Eleanor Knott 2016
Everyday nationalism as a sub-field refocuses attention on the ‘masses’ and human agency within nationalism studies to consider the role and relevance of the everyday, and relevance of the lived experience of nationalism. Everyday nationalism focuses, in particular, on the agency of ordinary people, as opposed to elites, as the co-constituents, participants and consumers of national symbols, rituals and identities.
The everyday nationalism approach builds on Billig’s (1995) work on banal nationalism but diverts in its focus on human agency, to understand the meaning and experiences of nationhood from the perspective of those on the ground. The everyday nationalism approach therefore seeks to offer an empirical lens for Hobsbawm’s (1992, 10) affirmation to consider the dual aspects of nationalism, which are ‘constructed essentially from above’ and ‘which cannot be understood unless also analyzed from below’, conceived by Hobsbawm as the ‘assumptions, hopes, needs, longings and interests of ordinary people’.
Banal nationalism vs everyday nationalism
Billig distinguished between banal and ‘hot’ forms of nationalism, to argue for considering the taken-for-grantedness of nationalism and national symbols, to consider the ‘banal reproduction’ of nationalism in established nations (Billig 1995, 38). Crucially, Billig shifted attention from the ‘traditional concern’ of nationalism studies with the ‘historical origins’, in other words the emergence of the phenomenon of nations and nationalism (Antonsich 2015; Edensor 2002; Skey 2009). Rather, Billig and others such as Edensor (2002), have sought to unpack how nationalism was reproduced and represented through everyday life and popular culture.
Everyday nationalism follows from this focus on the everyday as the ‘domain of enquiry’ (Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a, 557). However everyday nationalism scholars are critical that work by Billig and Edensor, and nationalism studies more generally, overlooks human agency (Antonsich 2015; Thompson 2001). As Fox and Miller-Idriss (2008a, 537) argue, even if there is a ‘consensus’ that nationalism needs to be conceived, not as an elite phenomenon, but as something engaged in by ordinary people, who themselves, in the study of nationalism, ‘have been curiously missing’.
This aligns with research on national identity. This research critiques how far scholarship has historically been ‘unreflexive’ in focusing on elites and propagating assumptions about national discourses (Condor 2010b, 194). Moreover, historically, approaches to nationalism have focused on the state and top-down perspectives, at the expense of the bottom-up whether in terms of civil society (Eriksen 1993) or the self (Cohen 1996; Hearn 2007). By contrast, studies of national identity concerned with the bottom-up are interested in how national identity is talked about, experienced and given meaning in different ways by the ordinary people it affects (Condor 2010b; de Cillia, Reisigl & Wodak 1999; McCrone & Bechhofer 2015).
Secondly, scholars of everyday nationalism criticise the overly deductive agenda of banal nationalism which has led to an assumption that nationhood is always being reproduced as a ‘pervasively relevant social category’ (Brubaker et al. 2006, 363; Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a). Rather, everyday nationalism focuses on human agency and nationhood to critique the extent to which the nation and nationhood are consistently salient, or present, in everyday life, and coterminous with nationalism (Fenton 2007; Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a). Again, everyday nationalism scholarship is aligned with the broader research on national identity which has sought to reduce the analytical distance between researcher and researched, which has been typical of historical studies of nations and nationalism (Hester & Housley 2002).
The everyday in everyday nationalism
While scholars emphasise the need to consider the everyday expressions, experiences and negotiations of ethnicity and nationalism, there is some debate concerning the meaning of everyday. For some, following Billig, the everyday is synonymous with the ‘mundane details’ and ‘quotidian realms’ of ‘social interaction, habits, routines and practical knowledge’ which have been neglected by existing analysis (Edensor 2002, 17). Thus Edensor (2002, 187) wants to understand familiar expressions of national culture, and sources of identification, and at the same time how threats to that which is mundane ‘can result in panic and a sense of threat’. Similarly Surak (2012, 181) in her analysis of Japanese tea practices, shows that the taken-for-grantedness of everyday practices can also demonstrate the differentiation that exists vis-à-vis these practices and the nation, as a signifier not only that those participating are Japanese but a signifier too of ‘what kind of Japanese that person is’. These approaches conceive of the everyday as a space in which to observe how the nation is expressed through banal and mundane practices.
By contrast, Jones and Merriman argue that concepts of everyday and banal are not synonymous; everyday life is both a ‘place of banal and mundane processes’ but ‘may also incorporate a variety of hotter ‘‘differences and conflicts’’ that affect people’s lives on a habitual basis’ (Jones & Merriman 2009, 166). Using the case study of street name conflicts in Wales, they show the level of contestation that can exist in everyday life concerning everyday symbols of the nation. Thus, Jones and Merriman argue for moving beyond the dichotomous ideas of ‘hot’ and ‘banal’ nationalism, to unpack the discourses and practices of nationhood, and how they are ‘reproduced in everyday contexts’ in ways that may blur the banal-hot spectrum (Jones & Merriman 2009, 165).
Brubaker et al. (2006) and Fox and Miller-Idriss (2008a, 554) place a different emphasis on the role of the everyday in everyday nationalism, where everyday life is object of analysis. Rather than assuming the ‘nation pervades everyday life’ (Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a, 554), as Billig argues, the everyday nationalism focus is on ‘vernacular understanding’ by observing the role of ethnic and national categories in ‘everyday encounters, practical categories, commonsense knowledge, cult idioms, cognitive schemas, mental maps” (Brubaker et al. 2006, 9, 6-7).
Methods of everyday nationalism
As everyday nationalism scholars emphasise, everyday life is the empirical ‘domain of enquiry’ alongside human agency (Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a, 557). As Skey (2011, 117) argues, this domain must be studied ‘more systematically’, and more directly, ‘to better understand why nationhood matters’. This approach has, therefore, specific methodological implications for the kinds of data that are collected and how these data are collected, to capture the ‘active construction’ of nationalism (Mann & Fenton 2009, 518).
Ethnographic observation is the most common way of studying everyday nationalism by allowing for a deep and rich observation of the practices of ethnicity in everyday life (Surak 2012; Goode & Stroup 2015, 724; Hearn 2007), in their ‘naturally occurring’ as opposed to reconstructed settings (Hester & Housley 2002, 7). Other qualitative research methods include interviews (Fenton 2007), focus groups/group interviews (de Cillia, Reisigl & Wodak 1999; Skey 2011), and social media analysis. These methods help to capture insights into these ethnic practices, such as how individuals relate to everyday nationalism in relation to national identity and other social identities, and interweave everyday nationalism with these other forms of identity, personal experiences and ‘sense of self’ (Hearn 2007, 658; Mann & Fenton 2009; Cohen 1996).
However, as Goode and Stroup (2015) point out, interviews involve a different interaction with interlocutors, and precisely non-‘naturalistic’ interaction (Hester & Housley 2002, 7). Thus, by contrast to ethnographic participant observation of everyday life, in interview settings interlocutors may be ‘more likely to adopt, try out, or simulate positions’ during an interview scenario ‘that would not ordinarily be available in daily social settings’ (Goode & Stroup 2015, 727). Thus, in conducting interviews to collect data on everyday nationalism, researchers need to be attentive to their impact on what is being researched, for example how they are flagging the nation via questioning, which likely does not reflect everyday life or everyday experiences of the nation.
Objects of analysis in everyday nationalism
Aside from emphasising a preference for the ethnographic method in studies of everyday nationalism, scholars of the field consider the role and sentiments of ordinary people in everyday life. This follows from Brubaker and Cooper’s (2000) critique that studies of identity are too often focused on ‘categories of analysis’ constructed from above, as opposed to ‘categories of practice’, constructed from below by being embedded in the everyday life of ethnicity and nationalism. As Skey (2011) argues, this analysis is grounded in a micro-sociological understanding of ethnicity, by building the analysis out of micro-level perspectives.
Skey (2011) focuses on five different dimensions through which to observe everyday practices and experiences of nationhood: spatial, temporal, cultural, political and self/other. Spatially, Skey argues for observing how the nation is expressed, and experienced, in terms of territory. Temporally, Skey (2011, 33) argues for observing the nation through how it is articulated through daily rituals and when a sense of national ‘”difference” overrides other factors’. Culturally, Skey (2011, 11) argues for observing how the nation is expressed through observing the taken-for-granted symbolic systems of everyday life. Politically, it is the organisational dimension, observing what maintains national movements. Lastly, the self/other dimension focuses on the ‘different traits and values’ that people ’embody […] realising and concretising the image of nation in a world of nations’. As Skey (2011, 12) argues, this provides an analytical framework for conceiving the contingency and dynamism of the nation ‘in relation to the everyday practices of social actors’, as well as a framework for conceiving how the nation can be observed in everyday terms via these dimensions.
By contrast, Fox & Miller-Idriss (2008a) focus more on the practices of everyday nationalism. They observe how the nation is contested, subverted and negotiated in everyday life, by framing the practices in an active sense via ‘four modalities’: talking, choosing, performing and consuming. Fox and Miller-Idriss conceive talking (539-40) in terms of how individuals talk ‘about’ the nation, signaling what the nation means to them, and talk ‘with’ the nation, to observe the points at which the nation ‘comes to matter in certain ways at particular times for different people’. In choosing the nation (544), they argue for observing how individuals make ‘national choices’, for example in terms of schooling. This should account also for institutional incentives for these choices, such as quotas, and how individuals make ‘choices national’. They argue these choices can be ‘important occasions for the enactment and reproduction of national sensibilities’ and junctures for when the nation can ‘become an experientially salient frame’ for decision-making. In performing the nation (545-546), Fox and Miller-Idriss examine the collective rituals, and their symbolic meaning, in ‘everyday (and not-so-everyday) life’. Following their emphasis on human agency, they argue for observing not elite symbols since individuals are not only ‘consumers of national meanings’, but – through daily interaction and reproduction – also the ‘contingent producers’ of daily meanings (546). Lastly, in terms of consuming the nation (549), Fox and Miller-Idriss argue for observing the nation through ‘mundane tastes and preferences’, such as how ‘national products and projects are received and consumed’ within society. These approaches, from Fox and Miller-Idriss (2008a) and Skey (2011), therefore offer a useful way to approach everyday nationalism research, by indicating different elements of the everyday for observing nationalism and nationhood.
Critiques of everyday nationalism
Several criticisms have been made of everyday nationalism. First, Smith (2010, 84) argues that ‘ordinary people’ is an overly homogenous category that overlooks the different status and class of groups within this category. In response, everyday nationalism scholars indicate they are interested in the multiplicity, rather than simplicity or homogeneity, of experiences of nationalism (Jones & Merriman 2009; Antonsich 2015).
Second, scholars argue that everyday nationalism is ahistorical by focusing on the contemporary aspects of nationalism, while neglecting, if not rejecting, the ‘causal-historical methodology’ of previous nationalism scholarship (Smith 2008, 567). The contribution then, of everyday nationalism as elaborated below, is different to previous nationalism scholarship, by its concern not with ethnogenesis but with a context-sensitive exploration and analysis of how ‘ethnonational idioms’ are ‘enacted and invoked by ordinary people in the routine contexts of their everyday lives’ (Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008b, 574). However, the context-sensitive and specific approach of everyday nationalism also potentially may ‘limit the appeal and utility of the approach’ (Goode & Stroup 2015, 725), in particular among scholars who conceive of this as too ‘micro-analytical and descriptive’ as opposed to furthering ‘causal and sociohistorical’ scholarship on nationalism (Smith 2008, 567).
Third, by focusing on human agency, this approach may overlook the pre-existing institutional restrictions, such as organisations and ideologies, which shape and constrain ‘social action’; essentially, human agents ‘have to work in a world that already exists’ (Malešević 2013, 130). Everyday nationalism does not, however, necessarily deny this in seeking to overcome the lack of engagement with ‘masses’ and human agency, to further understanding of the ‘extraordinarily complex dialectic’ between the top-down (i.e. elites and structures) and bottom-up processes and agents (de Cillia, Reisigl & Wodak 1999, 153).
Contributions of everyday nationalism
Aside from these criticisms, everyday nationalism offers important contributions, and future research potential, for nationalism scholarship within sociology and geography, and even political science. Empirically, scholars using the everyday nationalism have produced a variety of findings that question pre-existing assumptions about ethnicity and nationalism. Brubaker et al. (2006) find that ethnicity is only intermittently, as opposed to pervasively, salient in everyday life, demonstrating the difference between the political realm, where ethnicity and nationhood might be consistently flagged, and everyday life. Skey’s (2011) findings point to the messiness, contradictions and inconsistencies of ethnicity in everyday life which should be a crucial, rather than ignored, part of studying nationalism and ethnicity. Heterogeneity, then, is a crucial finding of the everyday nationalism approach which recognises the ‘varied ways’ identities are understood and given meaning in everyday life, and the varied salience these have for agents (Condor 2010a, 540). This research, however, predominantly deals with cases in Western (e.g. Britain) and post-Communist Europe (Romania), the exception being Surak’s (2012) research in Japan; the everyday nationalism approach would therefore be well utilised in studying nationalism more globally outside of these contexts.
Conceptually, therefore, everyday nationalism has contributed a vital perspective to nationalism studies in emphasising how existing nationalism scholarship has overlooked human agency and, in so doing, has treated nations ‘as if’ they exist ‘beyond social relations’ (Thompson 2001). By focusing on human agency, everyday nationalism has also emphasised the contingency and messiness of nationalism in everyday life, by highlighting the inconsistencies and contradictions in how nationalism and nationhood are expressed and experienced in everyday life (Jones & Merriman 2009; Skey 2011).
In this way, the largest contribution and empirical finding of everyday nationalism has been to challenge the assumption about whether nationalism matters in everyday life (cf. Billig 1995). Rather, by demonstrating the ‘weakness of popular nationalist mobilisation and the absence of ethnic tension in everyday life’ (Brubaker et al. 2006, 5), everyday nationalism scholars have highlighted how far nationalism may not be a constantly salient aspect of everyday, but rather this salience is contingent and, in itself, messy (Fox & Miller-Idriss 2008a). Everyday nationalism therefore does not offer an answer about the origins of nationalism, or a parsimonious explanation of the role, relevance and meaning of nationalism for the ‘masses’ and in everyday life, but rather argues for an ongoing debate concerning these aspects, recognising there may be different explanations across time and space.