CCS seminar: The importance of being national
The struggle for belonging and security in an uncertain world
Presenter: Dr Michael Skey
This paper explores the reasons why national forms of identification and organisation (might) matter in the contemporary era. In the first part, recent research on everyday nationalism is combined with insights from micro-sociology and discursive psychology to highlight the importance of routine practices, institutional arrangements and symbolic systems in contributing to a relatively settled sense of identity, place and community. In the second, I use data from my own qualitative research among the ethnic majority in England (alongside insights from researchers working on similar issues in the Netherlands, Sweden, US and Australia) to explore the hierarchies of belonging that operate within a given national setting. Here, there is a particular focus on how members of the majority position themselves as the arbiters of national space and culture and, as a result, lay claim to key material and psychological benefits. In articulating such views, they also point to the (perceived) threats that certain minority groups represent to both their own status and the nation, which are often articulated in relation to the most banal incidents and objects.
In conclusion, it is argued that these insights may be used to offer a fresh perspective on current policy debates around national belonging, multiculturalism and community cohesion. At present, an undue emphasis on minorities (what they do, don't do or should do) has meant that little or no attention has been focused on the status of the majority; where are they situated? What are their interests and how are they articulated and justified? In foregrounding the discomfort and insecurity that many members of this group seem to feel, we can begin to unravel what is at stake for them at the current time. In unmasking the significance of different identity formations, we are also in a better position to understand how and why different social groups mobilise and, as a result, offer more practical solutions to some of the most entrenched social conflicts.
Dr Michael Skey teaches sociology at the University of East London. His monograph, National Belonging & Everyday Life: The Significance of Nationhood in an Uncertain World, published in October 2011, was recently awarded the 2012 BSA / Philip Abrams Memorial award for best first book in sociology. His work has also featured in a range of journals, including; Sociological Review, Nations & Nationalism, Journal of Cultural Geography, Cultural Sociology and Ethnicities.