Constructing Scottish Identity in Media Discourses

The Use of Common Sense Knowledge in the Scottish Press

by Miriam Schröder (Author)
©2016 Thesis XVI, 500 Pages
Series: Scottish Studies International, Volume 40


Scotland’s efforts to establish and assert its distinct national identity have a long tradition. National identity has been a central theme throughout the centuries in a country where economic, political, and social issues have tended to be closely bound up with questions of national mentality and emotion. This book examines the part played by Scottish newspapers in constructing identity during a key period of the devolution process, 1997–2011. It uses insights from the fields of cultural and media studies, sociology, cognitive science and narratology into the ways in which culturally defined knowledge and the notions of identity emerging from it have been constructed. The study contributes to the understanding of Scottish identity, and its evaluations are relevant beyond the immediate context of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • List of Abbreviations
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Theoretical Principles of Knowledge Construction and National Identification
  • 2.1 The construction of social reality and knowledge
  • 2.1.1 Language, culture and social discourses
  • 2.1.2 Common sense knowledge, cognitive schemata, common sense worlds, narration and identity
  • 2.1.3 The role of mass media in the construction of social reality
  • 2.2 The nation and national belonging as cultural constructs
  • 2.2.1 Constructing the nation and national identity
  • 2.2.2 Elements of national identity construction
  • 2.2.3 National identity construction in the press
  • 3 Scotland and Scottish Identity as Subjects of Research
  • 3.1 Scotland at the turn of the twenty-first century: devolution, nationalism and the issue of independence
  • 3.2 The Scottish media and Scottish identity
  • 3.2.1 Characteristics of the press in the United Kingdom
  • 3.2.2 Newspapers and journalism in Scotland
  • 3.2.3 Scottishness in the Scottish press
  • 3.3 Scottish identity in quantitative surveys
  • 3.4 Common sense knowledge about Scottish identity
  • 3.4.1 Community and national characteristics
  • 3.4.2 Shared traditions and cultural heritage
  • 3.4.3 Locality and spatial identification
  • 3.4.4 History and the temporal experience
  • 3.4.5 Summary: general and Scotland-specific common sense knowledge
  • 4 Analysing Media Discourses: A Method for Assessing Journalistic Representations of National Identity
  • 4.1 Examining common sense knowledge in discourse: implementation of the method
  • 4.2 The corpus texts
  • 4.2.1 Selecting the newspapers
  • 4.2.2 Sample and data collection
  • 5 Common Sense Knowledge about Scottish Identity in Scottish Newspapers, 1997–2011
  • 5.1 Statistics on the use of the phrase ‘Scottish identity’
  • 5.1.1 The significance and specificity of Scottish identity
  • 5.1.2 Context and common sense knowledge about Scottish identity
  • 5.1.3 The textual co-location of context and common sense knowledge
  • 5.1.4 Summary
  • 5.2 Community and national characteristics
  • 5.2.1 Perspectives on Scotland in the early days of devolution
  • 5.2.2 Upbeat and downbeat: two extremes of a complex national character
  • 5.2.3 Nationalism and membership of the Scottish community
  • 5.2.4 Scotland’s significant Other: Scottish attitudes to England
  • 5.2.5 Scottish-British duality or the end of Britishness?
  • 5.2.6 The Scottish diaspora
  • 5.2.7 Summary
  • 5.3 Shared traditions and cultural heritage
  • 5.3.1 Scotland’s languages
  • 5.3.2 The arts in Scotland
  • 5.3.3 Institutional autonomy: the ‘Scottish trinity’
  • 5.3.4 Tartanry: influences and manifestations of Scottish cultural heritage
  • 5.3.5 Scottish heraldic icons and Scotland’s anthem
  • 5.3.6 The monarchy and the military: British traditions in Scottish guise
  • 5.3.7 Summary
  • 5.4 Locality and spatial identification
  • 5.4.1 Putting Scotland on the map: turning the periphery into a centre
  • 5.4.2 Constructing ‘home’: places of residence and birth
  • 5.4.3 Landscape and cityscape
  • 5.4.4 Scotland in Europe: the geopolitical dimension
  • 5.4.5 Summary
  • 5.5 History and the temporal experience
  • 5.5.1 Ghosts from the past? Attitudes towards history in Scotland
  • 5.5.2 Origin myths: Scotland’s golden age
  • 5.5.3 Scotland in the United Kingdom
  • 5.5.4 Scotland at the crossroads: devolution or sovereignty?
  • 5.5.5 Summary
  • 6 Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix: Index of newspaper texts analysed in the corpus
  • List of Herald texts
  • List of Scotsman texts

| XI →

List of Tables

| XIII →

List of Figures

| XV →

List of Abbreviations

| 1 →

1 Introduction

Die Sprache ist gleichsam die äusserliche Erscheinung des Geistes der Völker; ihre Sprache ist ihr Geist und ihr Geist ihre Sprache, man kann sich beide nie identisch genug denken.

(Wilhelm von Humboldt)

Humboldt’s elementary observation encapsulates the basic idea on which this study is built, namely that language reveals a nation’s conception of reality, that is, of itself and its spirit.1 Language is a medium, the most important medium at that, by which reality becomes accessible to human beings. It contains what we know about reality, and, by learning a language, we are supplied with knowledge and conceptions of reality, allowing us to function as members of a community. Knowledge is structured and circulated in discourses which are communicative “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (Foucault [1969] 2002a: 54) and hence (re)construct reality. As discourses are socially and culturally located, they exhibit the characteristics of the social groups that produce them. Language is hence not only a means to communicate; it is the key tool that human beings use to construct reality, that is, to explain to themselves the world around them and their place in it. This is a basic human characteristic, as each of us feels the intrinsic need to make sense of reality.

The meaning that we give to the world outside is essentially determined by the cultural imprinting we acquire by learning a language and along with it the social knowledge that this language contains. Culture and language are thus the foundations for the construction of knowledge about meaning, actions and emotions. This knowledge is part and parcel of our culture: “In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped ← 1 | 2 → for us by our culture.” (Lippmann [1922] 1965: 55) The cognitive sciences postulate that culture provides human beings with mental schemata for understanding, meaning-making, and acting, in short, for (re)constructing social knowledge. Human beings thus construct meaning within pre-established discourses, and schemata activate specific knowledge used for meaning-making in specific situations. This established, culturally shared knowledge will in this study be called common sense knowledge (Schütz 1962: 7), and it comprises not only knowledge per se but also actions and emotions connected with this knowledge (cf. also Schütz and Luckmann [1975] 2003: 147ff.).

If we want to understand how people make sense of the world, we must take wider cultural processes into account. For this purpose, this discussion will assume a broadly constructionist standpoint which essentially argues with Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch (1991) that our conception of reality is neither based on the existence of a meaningful identity independent of the observer nor on the individual as the sole site of meaning construction. These authors thus adopt a standpoint that mediates between what they call realism and idealism (Varela, Thompson and Rosch 1991: 136–137). They understand individuals to be knowledgeable actors who, while working within established sets of knowledge, possess a certain degree of choice over the construction of reality (cf. also Müller 1999: 312). This is a compelling idea which has been widely adopted. But how can we approach, appropriate and ‘measure’ knowledge about reality? Knowledge is recorded in texts which not only denote written language but also any means used to circulate knowledge, such as (recorded) speech, clothes and accessories, paintings and photos (or any other pictorial image), buildings and gardens, or consumer goods (cf. Lidchi 1997: 166–167; Posner 2003: 51–53). Texts are located in specific discourses which in turn are structured, complex thematic networks located in social practice. For this reason, discourses are not isolated phenomena; they are instead situated in specific socio-cultural contexts.

Knowledge contained in discourses is circulated by media, and it is thus by analysing media that we can convey the knowledge that a community uses to (re)construct reality. Media are anything that human beings use to communicate and disseminate knowledge, from language as the most important medium to instruments of mass communication, such as mass ← 2 | 3 → media. Yet what specific forms of knowledge do media reveal and how do they help to construct specific identities? And what influence does previously acquired social knowledge have on the understanding of media messages? Answers to these questions, which affect communities everywhere, can be found by analysing media texts because “[t]he societies constructed and reinforced in the stories [in media texts] reveal a great deal of themselves and their attitudes to those considered as outsiders to them.” (Conboy 2007: 142) Essentially, people tell each other stories about their lives, they narrate them and incorporate into their narratives knowledge they already possess. The narratives and the themes and structures from which they are made up do not change as such; they are simply adapted to particular cultural circumstances.

Knowledge is thus situated within specific cultural contexts, in this study within the social and political environments of Scotland during the period from 1997 to 2011, that is, the time of devolution. The context significantly shapes what can be known and how people can identify with their specific nation. The context also determines the knowledge about what it means to be a member of a nation, how to act, how to express oneself, and which ‘obligations’ are associated with this membership. Nations are constituted by “talking and thinking and acting” (Calhoun 1997: 5), which is how collective identity is produced. This is not to say that members of a community such as a nation share a uniform understanding of what it means to belong to that community: while people have a nation ‘in common’, they do not necessarily all associate the same things with it (cf. Cohen 1986: 2). Instead, national cultures are sites of contestation in which national identity is constantly debated and redefined (cf. Schlesinger 1991: 174), making language the key means by which national identity is (re)constructed.

Identity has been a central theme throughout human history. In the twentieth century, it has received a lot of attention from the social sciences (e.g. King 1991; Cohen 1993; Hall and du Gay 1996; Wintle 1996; Cohen 2000c; Morley 2000), also fuelled by extensive research in colonial and postcolonial studies. As part of this interest in identity, the issue of national identity has also been discussed (e.g. Anderson 1991; Schlesinger 1991a, 1991b; Smith 1991; Habermas 1994; Hooson 1994; Herb and Kaplan 1999). The United Kingdom and the British nations in particular have attracted much interest (e.g. Cohen 1986; Samuel 1989; Crick 1991; ← 3 | 4 → Kidd 1993; Smout 1994; Billig 1995; Nairn 1997; Broun, Finlay and Lynch 1998). This is because the United Kingdom is a state that consists of four separate nations, a constellation which constitutes a test case with much potential, and interest in it has not waned. In the twenty-first century, the United Kingdom as a unique test case continues to inspire research, fuelled by the process of devolution and discussions about Scotland’s independence (e.g. Bogdanor 2001; Keating 2001; Pittock 2001; Devine and Logue 2002; Edensor 2002; Murkens 2002; Parekh 2002; Brown and McLeish 2007; McCracken-Flesher 2007; Pittock 2008; Keating 2009; Blaikie 2010; Craig 2011; Brown 2012; McLeish 2012a, 2012b), which continue in spite of the fact that the majority of the Scottish people did not vote for Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum (e.g. Geoghegan 2014; Macwhirter 2014; Salmond 2015; Torrance 2015).

Scottish identity is constructed in discourses, in making use of structured stocks of knowledge, in referring to prior representations, in using specific expressions. The fact that human beings construct reality and their place in it within established discourses is of course not specific to Scotland, yet Scotland provides a prime example that lends itself well to the analysing of discourses and knowledge, possessing as it does a firmly established set of narratives, images, and ideologies which are recognisably Scottish and which have been drawn on in discourses for quite some time. However, despite the readily recognisable components of Scottishness, it is not enough to simply assume the existence of such established social knowledge; it is necessary to take a closer look at what the Scots in fact mean when they express attachment to a specific identity. The motivation for this study is neatly captured by Magnus Linklater (1999: n. pag.) who declares: “everyone talks about ‘the Scottish identity’. Finding out more about that identity is a quest that is full of surprise and fascination.”

Scotland has reached a crossroads. In the time of devolution and after the referendum on Scottish independence, it is necessary for the nation to discuss and define its place in the United Kingdom, in Europe, and in the world. Questions of national identification are thus highly relevant, not only in Scotland and the United Kingdom. This is because nations are anything but isolated communities: as parts of wider networks, nations, regions and even smaller groups perform a function in global processes, so that the ← 4 | 5 → small parts assume considerable importance for the bigger picture (Müller 2008: 90). The decisions that Scotland faces now will therefore impact on developments not only in Europe but indeed worldwide.

At the same time, Scotland needs to define what Scottishness means: “What we encounter at the start of the new century is a reconfiguring of Scotland around its sense of being a nation, a way of explaining why it is the way it is, as well as a route-map for its future.” (McCrone 2001: 7) It is this process that this study wants to trace, and it therefore covers the years 1997 to 2011. In 1997, the new Labour government put the referendum on a Scottish parliament into action. The referendum was successful and thus initiated the process of devolution. Something new was beginning; a euphoric mood swept the nation and drowned out the sense of inferiority that Scotland had for so long felt in its troubled relationship with England. There was certainly a new-found national confidence; in fact Catherine Deveney (1998: n. pag.) claims that “Scottish identity can no longer be defined by one set of images.” Of course it never could, there have always been many ‘Scotlands’ (Gifford 1996; Crawford 2003: 96–97), but the quote shows the need for a redefinition of what it means to be Scottish. The period under investigation ended in 2011, the year in which the SNP was elected as governing party for a second term, a fact which marks the strengthening of a new political, and possibly of a new cultural, attitude in Scotland.

So in Scotland, the social and political situation has changed considerably with the introduction of devolution. On the one hand, the fact that the Scottish parliament decides over devolved matters may give the Scots reasons to feel less patronised by Westminster. On the other hand, the parliament is also a demarcation from England and Britain, one that provides Scotland with more political and social possibilities. The question that thus arises is whether devolution has induced an observable change in the discourses about Scottishness. Political attitudes have changed significantly since the 1997 devolution vote (Bond and Rosie 2002; Clayton 2002). This study wants to determine whether this change is reflected in social knowledge about Scottishness, and if so how, or whether established narratives of Scotland continue to dominate Scottish discourses.

The analysis of Scotland and Scottishness has long been a fruitful field for research, especially as it informs us of more general questions of how ← 5 | 6 → national identity is expressed in stateless nations and in light of discussions about the growing importance of civic approaches to identity in a globalised world. In all these processes, mass media play an important role in providing forums for social discourses. Nevertheless, work still needs to be done in establishing the relationship between mass media and identity, as critical observers continue to point out (Schlesinger 1991a, 1991b; Brookes 1999; Law 2001; Thompson 2001; Bicket 2006; Connell 2003; Higgins 2004; Kiely, McCrone and Bechhofer 2006).

More than thirty years ago, Mark Fishman (1980) criticised the fact that the social sciences pay little attention to the accounts and narratives produced within a society about itself which tell us how people understand themselves. He added:

A decade later, Philip Schlesinger (1991a: 172, 1991b: 307) demanded that linkages between media and collective identities be demonstrated, beginning with the problem of how identities are constituted in the first place. Influencing many studies that would follow his approach, Michael Billig (1995) made a central contribution to this issue in his study on ‘banal nationalism’ which focuses on how a national frame of reference is flagged through the content, and language, of newspaper texts by the pervasive use of national reference. Nevertheless, four years later, Rod Brookes (1999: 247–248) was still lamenting the scarcity of recent research on the extent of the mass media’s role in the formation of national identities, especially with regard to specific case studies in Britain. He attributed this neglect to a fundamental misunderstanding of what national identity actually is, namely not merely a synonym for national character. Alex Law (2001: 299) also returned to this issue, pointing out that little progress had been made since Schlesinger’s call for a reassessment of the relationship between media and identity. In addition, Andrew Thompson (2001: 18) criticised the lack of analysis regarding the significance of everyday renderings of ‘nation’ in reproducing social divisions.

More recent work has tried to rectify this need for research (e.g. Bicket 2001; Connell 2003; Higgins 2004; Rosie et al. 2004; Bicket 2006; Kiely, McCrone and Bechhofer 2006; Douglas 2009). Nevertheless, most of these ← 6 | 7 → authors maintain that the relationship between media and Scottish identity still needs to be examined. It has, in fact, been claimed that the “extent to which Scottish newspapers are capable of engendering a sense of Scottishness due to a tendency to address their readership as Scottish has never been thoroughly examined.” (Connell 2003: 188, emphasis added) Michael Rosie et al. (2004: 437) agree with this, saying that the existing state of research regarding the relationship between newspapers and national identity in the United Kingdom misses out crucially because although the mass media’s role in reproducing and evolving national identity is generally acknowledged, it has never been empirically demonstrated.


XVI, 500
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (October)
Scottish media Culturally shared knowledge Common sense worlds Identity construction
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVI, 500 pp., 12 tables, 6 graphs

Biographical notes

Miriam Schröder (Author)

Miriam Schröder studied English, Media and Communication Studies, and Economics at the Universities of Mainz and Aberdeen. She holds a PhD in British Studies. Her research focuses on Scottish media, culture, and literature.


Title: Constructing Scottish Identity in Media Discourses
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
518 pages