G. Zvyeryeva

Attempt of conceptualization of ‘Ukrainian’ identity of the Kharkiv dweller

G. Zvyeryeva, PhD (Philology), lecturer at English philology chair,V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine


The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in emergence of multiple interdependent states. The cooperation between Russia and Ukraine which were two biggest economies in the USSR was considered crucial for both states, especially at the borders thereof. Yet, the ambiguous and uneven nature of Russian-Ukrainian relations that dramatically aggravated during the crisis of 2013-2015 was noted by a number of scholars and practitioners[1][2]. Among the factors influencing the international relations are socio-cultural misunderstandings rooted in disparities of national identities. The present paper is a attempt to analyze changes in the regional identity of the Kharkiv dweller which occurred in the past year.

National and supranational identity is regarded as a productive way to account for sociocultural differences between people. Generally, identity is viewed as a complex concept which goes beyond the question of either the social or personal identities[3]. As the Membership Categorization Analysis movement put it[4] , identity construction is often related to the definition of categories for inclusion or exclusion of self and others, and to their identification with typical activities and routines. Still, this somewhat static concept of identity wrongly suggests that people belong to a solid, unchanging, intrinsic collective unit because of a specific history which they supposedly have in common, and that as a consequence they feel obliged to act and react as a group when they are threatened [5]. This statement is particularly wrong if speaking about national identity. Being an ‘imagined community’ and at the same time a’ mental construct’[6], the nation is constructed and conveyed in discourse, predominantly in narratives of national culture.

As a mental construct, the nation has elastic, though finite, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations[7] . Thus, border zones see formation of new types of cultural and civilizational identities, reflecting the individual or group self-reference with historical systems of values, social codes, forms of conscience and structures, behavior patterns, cultural standards and mentality. R. Wodak distinguishes certain core areas in the discursive construction of national identities at the content-level, i.e. a collective past, a collective present and future, a common culture, a common territory, and a homo nationalis[8].

As Hopkins and Dixon state, the ways abstract social categories such as ‘nation’, ‘class’ or ‘race’ which impact on lived experience and are reproduced through it are greatly influenced by place and time [9]. Thus, the nationality becomes a narration, ‘a story which people tell about themselves in order to lend meaning to their social world’[10], with the national identity becoming an open-ended identity which gives meaning to one’s practice, ‘leaves room for variations on the past … and also for initiatives in the future’[11].

Lying on the intersection of national identities, inhabitants of cross-border regions can display “polyphonous” identities, i.e. simultaneously assume voices that are associated with different identity categories, and that they can “perform” identities, i.e. represent themselves as different from what their personal “visible” characteristics would suggest[12].

In our paper we will try to tackle national and border-zone identities from the perspective of the prototype theory by E. Rosch. Categories do not have clear-cut boundaries, but are built around prototypes which prototypes develop through the same principles such as maximization of cue validity and maximization of category resemblance as those principles governing the formation of the categories themselves[13]. The more prototypical of a category a member is, the more attributes it has in common with other members of the category and the fewer attributes in common with members of the contrasting categories.

Perceiving a national identity as a category, it is possible to say that a border-zone identity lies on the periphery of two national identities of the corresponding states deviating from the prototypical member of the national community. On the one hand, it enables effective cooperation between cross-border regions, on the other hand it may lead to difficulties in self-identification in the times of crisis.

According to the research, conducted by Institute of Human Rights and Prevention of Extremism and Xenophobia (IHRPEX), both in the Southeast and in the West, respondents idealize residents of Central regions. The prototype of a Ukrainian as of intelligent, educated and hard-working, but at the same time, partly arrogant, rude, dependent and stingy is in the stereotype image of a resident of Kyiv[14]. Residents of Kharkiv region, on the other hand, lie in between the prototype and the periphery of the Ukrainian identity on conceptual, evaluative and figurative levels.

As to the conceptual constituent of the ‘Ukrainian identity’ concept, it embraces a dweller of Ukrainian lands with such attributes as Ukrainian descent and the Ukrainian language. According to All-Ukrainian population census’2001, though 70.7 % of Kharkiv oblast residents identified their ethnicity as Ukrainian, only 53.8% spoke Ukrainian with 83.1 % reporting either Russian as their native language or being fluent in it[15], which shows a high influence of Russian culture upon Kharkiv oblast dwellers’ identity.

The figurative and evaluative constituents of the concept “Ukrainian’ give evidence of existence of two sub-concepts: the concept of ‘Cossack’ formed around the nucleus of ‘Freedom’, ‘Force’ with such typical associates as ‘patriotism’, ‘equality’, ‘independence’, ‘courage’, ‘intelligence’ and that of ‘Grain-grower’ with the nucleus of ‘Land’ and ‘Peace’ and associates of ‘rural area’, ‘archaism’, ‘individualism’, ‘diligence’, and ‘social passiveness’[16] [17].

Kharkiv regional identity was detached from these prototypes due to a number of factors. First of all, centered around the concept of ‘Border’[18], it presupposes openness as opposed to a strict division of “Us’ vs. “Them” characteristic for Cossacks[19]. At the same time, the endostereotypes of Kharkiv dwellers as residents of ‘industrial area’, ‘students’ city’ and ‘scientific hub’ detach them from the rural ‘Grain-grower’ identity.

Most importantly, the Ukrainian crisis of 2013-2015 led to drastic changes in self-identification of Ukrainians, and, in particular, of Kharkiv oblast residents with two opposite directions of movement. On the one hand, a part of population moves towards the prototypical Ukrainian identity with the reference to Cossack type and reinforcing the attributes of ‘Freedom’, ‘Physical Force’ and ‘War’. On the other hand, another part simultaneously moves to the periphery up to the  denial of the ‘Ukrainian’ identity.

In view of this, it is crucial for successful cross-border interaction to take into account these trends which form the contemporary regional Kharkiv identity to avoid cultural misunderstandings and conflicts.

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[2] Россия и Украина: вопросы социально-экономического развития в контексте взаимных отношений: Научный доклад. М., 2013. 60 с.

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[4] Antaki C. and Widdicombe S. Identities in Talk, London: SAGE, 1998.

[5] Martin D.-C. The Choices of Identity // Social Identities, 1995, no. 1:1. P. 5-20.

[6] Wodak R.; de Cillia R.; Reisigl, M. and Liebhart K. The Discursive Construction of National Identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.  P. 22.

[7] Anderson B. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, London:Verso, 1983

[8] Wodak R.; de Cillia R.; Reisigl, M. and Liebhart K. The Discursive Construction of National Identities. –Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. P. 4.

[9] Hopkins N., Dixon J.A. Space, place and identity : issues for political psychology // Political Psychology, 2006 . vol 27, no. 2. P. 173-185.

[10] Ram U. Narration, Erziehung und die Erfindung des jüdischen Nationalismus // Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaft (ÖZG), 1994. 5:2. P. 151-177.

[11] Martin D.-C. The Choices of Identity // Social Identities, 1995, no. 1:1. P. 5-20.

[12] Barrett R. 1999 Indexing polyphonous identity in the speech of African American drag queens” // M. Bucholtz, A. C. Liang and L. Sutton (eds) Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. P. 313-331.

[13] Rosch, E. Principles of categorization // E. Rosch & B. B. Lloyd Cognition and categorization. – Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1978. P. 12.

[15] All-Ukrainian Population Census’ 2001, Available at: http://2001.ukrcensus.gov.ua/eng/regions/reg_khar/

[16] Скрипник Г.А. Національна ментальність та традиційні світоглядні уявлення // Історія української культури: у 5-ти томах. Т. 4, кн. 1: Українська культура ХІХ ст. К., 2008. С. 241-298.

[17] Тхоржевська  Т. Етнічний стереотип українця в уявленні студентівукраїнців м. Одеси // Етнічна історія народів Європи . 2008. Вип. 25. С. 82-88. Режим доступу: http://nbuv.gov.ua/j-pdf/eine_2008_25_14.pdf

[18] В.Кравченко. Харьков / Харків: столица пограничья. Вильнюс: Европейский гуманитарный университет, 2010.

[19] Кікоть А. А. Образ козака в українській культурі // Міжнародний вісник: Культурологія. Філологія. Музикознавство. К., 2014. Вип.II (1). C. 34-38.

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