Symbols, fetishes, identities: The role of material objects in the construction of national identities
In established ‘western’national states, we tend to consider national (material) symbols and practices as fetishistic - i.e. as excessive and irrational attachments to these symbols and practices. The characterization of national symbols and practices as ‘sacred’is positive and quite ordinary in academic and daily discourse. However, the characterization of national symbols and practices as fetishistic - which can also be traced in academic and daily discourse, whether the subject-matter is discussed in these terms or not - is negative and is based on the presupposition that nationalism is a sentiment or an ideology that no longer exists in ‘western’national states or no longer is the motivational force of history. Globalization is considered to be the current motivational force of history and - in this context - nationalism is considered to be located in the periphery or returning in established national states, only in times of crisis, threatening to dissolve - and not to create - national states.
However, in a world of national states, nationalism cannot be located only in the periphery and cannot be returning in established national states only in times of crisis. In a world of national states, national states must be daily produced and reproduced as national states and their citizens must be daily produced and reproduced as national subjects. This daily production and reproduction presupposes a set of beliefs and practices (symbolic or other) embedded in the routines of citizens’everyday lives. As M. Billig argues in his book entitled Banal Nationalism (1995), the symbol of the established national state is not the waving flag, but the non-waving and unnoticed flag, hanging on a public building.
It seems that this material setting - in which we live our daily lives as citizens of national states - plays a crucial role in the construction of our national identities. And it seems that the attachment to this material setting is inevitable, due to the specificities of nationalist ideology - as far as both its content and the historical context in which it emerged are concerned. Locating ourselves outside the nationalist context as external observers and characterizing nationalist practices as fetishistic (rather than just symbolic), we semantically restrict nationalism to small sizes and exotic colors. This semantical restriction isn’t innocent, because - in this way - nationalism cannot be traced as a problem and remains unnoticed.
The present Ph.D. research focuses on the role of material symbols (and more specifically on the role of materiality of symbols) in the construction of national identities.
In various references concerning material objects and symbols, it is argued that the (concrete, visual and tactile) materiality of symbols seems to play a role in the construction of identities, but this role has not been investigated sufficiently. The focus of the present Ph.D. research on the role of materiality of symbols in the construction of national identities constitutes its innovation.
The construction of national identities is a complex and ongoing process, in which (material) symbols play a crucial role. The investigation of this role can contribute to a better understanding of national identity construction processes and consequently to a better policy making concerning social inclusion and cohesion.
Assistant Professor Kanakis Leledakis (supervisor)
Associate Professor Pantelis Lekkas (joint supervisor)
Professor Peter Wagner (joint supervisor)
Participation in Conferences / Publications
Presentation entitled ‘The role of materiality of symbols in the construction of national identities’ in the Archaeological Dialogues,
January, 9-11, 2015 (in greek).
Presentation entitled ‘Crisis and the role of material symbols: The specificity of the notion of the fetish’in the International Conference ‘Crisis & Critique’of the European Sociological Association - Research Network 29: Social Theory, September, 6-8, 2012, http://www.social-theory.eu/2012athens.html.