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7.8: National identity

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    Earlier we suggested that anthropologists and sociologists have moved from trying to establish the cultural features that define groups to studying how the members of groups self-identify. Political scientists have made similar moves in their studies of nationalism. Rather than focusing wholly on ethnocultural roots or civic transformations, the recent trend among many scholars is to focus on the social and psychological dynamics of national identity.

    As the previous discussion suggests, some Americans, despite clearly being citizens (by either birth or naturalization) may be regarded by other Americans as somehow less American than others. This might lead us to ask whether individual Americans themselves differ in the degree to which they embrace an American national identity. And in fact, Theiss-Morse (2009), found this to be the case. In an extensive study of American households, Theiss-Morse concluded that Americans could be distinguished from one another according to whether they are strong, medium, or weak identifiers and that the strength of national identity was also tied to other social characteristics.

    For example, compared with weak identifiers, strong identifiers are more likely to be: older, Christian, less educated, more trusting of others, and more likely to identify with other social groups in general. On the other hand, black Americans and Americans with extremely liberal political views are less likely to claim a strong American identity. Strong identifiers are also more likely to describe themselves as “typical Americans.” People who espouse a strong national identity are also more likely to set exclusionary group boundaries on the national group—to claim, for instance, that a “true American” is white, or Christian, or native-born. In contrast, weak identifiers are less likely to believe that their fellow Americans must possess any particular qualities to be counted as American.

    While Theiss-Morse has utilized social identity theory to describe American social identity, she has also noted that, of course, the same kind of analysis can be made of any national identity, German, Japanese, Brazilian, etc.

    This page titled 7.8: National identity is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Nolan Weil (Rebus Community) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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