Banal Nationalism

| May 2, 2011

Title: Banal Nationalism

Editor: Michael Billig

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd; 1 edition (September 25, 1995)

Check it out:  JC311 .B476 2009

Reviews:  `An excellent study…. A book to be recommended, it requires close reading, preferably more than once’ – Political Studies

`An analysis for the 1990s, opening with a detailed account of media coverage in the Gulf War. In countries like Britain and the United States, we may think of nationalism as a problem for “them”, meaning people in faraway places. But according to Billig, “our” nationalism is omnipresent. It can surface at moments such as the conflicts with Galtieri or Saddam only because it is so pervasive, reinforced in countless idle moments by limp flags outside post offices, or by the way the media present the weather forecast. Billig thinks that if we are to understand “hot”, “surplus” expressions of nationalism in the contemporary world, then it behoves us to pay careful attention to the apparently benign, banal “flaggings” of nationalism in “the daily dexis” of our homelands…. Billig is right to point out that there is nothing natural about the way most of us nowadays have mental maps of the world’s population divided up into linguistic and cultural groups that we call nations. He criticizes “common sense sociology” for its equation of society with nation, and chides social psychologists for approaching national identity as just another type of group identity, without probing further into its history and distinctive features. He also chastises some so-called postmodernist and globalization theorists, who have exaggerated the extent to which nations and states have already been superseded as the major sources of culture and identity. For all this he deserves credit’ – Times Literary Supplement

`Starting from Ernest Gellner’s observation that national identities are socially constructed, Billig presents fascinating instances in which national self-images of relatively recent vintage are wrongly taken to be primordial characteristics. Even cosmopolitan philosophers like Richard Rorty, the author notes, assume a framework of American national values. Billig’s attitude toward banal nationalism’ – Foreign Affairs

‘This book is thought provoking, accessible and well constructed, offering an alternative way of examining everyday situations and questioning much that is taken for granted about nations and national identity’ – International Social Science Review

`Billig has drawn on a breathtaking array on popular and academic sources to bring new insight into the vexing problem of nationalism in the late twentieth century. Writing in the clear and provocative style that has come to characterize his work, he explores a range of complex issues in a surprisingly accessible way. Indeed, Billig manages to accomplish two major tasks in this volume. First, he provides a conceptual framework that allows us to see forms and forces of nationalism that have hertofore eluded us. Second, he continues his critique of standard social science and demonstrates how it can be reformulated to address processes that shape, and sometimes threaten our lives. One cannot help but be full of admiration for Billig’s accomplishment’ – James V Wertsch, Washington University, St Louis

`Billig’s main thesis is that nationalism as an ideological force is not as well understood as it should be because social scientists have largely ignored such familiar displays of national identity as flag waving and saluting. Without accounting adequately for `banal’ behaviour, scholars have often failed to recognize inconsistencies and internal contradictions in a state’s manipulation of national symbols, and even in the use of the term `nationalism’, a phenomenon usually attributed to others rather than one’s own nation. The author’s arguments are cogent and elaborate, and his prose elegant….He has given us a platform for understanding the meaning of nationalism in everyday life, a remarkable accomplishment…. The book is so well crafted and yields so many intriguing insights – on such matters as the distinction etween nationalism and patriotism, the inherent ideological trappings of nationalism, the inability of social identity theory to account for `banal’ identity, and very many more – that it merits attention from all serious scholars of nationalism’ – Nationalism and Ethnic Politics