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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 VII. Home, Homeland and Affect


If we have seen that the children interviewed in this study readily categorise themselves and others in national terms, as belonging to this or that national group, we have also glimpsed in passing the emotion that is occasionally provoked by this categorisation. These indications of emotional attachment suggest that for some of the children at least this is not purely cognitive self-categorisation, that there is an element of identification associated with the nation that carries an affective charge. The nation is banal for these children, but this does not imply that they are indifferent to it.

Affect is an aspect of banal nationalism that is often left by the wayside, as theorists focus on myth, ritual and habits. This is possibly because such emotion is typically and traditionally associated with “hot” or bellicose nationalism. Indeed if we explore the connection between affect and nationalism we often see one of two scenarios played out in the literature. Either affective or emotional (or ethnic) nationalism is opposed to cool rational non-affective (or civic) patriotism1; or both are recognised as emotional and the distinction is between the positive affect of patriotism (‘I love my country’) and the negative affect of nationalism (‘our country is better than others’)2. However, Michael Billig convincingly argues that both the former and the latter dichotomies are not only erroneous but intended to create a false opposition between ‘our’ nationalism and ‘theirs’. He argues that not only are both patriotism and nationalism fed by emotion when...

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