Marie-Louise Brunner, Stefan Diemer & Selina Schmidt

‘I mean … we have good coffee in Italy … why do we need Starbucks?’ – ‘America’ in the Construction and Negotiation of European Identities

Marie-Louise Brunner, Stefan Diemer & Selina Schmidt
Marie-Louise Brunner, Stefan Diemer & Selina Schmidt

The signifier ‘America’ plays a key, but ambivalent role in contemporary discourse among young Europeans. The complex interplay of ‘America’ and European identity has been commented on e.g. by Neumann (1998) and, in more detail, by Morley & Robins (2002), who state that European identities constitute themselves only through the imagined and observed differences from America rather than perceived common features.
Our paper establishes the linguistic and social context of the negotiation of culture and identity between European students in an online communication environment using English as a Lingua Franca. We look at the significance of ‘America’ in international conversations via Skype in the Corpus of Academic Spoken English (CASE forthcoming) compiled at Saarland University, Germany. Participants from seven European countries discuss academic and cultural issues, and frequently use American culture as reference to position and negotiate their individual identities and to delineate a transnational European cultural identity.
‘America’ appears in many realizations, e.g. in contrastive examples from culture and society, such as the discussion of regional food items in relation to American fast food, in personal stories, as well as encounters with the English language and its global variations. The paper puts a special focus on:
– America as role model: positive descriptions and encounters
– America as the (often negative) “other”
– America as global danger in a cultural and political context
– American English in education and international communication
Our data suggests that American stereotypes and perceived characteristics function as a convenient facilitator for the negotiation and construction of European identities.

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Key words:   America, Europe, culture, negotiation & construction of Identities, online communication

Name: Marie-Louise Brunner, Stefan Diemer & Selina Schmidt

Academic title:  M.A. (Brunner), Prof. Dr. (Diemer), M.A. (Schmidt)

Country: Germany

University:   Saarland University


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