National identity

National identity is one's identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation.[1][2] It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics.[3] National identity may refer to the subjective feeling one shares with a group of people about a nation, regardless of one's legal citizenship status.[4] National identity is viewed in psychological terms as "an awareness of difference", a "feeling and recognition of 'we' and 'they'".[5]

The expression of one's national identity seen in a positive light is patriotism which is characterized by national pride and positive emotion of love for one's country. The extreme expression of national identity is chauvinism, which refers to the firm belief in the country's superiority and extreme loyalty toward one's country.[1]

Formation of national identity

Norwegians celebrating national day.

National identity is not an inborn trait and it is essentially socially constructed.[6] A person's national identity results directly from the presence of elements from the "common points" in people's daily lives: national symbols, language, colors, nation's history, blood ties, culture, music, cuisine, radio, television, and so on.[7][8] Under various social influences, people incorporate national identity into their personal identities by adopting beliefs, values, assumptions and expectations which align with one’s national identity.[8] People with identification of their nation view national beliefs and values as personally meaningful, and translate these beliefs and values into daily practices.[1]


Political scientist Rupert Emerson defined national identity as "a body of people who feel that they are a nation".[9] This definition of national identity was endorsed by social psychologist, Henri Tajfel, who formulated social identity theory together with John Turner.[10] Social identity theory adopts this definition of national identity, and suggests that the conceptualization of national identity includes both self-categorization and affect. Self-categorization refers to identifying with a nation and viewing oneself as a member of a nation. The affect part refers to the emotion a person has with this identification, such as a sense of belonging, or emotional attachment toward one's nation.[2] The mere awareness of belonging to a certain group invokes positive emotions about the group, and leads to a tendency to act on behalf of that group, even when the other group members are sometimes personally unknown.[2]


National identity requires the process of self-categorization and it involves both the identification of in-group (identifying with one's nation), and differentiation of out-groups (other nations). By recognizing commonalities such as having common descent and common destiny, people identify with a nation and form an in-group, and at the same time they view people that identify with a different nation as out-groups.[11]

Social identity theory suggests a positive relationship between identification of a nation and derogation of other nations. By identifying with one's nation, people involve in intergroup comparisons, and tend to derogate out-groups.[2][12] However, several studies have investigated this relationship between national identity and derogating other countries, and found that identifying with national identity does not necessarily result in out-group derogation.[13]


National identity, like other social identities, engenders positive emotions such as pride and love to one's nation, and feeling of obligations toward other citizens.[14] The socialization of national identity, such as socializing national pride and a sense of the country's exceptionalism contributes to harmony among ethnic groups. For example, in the U.S, by integrating diverse ethnic groups in an overarching identity of being an American, people are united by a shared emotion of national pride and the feeling of belonging to the U.S, tend to mitigate ethnic conflicts.[15]


American flag as a national symbol.

National identity can be most noticeable when the nation confronts external or internal enemy[4] and natural disasters.[16] An example of this phenomenon is the rise in patriotism and national identity in the U.S after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.[17][18] The identity of being an American are salient after the terrorist attacks and American national identity are evoked.[1] Having a common threat or having a common goal unite people in a nation and enhance national identity.[19]

Sociologist Anthony Smith argues that national identity has the feature of continuity that can transmit and persist through generations. By expressing the myths of having common descent and common destiny, people's sense of belonging to nation is enhanced.[11] However, national identities can disappear across time as more people live in foreign countries for a longer time, and can be challenged by supranational identities, which refers to identifying with an more inclusive, larger group that includes people from multiple nations.[20]

National identity as a collective phenomenon

National identity can be thought as a collective product.[21] Through socialization, a system of beliefs, values, assumptions and expectations is transmitted to group members.[11] The collective elements of national identity may include national symbols, traditions, and memories of national experiences and achievements. These collective elements are rooted in the nation's history. Depending on how much the individual is exposed to the socialization of this system, people incorporate national identity to their personal identity to different degrees and in different ways, and the collective elements of national identity may become important parts of individual's definition of the self and how they view the world and their own place in it.[21]


Ethnic Identity

Aboriginal groups protesting in Brisbane, Australia.

In countries that have multiple ethnic groups, ethnic identity and national identity may be in conflict.[22] These conflicts are usually referred to as ethno-national conflict. One of the famous ethno-national conflicts is the struggle between the Australian government and aboriginal population in Australia.[23] The Australian government and majority culture imposed policies and framework that supported the majority, European-based cultural values and a national language as English. The aboriginal cultures and languages were not supported by the state, and were nearly eradicated by the state during the 20th century. Because of these conflicts, aboriginal population identify less or do not identify with the national identity of being an Australian, but their ethnic identities are salient.[24]


As immigration increases, many countries face the challenges of constructing national identity and accommodating immigrants.[25] Some countries are more inclusive in terms of encouraging immigrants to develop a sense of belonging to their host country. For example, Canada has the highest permanent immigration rates in the world. The Canadian government encourages immigrants to build a sense of belonging to Canada, and has fostered a more inclusive concept of national identity which includes both people born in Canada and immigrants.[26] Some countries are less inclusive. For example, Russia has experienced two major waves of immigration influx, one in the 1990s, and the other one after 1998. Immigrants were perceived negatively by Russian population and were viewed as "unwelcome and abusive guests." Immigrants were considered outsiders and were excluded from sharing the national identity of belonging to Russia.[27]


As the world becomes increasingly globalized, international tourism, communication and business collaboration had increased.[28] People around the world cross national borders more frequently to seek cultural exchange, education, business, and different lifestyles. Globalization promotes common values and experiences, and it also encourages the identification with the global community.[29] People may adapt cosmopolitanism and view themselves as global beings, or world citizens.[30] This trend may threaten national identity because globalization undermines the importance of being a citizen of a particular country.[31] Several researchers examined globalization and its impact on national identity found that as a country becomes more globalized, patriotism declined, which suggests that the increase of globalization is associated with less loyalty and less willingness to fight for one's own country.[28][32][33]


Taiwanese protesting for independence.

In some cases, national identity collides with a person's civil identity. For example, many Israeli Arabs associate themselves with the Arab or Palestinian nationality, while at the same time they are citizens of the state of Israel, which is in conflict with the Palestinian nationality.[34] Taiwanese also face a conflict of national identity with civil identity as there have been movements advocating formal "Taiwan Independence" and renaming "Republic of China" to "Republic of Taiwan.[35]" Residents in Taiwan are issued national identification cards and passports under the country name "Republic of China", and a portion of them do not identify themselves with "Republic of China," but rather with "Republic of Taiwan".[36]


National identity markers are those characteristics used to identify a person as possessing a particular national identity. These markers are not fixed but fluid, varying from culture to culture and also within a culture over time. Such markers may include common language or dialect, national dress, birthplace, family affiliation, etc.[37]

Other resources

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Symbols of national identity.


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