THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY: NATIONALISM IN CATALONIA (SYMBOLISM, LANGUAGE, SPAIN, IDEOLOGY)
The most salient--and the most politically troublesome--aspect of contemporary Catalan society is its division into two main groups: the largely Catalan middle class and the largely non-Catalan, Castilian-speaking working class, which defines itself as "Spanish" and is defined by ethnic Catalans as "immigrant." Class conflict in Catalonia is not new, nor is the failure of the workers' movement of Catalonia and political Catalanism to identify with each other; but these strains are exacerbated by the fact that the cleavage lines of class, language, and culture have become coterminous since the early 1950s, when "immigrants" began to arrive in large numbers. Since the 1977 elections to the Spanish Parliament, which marked Spain's transition from dictatorship to democracy, any political party that hopes to command a significant following in Catalonia has been obliged to address this problem.
Catalan nationalism is approached as a cultural system; that is, as a way of constructing and commenting upon social and cultural reality. In the context of the political events of 1979 and 1980, it emerges as a process of redefining and reinterpreting collective identity. As Catalonia's indigenous political institutions were restored through the approval of the Statute of Autonomy by referendum and elections to the Catalan Parliament, the question "Who is Catalan?" became central to the Catalan political process. The answers--especially the ones respecting the relationship between language and identity--offered by the representatives of Catalonia's political parties had a good deal to do with their political fortunes. Special attention is paid to the spectacular rise of the Catalan socialists in the 1977 elections to the Spanish Cortes, and their equally dramatic failure to gain control of the Catalan Parliament three years later.
The imprecise nature of the relationship between the social order and its cultural representations, and the indeterminacy inherent in ideological systems makes it possible for interested parties--in this case, political parties--to attempt to shape a reality better suited to their immediate purposes. This theoretical framework provides a basis for understanding the dynamics of nationalist movements in particular and symbolic systems in general.