What can and cannot be willed: how politicians talk about national identity and immigrants

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The ethnic-civic framework remains widely used in nationalism research. However, in the context of European immigrant integration politics, where almost all ‘nation talk’ is occurring in civic and liberal registers, the framework has a hard time identifying how conceptions of national identity brought forth in political debate differ in their exclusionary potential. This leads some to the conclusion that national identity is losing explanatory power. Building on the insights of Oliver Zimmer, I argue that we may find a different picture if we treat cultural content and logic of boundary construction – two parameters conflated in the ethnic-civic framework – as two distinct analytical levels. The framework I propose focuses on an individual and collective dimension of logic of boundary construction that together constitute the inclusionary/exclusionary core of national identity. The framework is tested on the political debate on immigrant integration in Denmark and Norway in selected years. Indeed, the framework enables us to move beyond the widespread idea that Danish politicians subscribe to an ethnic conception of the nation, while Norwegian political thought is somewhere in between an ethnic and civic conception. The true difference is that Danish politicians, unlike their Norwegian counterparts, do not acknowledge the collective self-understanding as an object of political action.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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