Psychological Theories for Nationalism and National Identity

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Compare and contrast alternative psychological accounts of nationalism and national identity. You should illustrate your answer with both theoretical and applied examples.

This essay will look to compare and contrast alternative psychological accounts of nationalism and national identity using various theoretical and applied examples.

Nationalism can be briefly described as a theory that gives people an identity as a nation through the imposition of similar identities. Kohn (1944) described it as an ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests. National Identity can be briefly described as a person’s identity or sense of belonging in relation to their nation. National identity can often refer to how a group of people feel about a nation, regardless of their ‘citizenship’ status. In psychological terms, it is viewed as “an awareness of difference”, a “feeling and recognition of ‘we’ and ‘they’” (Hewson et al. 2015).

Adorno et al. (1950) cited in (Hewson et al. 2015) conducted studies on authoritarian personality, they looked to explain what leads people to violence through extremist beliefs. In their research, they used quantitative data from questionnaires administered to 2000 participants asking them how much they agreed or disagreed with specific statements. They developed three scales to carry out their research, The Anti-Semitism scale, The Politico-Economic scale and The Ethnocentrism scale. Adorno et al. (1950) believed that people were attached to their nation and prejudice towards others. In contrast to the research Adorno and his colleagues carried out, a social psychologist named Billing developed the ‘banal nationalism’ framework in 1995. Billig (1995) suggested that nationalism is down to common sense and not simply limited to extremist behaviour. He proposed that by viewing the world as being separated by nations is perfectly natural and nationalism is reproduced by our everyday routines. An example of ‘banal nationalism’ can be seen in the weather reports, Billig argued that “reports of the weather reproduce a nationalistic frame of thinking about the world” (Hewson et al. 2015, p. 252). A report of the weather in the UK can often be displayed as a map image of the country, people are expected to know the country from the shape with no mention of its name in the report. Billig studied the work of Benedict Anderson (1983) as he wanted to gain an understanding of nationalism and concluded that it was a whole new way of developing a community in the 17th and 18th centuries. Anderson (1983) defines the nation as an “imagined political community”, he uses the term imagined due to people of different nations never really knowing one another, talk to one another, or even meet but they share an identical belief about their community.

Condor (2000) conducted a study using 115 English participants and gathered qualitative data by carrying out interviews. She discovered that national identity was of no real importance to the participants personally and there was no demonstration of national pride amongst them. Condor (2000) suggested that there was an unquestioned assumption when it came to diving people into clear-cut boxes of different countries and shown using ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘they’ within the interviews. Comparatively, an example of ‘banal nationalism’ is the ‘nationalistic’ use of language. ‘The weather’ is a common phrase used to refer to the weather of ‘our’ own nation and is an example of an uncommon and comparable entity within that nation. A major influence on the research of nationalism was the ‘banal nationalism’ framework developed by Billig (1995), however, various issues were identified that the framework was unable to explain. Billig (1995) focused his study national media, yet, there is a wide range of media sources that we can access including the internet. Using the internet suggests that people view the world as globally connected as opposed to just nationally. Billig’s work on nationalism as part of everyday life is by no means debased by the issues raised, instead it is suggested that “the nation as a primary source of identification may be losing its grasp on at least some people in the world” (Hewson et al, 2015, p. 255).

Two campaigns that preceded the Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum made appeals to the Scottish nation and an assumption was made that the Scottish community shared a unique identity. The ‘Better Together’ campaign argued for Scotland to remain in the UK, unlike the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign which argued for an independent Scottish state (Hewson et al. 2015). Reicher and Hopkins (2001) described these campaigns as ‘action oriented’ as they look to pull the Scottish nation together, albeit not in the same direction. ‘Better Together’ looks to create Scotland as a diverse nation, on the other hand, ‘Yes Scotland’ portrays Scotland as an independent nation thus leading to the suggestion by Reicher and Hopkins that perhaps national identity is also future oriented and demonstrates that it can be manipulated and constructed in a way that benefits politics. Politicians will do what they can to bring a nation to their way of thinking to help achieve their goals. Contrasted with Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum is the study by Augoustinos and De Garis (2012) on ‘political rhetoric’ cited in (Hewson et al. 2015). They studied the speeches made by Barack Obama in his pre-election campaign (2007-2008). Obama’s identity came under scrutiny by many as he was either seen as ‘too black’ or ‘not black enough’ to represent America, as he is of a mixed race he was deemed an unconventional candidate. A speech by Obama in 2008 was analysed by Augoustinos and De Garis and it was clear to see that Obama wanted to implement a national identity for everyone in America. The principles of justice, equality and freedom were the basis for this identity, Obama wanted to unite America as one regardless of class, gender and race.

Hewson et al. (2015, p. 261) stated that national identity can be seen as being constructed on the basis of distinctiveness of ‘others’. Migrants, for example, are commonly viewed as a threat to nations by taking ‘our’ jobs, increasing unemployment and sponging off the government as well as bringing about cultural changes to society. However, on a positive note, migrants can also enrich society with cultural changes and contribute to the economy. ‘Othering’ is the process in which migrants are viewed as different and inferior (Hewson et al. 2015). Lea and Lynn (2003) studied how asylum seekers are portrayed in letters to the editors of eight major British newspapers. Asylum seekers were placed into one of two groups ‘Genuine’ and ‘Bogus’, those who made a genuine case for asylum came under ‘Genuine’ and those who came under ‘Bogus’ were economic immigrants simply using asylum to gain permission to reside in the country. Maloney (2007) drew similar conclusions in her study in Australia where 115 participants were asked to describe their thoughts on asylum seekers or refugees using the first five words that came into their heads. She discovered that the views of participants differed, some viewed asylum seekers or refugees as scared and in desperate need of our help while others viewed them as a nuisance and unwanted (Hewson et al, 2015).

This essay has compared and contrasted alternative psychological accounts of nationalism and national identity using various theoretical and applied examples.

There have been suggestions that nations are socially constructed and natural, it is fair to say that we view the world as being made up of various nations. The arrival of migrants can be viewed as having a positive and negative effect on a nation and that immigration could possibly challenge the notion that identities are unprecedented and conflicting. Both national and cultural identities can be interconnected.

The structure of national identities is often vital when it comes to politicians advancing themselves and the interests of different people or groups. There are very different views about producing what the nation is and who should be a part of it which often comes from the media and political rhetoric, therefore, national identities and their meanings can change.

Research studies demonstrated that national identity was of no real importance to participants personally and no demonstration of national pride amongst them. Using various media sources such as the internet suggests that people view the world as globally connected as opposed to just nationally.

In psychological terms, national identity is viewed as “an awareness of difference”, a “feeling and recognition of ‘we’ and ‘they'”

Nationalism allows a person to develop a sense of identity by attaching themselves to a nation, therefore, nationalism in itself is a form of national identity. 

References

Citelighter. 2011. Benedict Anderson – Imagined Communities. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.citelighter.com/sociology/linguistics/knowledgecards/benedict-anderson-imagined-communities  [Accessed 8 January 2018].

Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1999. Nationalism [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/nationalism. [Accessed 4 January 2018].

Hewson, C. Mahendran, K. Stevens, P. Turner, J. (2015). Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Pp. 158-183.

Hewson, C. Mahendran, K. Stevens, P. Turner, J. (2015). Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Pp. 223-230.

Hewson, C. Mahendran, K. Stevens, P. Turner, J. (2015). Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Pp. 248-263.

OUPblog. 2015. ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Can we define national identity. [ONLINE] Available at: https://blog.oup.com/2015/09/how-define-national-identity/. [Accessed 8 January 2018].

Quora. 2015. Are national identity and nationalism the same thing. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.quora.com/Are-national-identity-and-nationalism-the-same-thing. [Accessed 7 January 2018].

The Open University (2017) ‘Week 10: Nations and Immigration, DD210, 4 Nationalism: ‘hot’ and ‘banal’. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1056196&section=4.  [Accessed 7 January 2018].

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