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New Left Review 16, July-August 2002


Gopal Balakrishnan on Lutz Niethammer, Kollektive Identität. How rooted are current conceptions of collective identity in an ominous inter-war history, and what substitutes are on offer?

GOPAL BALAKRISHNAN

THE AGE OF IDENTITY?

Over the last quarter of a century, the deflation of the radical agendas of the 68 generation has in many quarters generated a nervous sensibility, jumpy at any hint of large hypotheses. But in the wider movement away from epic theories of historical development, the German scene has exhibited persistently distinctive features. One of these has been the local variant of microhistory, which has sought to refurbish the traditional craft pretensions of the discipline, while avoiding older positivist obsessions: a typical research agenda involves anthropological decipherment of enormous quantities of variegated documents, often with the objective of recapturing concealed textures of daily experience. The concluding formulations to these exercises typically call into question the value of writing histories organized around misleading canonical categories: capitalism, industrialization, the state—all construed as residues of discredited philosophies. Much of this work exhibits a populist temper that has earned its authors the affectionate local sobriquet of ‘barefoot historians’.

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