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"Typically German?": National Character and the Eye of the Beholder

Rothenberg, Bess
Format
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Author
Rothenberg, Bess
Advisor
Hays, Sharon
Abstract
This cross-cultural, comparative analysis considers how the nation is constructed and understood differently across cultures. Taking Germany as my case study, I explore how images of the nation come to be influenced by the national membership of the observers. I discover a paradox in which varying images of Germany reveal more about the national character of those doing the perceiving than about the inherent nature of "Germanness." I find that social location comes to structure not just the image of this one nation but also influences understandings of the place of the nation in the larger world order. I term this process in which social location affects the role and image of the nation nationing. As I discover, this phenomenon comes to speak to issues of individualism, postmodernity, and stratification. Drawing on literature from the sociology of culture and interdisciplinary research on the nation, I argue for an understanding of nations as cultural objects interpreted differently dependent upon the social position of the observer. Specifically, I compare the treatment of Germany in four major newspapers and nineteen world history school textbooks from India, Kenya, England, Germany, and the United States. I also conduct in-depth interviews with 45 Americans and Germans (in German), asking their thoughts and perceptions of nations. In each stage of the analysis a paradox emerges: an image of a nation speaks less to the inherent qualities of that nation and more to the national character of those doing the evaluating. I conclude that although the effects of globalization are far-reaching, there are still fundamentally different approaches to relating to the world that fall along national lines, and these profoundly affect our relationship to the world.
Published
University of Virginia, Department of Sociology, PhD, 2002
Published Date
2002-01-31
Degree
PhD
Collection
Libra ETD Repository
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