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Child and Nation

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

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 VI. Self and Other


As we saw in the discussion of the social psychology literature in Part One, the ‘other’ is often seen as fundamental for the consolidation of group identity. From psychoanalysis to social identity theory, but also in sociology and philosophy, the idea of the dialectical construction of the self in relation with the other, has been extremely influential. Thus from many different theoretical perspectives, figures of alterity have been seen as central to how we come to understand ourselves – by understanding what we are not. For this reason many of the studies exploring children’s understanding of group identities, particularly national, ethnic or racial identities, have incorporated a study of how they look at (and evaluate) other groups.

Social Identity Theory has for example typically seen the outgroup as essential for constructing an understanding of – and later positive associations for – the ingroup1, the idea being that “what any group is can only be understood in relation to what it is not”2. However, the nature of this dialectic and its deep connection to the individual’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem, has led the theory to be associated with psychological explanations (or even justifications) of discrimination and even prejudice. This is because of the importance that Tajfel attributed to the notion of “differentiation”. He argued that the ingroup, because it conveyed a sense of meaning to the individual about their self-worth would tend, under normal circumstances, to be seen as positive by group members, such that they might see themselves in...

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