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Child and Nation

A Study of Political Socialisation and Banal Nationalism in France and England

Edited By Katharine Throssell

Where do feelings of national belonging come from? Why is it that this belonging often seems both fundamental and banal, both intangible and omnipresent?
This book argues that the answers to these questions lie in childhood and the socialisation to the nation that we experience as children. It suggests that the banality of our own everyday nationalism is due to the fact that we have spent our lives learning to take it for granted. Just as our first understandings of reality are learned during childhood socialisation, so nationhood and national belonging are internalised as natural and necessary from the very beginning of our lives. The specific nature of this early socialisation is what confers upon banal nationalism its characteristic combination of omnipresence, inscrutability and self-evidence.
To try and get around this self-evidence and explore this socialisation and its results, this study has adopted an innovative methodology involving semi-directive projective interviews with young children in France and England. This book presents an analysis of how this early socialisation to the nation plays out on young children’s visions of national belonging and its justifications and implications. It also looks at what this transmission in childhood means for nationalism as an ideology and the power and pertinence of the nation today.
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Chapter V. Self and Nation

← 150 | 151 → CHAPTER V. Self and Nation


In investigating how our key hypotheses might be played out in the lives of actual children today, the most logical place to start is with the nation itself. In asking how the children respond to the idea of the nation, it quickly became apparent that for many children the most fundamental association was in fact with themselves as individuals – or with their families. Although this research did not set out to explore the issue of identity explicitly, seeking to focus more on what the nation represented for these children rather than how they understood their own being or belonging1, one of the elements that emerged most clearly in the children’s associations with the nation was its connection to their ideas of where they came from. For these children the nation appeared to primarily represent the source or origins of their own particular being, and thus a certain idea of how they fit into the world. This retrospectively sheds light on how group belonging at a national level might be functioning for these children, and how it might feed into their understandings of themselves.

As we touched on in the introduction, there is an extensive literature in social psychology dealing with group membership and identity2. Reicher and Hopkins (in their book that inspired the title of this chapter)3 observe that despite the presence of the nation in much of the literature on group psychology, where it is frequently used as an example of group belonging, and the implicit...

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