describe the breakup of populations based on one part of identity.
Balkanization is a term that came about in the 19thCentury as nationalism swept Europe and a region that had been conquered at various times by Russians, Austrians and Turks sought to find its place in the world. United by language and culture but divided by religion, the region seethed as these religious distinctions became the core of a national identity, and intermingled populations suddenly found themselves warring over what the borders of states should be. Balkanization thus became the term to describe the breakup of populations based on one part of identity. The term also became associated with the mad violence that resulted as these new borders were created. The United States was balkanized by slavery, which led to the Civil War. Sports often balkanize fans. However, this is beyond mere fandom. For example, you wouldn’t use “balkanized” to describe the fans of the Dodgers. But when Constantinople was torn to pieces by fights involving the fans of the two dominant teams in the city, that was balkanization. What had started out as a sports rivalry had turned into a struggle of two competing identities, with the teams just being the stand in for the two sides.
Tribalism is at the heart of the balkanization of identity. In our last module we saw the process advertisers use to create identities that can be commodified around a brand: Pepsi is the choice of a new generation; meaning, if you don’t drink Pepsi, you must be old, and old is bad because you are young. The process has an inherent antagonism built into it as it becomes a point of differentiation: old vs. young, Chevy vs. Ford, etc.
Obviously, if this works for selling product, it can also work for selling culture and ideas. In the case of culture, Chapter 8 speaks of the genrefication of music into ever more specific forms, all of which have an identity and discourse built into them. Remember when K-Pop fans hijacked a Trump rally in Oklahoma? If you are in the business of selling music, it’s far easier to sell an identity than it is to sell some specific piece of music that is hard to describe or explain: “You like country. This is country, so you’ll like it” is a far easier proposition than “here’s a challenging work using traditional instruments to discuss the travails of Dust Bowl farmers migrating to California.”
The same is true in the realm of ideas, particularly politics. Most of us are on a spectrum of political ideas, but our political system is built around a simple binary of two potential identities: red and blue. You can, of course, choose not to participate, but then you are swayed by the two sides to temporarily side with them to get their ideas across the finish line. What is surprising is how unpopular most of those ideas really are. But a vocal minority and a disinterested majority usually lead to the triumph of the minority.
For this paper you will be looking at an idea and how it has been balkanized into an identity that is then bundled with other ideas. You can look at what has happened in social media (Chapter 5) or pop culture (specifically music in Chapter 8). Note how whole identities are created around the specific point you are exploring. Make sure you explain why you believe (without saying “I believe”) the identity has been constructed the way it has. Who benefits from this? And how are people manipulated into allowing themselves to be balkanized with the identity?