Friday, January 28, 2011

Constraints of a "People"

Johann Gottfried von Herder said,

"For each people is a people ; it has its national culture and its language;the zone in which each of them is placed has sometimes put its stamp. sometimes only a thin veil, on each of them, but it has not destroyed the original ancestral core construction of the nation. This extends itself even into families..."

In class we discusses whether or not these divisions were good or bad, as well as whether they were useful or not. I would like to bring up another question that deals more directly with the constraints of the definition of a "people" (or volk). In the text Herder gives a loose definition of what it means to be identified as a people and then goes on to state that these divisions can continue on down into families. It would seem like families may be a far division to go to yet it does not seem implausible that the divisions of the "people" would go past what would be the most obvious division Herder may be trying to define, nationalities (i.e. people having common origins or traditions and often comprising a nation). If the divisions consists of common language, culture, and zone I would argue that this would constitute for the different lines of division that we constitute as nation-states. Examples of these peoples would include Germans, French, Japanese, Kenyans, Australians, Brazilians, Americans, Canadians, and so on. Yet, I would also argue that within these large divisions of peoples there are smaller divisions of the peoples. For example, I would argue that in America there is support for the peoples of the North and South as well as the East and West. It can be observed that there are differences in culture, language, and region between the North and South, and East and West. I would argue that this division follows the lines of Herder's argument and the evidence is supportive and observable.

I would ask if you think that this division can continue even further on than divisions like the North and South, and East and West. The example I would ask us to view is the Cajun "people" of Louisiana. There is evidence to support that the culture and language of the Cajuns is very unique and specific to their region. Would a group as small as the Cajuns constitute a "people" or "volk"? If yes, would this mean that groups such as the Amish or even more specific groups, such as a sports team or college campus population? Where do the divisions stop? Do they stop? Is there a more precise definition for a people?


  1. Chloe,

    I am really intrigued by the questions that you have posed at the end of your blog! It does seem as though the divisions people make between groups of people are endless. Because of this, it seems as though such divisions are highly subjective, depending on the individual and their affiliation with their surrounding cultural community. For example, a person who identifies with southern culture would be more inclined to distinguish between northerners and southerners than someone who does not.

  2. Chloe,

    I also love this question, because there is in Louisiana a division of people when it comes to the "Cajuns." I don't believe that the divisions of race are of any help to our society, but we spoke about in class that we wouldn't be a society without these divisions. People live where they want to, and want to surround themselves with people like themselves. I think that the divisions according to race are not a good thing, and I agree with Herder on this. I also love how Herder specifically talks about the uniqueness of every individual, so there are divisions to between every single person because we are our own. We shouldn't fall into a specific category.

  3. I was wondering this question as well and I think there is a limit to how small a group of people can be considered a volk. I'm tempted to say that a group of friends is a volk, but it probably has be something bigger. At the same time different volks are apparent to from different people's perspectives. For example, a Southerner may group all Northerners as one volk, whereas Northerners may note a difference between Bostonians and New Yorkers. Conversely a Northerner may have no knowledge of a people being called Cajun and may group all Southerners together.

  4. This is an intriguing question as the idea of "volk" seems to be pretty vague. It allows people to possible group themselves however they please. As Kip pointed out, even a group of friends could be considered a "volk" if the definition is a loose as it seems. This is destructive if it is used to separate groups as the Nazis did, but could also be beneficial if it is simply used to define a group. I think the general idea of a "volk" and pushing away the idea of race was revolutionary for the time; however, we have seen that it can be used the wrong way. The question boils down to how important defining differences is. Yes it can help us differentiate between groups, but too often society leads us to push away other groups, thus defeating the purpose of "volk" to lead away from race. Even Herder used "volk" in a negative way as he limited groups based on the "volk."

  5. Anyone who can be classified can be a volk, from my understanding. Thus, those who are from Louisiana and are Cajun are part of a unified group with a shared lineage and paractices. Sounds like they would be considered.


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