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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds So far, we have discussed how the European Union attempts to create a sense of European identity through advancing a cultural framework. We have briefly looked at the EU’s language policy and its capitals of culture programme. Programmes and policies such as these constitute top down efforts by the EU to create and intervene in European culture. As such, European culture is imagined at a political or bureaucratic level and focused on the union’s official motto of united in diversity. The union devised a series of signs and symbols that play a key role for citizens in identifying with Europe as a political community. As anthropologist Cris Shore has pointed out, he says, symbols do not simply represent political reality; they actively create it.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds And thus, the flag, the currency, the motto, the anthem, the day, all partake in our use of these signs and symbols in constructing this idea called Europe. Not only does one find efforts on the side of the European institutions, such as the EU, to construct European culture and European identity through these signs and symbols, but also in other ways by sanctioning practices of memory and particular collective narratives about the past. Raise awareness about sites which have played a significant role in the history, culture, and development of the European Union as well as to highlight the European dimension through the information and educational activities.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds The ultimate objective of the European heritage label is to strengthen people’s sense of belonging to the European Union. 29 sites have been identified so far, and you can find the list in this video’s transcript. From a certain point of view, it certainly looks as if the EU controls cultural policy, and as a result, the field of culture too. As Monica Sassatelli in her book, Becoming Europeans, points out though, we should not constrain our perspective on that of the European institutions. It is true that much financial support and official rhetorical legitimacy for certain kinds of cultural activities are provided by the EU and other European institutions, such as the Council of Europe.

Skip to 2 minutes and 31 seconds Nevertheless, this provides the conditions for subjects to cooperate on common projects, she says. In other words, if the institutions provide the context, it is the citizens– individually or in groups– who do something cultural. That is to say the practices that take place in the cultural field itself jeopardises this distinction between top down programmes of cooperation and bottom up initiatives. A grassroots focus would enable us to consider those other cultural actions, practices, and interventions. Simply asking what’s going on in terms of culture and who is doing what in that field may help us to see a very dynamic and complex picture,

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 seconds One example here might suffice: A fascinating project that really undermines the idea that signs, given by the EU, such as the flag, are stable, is that of Remco Torenbosch, a Dutch artist who grandly and ironically entitled his project, “European Contextualising in Analytical Sociology and Ethnographic Representations on History and the Present.” What Torenbosch did was to collect samples of the EU flag from all over the EU, which reveals a wide diversity of blue tints. This, according to Torenbosch, shows that the idea of Europe is not a collective concept, and it certainly cannot be defined. Each member country has different ideas about its meaning. The colour differences reflect the diversity in expectations and visions.

Skip to 4 minutes and 12 seconds To wrap up, from a grassroots level, all kinds of cultural iterations take place, some adhering to Europeanisation, while others are clearly intended as means of talking back, resisting, and critiquing, for example, the dominant discourse of Europeanisation. In the following steps, we will take a look at a few examples.

Europe, top-down and bottom-up

In the previous videos, Dr Margriet van der Waal discussed top-down constructions of European culture by the European Union. ‘Top-down’ means that the initiatives don’t come from citizens, but from organisations. Some argue that this equals creating something that isn’t there: if there’s no demand, why supply it?

But, Dr Van der Waal argues, what if institutions only create the context for citizens to do something ‘cultural’? Top-down initiatives merely set the boundaries for bottom-up, or grassroots, initiatives. And even these boundaries can become part of a questioning by artists and citizens.

You can find all a list of all European Heritage Label sites here.

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European Culture and Politics

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