National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life

By Tim Edensor | Go to book overview

1
Popular Culture, Everyday Life and the
Matrix of National Identity

Theories of Nationalism: Reductive Cultural Perspectives

The literature on nationalism and national identity has been dominated by a focus on the historical origins of the nation and its political lineaments. Nevertheless, so powerful is the allure of the nation that is has proved to be ‘an imaginative field on to which different sets of concerns may be projected, and upon which connections may be forged between different aspects of social, political and cultural experience’ (Cubitt, 1998: 1). Strangely, however, the nation has been subject to very little critical analysis in terms of how it is represented and experienced through popular culture and in everyday life. This absence masks a supposition that ‘nation’ is equivalent to ‘society’, a popular assumption that also afflicts social scientists and cultural theorists. For as James avers, ‘the concepts of the nation, this society, and this community are often used as coterminous’ (1996: 123). Accordingly, notions of society remain ‘embedded within notions of nation-state, citizenship and national society’ (Urry, 2000: 6) and, as Billig further elaborates, ‘the “society” which lies at the heart of sociology's self-definition is created in the image of the nation-state’ (1995: 53). Thus despite appearances to the contrary, not least at the level of common sense, the nation persists as a pre-eminent constituent of identity and society at theoretical and popular levels. Despite the globalisation of economies, cultures and social processes, the scalar model of identity is believed to be primarily anchored in national space. Partly, then, the space in which culture and everyday life operates is conceived to be indisputably the nation, and this has resulted from a lack of enquiry into how such cultures are (re)produced and experienced, how they are sustained to succour the illusion that the nation is somehow a natural entity, rather than a social and cultural construct.

At the level of culture, then, there is a reification of the nation, as if different cultures can be identified, ticked off according to a preconceived set of national characteristics. Bounded and self-evident, a nationally rooted culture is not imagined as ‘the outcome of material and symbolic processes but instead as the cause of those practices – a hidden essence lying behind the surface of behaviour’ (Crang, 1998: 162). For instance, in a recent account of national identity, the

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