 1965, 17% of residents, passes to 3,039,000 in 1988, or 22%. In 2010, France had 5,406,000 immigrants (foreigners born abroad), almost 9% of the total population[16]. These vast phenomena raise complex identity evolutions called integration when coexist ideas and behaviors from the country of origin and traits acquired in the host country. Assimilation implies that individual’s look, abandoning their first personality, became similar to citizens of the country. Even when governments try to curb the evolution of their fellow emigrants, they evolve, sometimes unconsciously. Many factors conspire to accelerate or delay the change: economic conditions facilitating or not the integration of newcomers into the productive, job type, habitat quality, professional success, commitment to integration, image offered by the host country, knowledge of language, political meetings, union, religious with the people of the new country, intensity of daily relationships, various experiences , length of stay.[17]

All these phenomena are shaking society. When changes are revealed rapid and dramatic, they may scare some segments of the population. In this case, pessimism and fears create a downturn and a valorization to recover the old standards. Identity becomes a safe haven. Thus, some Christians and some Muslims, disapproving of the actual or perceived changes in their religion, dream of a return to the early centuries of practice.

However, mutations sometimes operate without apparent trauma. Thus the Ivorian anthropologist Gerard Buokassa notes that the conversion of many sub-Saharan Africans to monotheistic religions has not removed prior beliefs and attitudes; a kind of syncretic accommodation took place: "Today, the African religion does not exist anywhere, but it is everywhere, in the consciousness, in spiritual or empirical operations in representations, in attitudes, in gestures, in proverbs, in legends, in the myths.»[18]

Thus globalization raises many questions, one of the most complex concerns the mutation of identities being.

The theme of "identities: the concept, its manifestations, its developments" could be approached in the following areas:

1. Genesis of identity. From past to present

  •  Influence of the natural environment
  •  Original stories, myths, legends
  •  Religion and construction of identities (the dominant religions spaces, role of religious parties)
  •  The Influence of history

2. The symbolic of identity

  •  Symbols, heraldry, totems
  •  Mottoes
  •  Music
  •  Memory places
  •  artistic translations (architecture, fine arts, painting, sculpture ...)

3. Education

  •  Inheritances (Greek legacy, Latin, Punic, Arab, Semitic, Celtic, animist ...)
  •  The school
  •  Language, literature, history, geography...
  •  Religious education
  •  The resulting cultural

4. Collective identities

  •  Tribes, regions, nations, border areas, international areas
  •  Political ideologies
  •  Social memberships, professional, association, religious...
  •  Attitudes and daily behaviors
  •  Coexistence and identity clashes

5. The identity changes

  •  Factors of evolution
  •  The political, social, economic, cultural, religious
  •  Tradition and modernity, the weight of local customs face to the modernity
  •  The cultural identity of the colonized countries
  •  International migration (work  research, political asylum, tourism ...)
  •  Globalization
  •  Integration and assimilation.


  •  June 25, 2016: Deadline for submitting proposals to the following email address: tunisian.mediterranean.associ@gmail.com

  •  Participants will receive before July 6, 2016, a response to their proposals + information on registration fees at the symposium.
  •  Deadline for sending the Final Text: November 6, 2016
  •  9th International Symposium: 24, 25, and 26 November 2016 / Beja - Tunisia

 Important notes

  •  Proposal: Detailed Summary: A page minimum (Font: Times New Roman 12; Page: Margins 2.5 cm; spacing: single), with detailed scientific and updated C.V.
  •  The proposals are: Arabic, English, French, and Spanish.
  •  For abstracts in French or Spanish, a detailed English translation is mandatory (one page at a minimum: Font: Times New Roman 12, Page Margins 2.5 cm spacing: single).
  •  For summaries in Arabic, a detailed translation into English or French is mandatory (minimum one page: Font: Times New Roman 12, Page Margins 2.5 cm spacing: single).
  •  The conference proceedings will be published after evaluation by the Scientific Committee. 

Scientific committee

  •  Abdennour Sadik (Université Kenitra. Maroc),
  •  Adel Ben Youssef (Université de Sousse. Tunisie), University of Sousse. Tunisia
  •  Adel Zyada (Université du Caire. Egypte),
  •  Ali Toumi (Université de Tunis. Tunisie), University of Manouba. Tunisia
  •  Anne-Claire Bonnevillle (I.N.L.C.O. Paris. France)
  •  Antonio Garrido Almonacid (Universidad de Jaén – Espagne), University of Jaén – Spain.
  •  BA Idrissa (Université Cheikh Anta DIOP de Dakar. Senegal),
  •  Eloy Martín Corrales (Universidad Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona – Espagne), University of Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona – Spain.
  •  Habib Belaid (Université de Mannouba. Tunisie), University of Manouba. Tunisia
  •  Hasan Amili (Université Hassan II. Mohammedia. Maroc), University of Hassan II. Mohammedia. Morocco
  •  Hetcheli Kokou Folly Lolowou (Université de Lomé. Togo) University of Lomé. Togo
  •  Houcine al-Ammari (Université Beni Mellel. Maroc),
  •  Hugon Alain, (Université de Caen Basse-Normandie. France)
  •  Ibrahim Muhammed Saadaoui (Université de Tunisie / T.M.A. for H.S.E.S.), University of Tunisia / T.M.A. for HSES
  •  Ibrahim Saïd al Baidhani (Université al-Mustansiriyya. Bagdad. Irak),
  •  John Chircop (University of Malta),
  •  Khalifa Hammache (Université de Constantine. Algérie), University of Constantine. Algeria
  •  Koffi Brou Emile (Université de Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire), University of Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire
  •  Landitiana Soamarina Miakatra (Institut d’Etudes Politiques. Madagascar), IPS. University of Madagascar
  •  Laurence Michalak (University of California, Berkeley. USA)
  •  Mabrouk Bahi (Université de Sfax. Tunisie), (University of Sfax. Tunisia)
  •  Mabrouk Chihi (Université de Jendouba. Tunisie), University of Jendouba. Tunisia
  •  Mbida Onambele Max Zachée Saintclair (Université de de Buéa. Cameroun), University of Buea. Cameroon
  •  Mohamed Bidiwi (Université Assiout. Egypte), University of Assiout. Egypt.
  •  Mohammed Arnaout (Université Al- al Bayit, Jordanie), University of Al- al Bayit, Jordanie
  •  Mohammed Ben Attou (Université Ibn ZOhr, Agadir. Maroc), University of Ibn ZOhr, Agadir. Morocco
  •  Mohammed Ratoul (Université Hassiba ben Bouali, Chlef. Algérie), University of Hassiba ben Bouali, Chlef. Algeria
  •  Ralph Schor (Université de Nice-Sophia Antipolis. France), University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis. France
  •  Tanoh Raphael Bekoin (Université de Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire), University of Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire
  •  Salah Haridy (Université Damanhour. Egypte), University of Damanhour. Egypt.

[1] Georges GUSDORF, Traité de l’existence morale, Colin, Paris, 1942. The notion of identity can also take the meaning of the psychological category according to Edouard Balladur. Voir : Edouard Balladur, Caractère de la France, Plon, Paris, 1997. 

[2] Pierre NORA, Recherches de la France, Gallimard, Paris, 2013. 

[3]André SIEGFRIED, L’Ame des peuples, Hachette, Paris, 1950.  

[4] Elie FAURE, Découverte de l’archipel, Nouvelle revue critique, 1932, réédition Livre de poche, Paris, 1978.  

[5] Fernand BRAUDEL, L’Identité de la France, Arthaud-Flammarion, Paris, 1989. 

[6] Pierre NORA (dir), Les Lieux de mémoire, Gallimard, Paris, 1997. 

[7] Damon MAYAFFRE, Le Poids des mots, Honoré Champion, Paris, 2000. 

[8] Emil CIORAN, Aveux et anathèmes, Gallimard, Paris, 1987.  

[9] This is way, they define what they call « francophone State » governed from Yaoundé.  

[10] Samuel P. Huntington, Le choc des civilisations, Odile Jacob, Paris, 1997.  

[11] Zbigniew Brzezinski, Le grand échiquier, Bayart éditions, Paris, 1997.  

[12] Achille Mbembe, « Les frontières mouvantes du continent africain », in Le Monde diplomatique, novembre 1999. 

[13] Fabienne LE HOUEROU, « Le moment colonial italien comme répulsion/attraction dans les imaginaires nationaux érythréens et éthiopiens », in D’Italie et d’ailleurs, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2014. 

[14] Tribune de France Inter, 17 mars 2016. 

[15]Le Monde, 14 juin 2013. 

[16] Gildas SIMON (dir), Dictionnaire des migrations internationales, Colin, Paris, 2015. 

[17] Ralph SCHOR, Histoire de l’immigration en France, Colin, Paris, 1996. 

[18] Gérard BUOKASSA, Impact de la religion sur l’Afrique d’aujourd’hui, Colloque du Festival mondial des arts négro-africains, Lagos, 1977.  


  • I.S.E.T. - Route de Tunis
    Béja, Tunisia (9000)


  • Saturday, June 25, 2016


  • nation, identité, territoire, traditions, éducation, symboles, comportements communs, intégration, assimilation


  • ibrahim muhammed saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Information source

  • ibrahim muhammed saadaoui
    courriel : saadaoui_brahim [at] yahoo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Identities: the concept, manifestations and evolutions », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, April 21, 2016, https://calenda.org/364383

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