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"Speaking in Tongues: Language and National Belonging in Globalizing Europe"

Uli Linke

disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 25, 2016

In contemporary Europe, the problematic concept of the nation has been recuperated to fasten subjects to political space. Under the impact of globalization, marked by increasing rates of human mobility and concurrent security concerns, European Union states have begun to push for cohesive measures to reclaim their national sovereignty. Revised immigration laws and refugee policies are publicly supported, presumably to keep the nation safe. At the same time, European countries advocate for openness and permeable borders to attract foreign capital investment. In the national interior, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments have come to coexist with the outward dissemination of promotional images of a white Europe. With a focus on such explosive forms of racialization, I investigate how assertions of nationhood have been pushed into the center of public attention. My research suggests that European national borders are increasingly mapped out through the medium of language, thereby producing new mechanisms both for membership and exclusion. With a turn to German cultural politics, I examine how regimes of nationality and imaginaries of citizenship are forged by a racialization of the national language. Under the impact of global capitalism, the European Union, and German unification, ethnolinguistic signposts have emerged as a medium for reconstituting subjectivities and sovereignties. In a united Germany, I argue, national identity politics have become language politics, a terrain marked by a fear of linguistic estrangement and a popular preoccupation with preserving an authentic cultural interior. The nation is configured as a speech community of ethnic Germans. Based on long-term research in Germany, my ethnographic evidence derives from a diversity of political fields: the citizenship debates, immigration policies, German language reform, and the formation of German literary societies, which render visible the phantasm of language purity and the fear of linguistic difference. Through this article, my analysis reveals that national language politics in Europe are located on an imaginary landscape of intensely charged concepts: nation, nature, and race.

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