Waving the Flag: National Symbolism, Social Identity, and Political Engagement

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Abstract

This research examined the psychological underpinnings of concern for national symbols and ritualistic-ceremonial activities or “symbolic involvement.” We propose and test a distinction between symbolic and “instrumental” involvement or concern for the functionality of national institutions and their capability to provide instrumental benefits to citizens. Items comprising the two constructs were found to be empirically distinct, evidenced by statistically reliable and orthogonal dimensions in exploratory factor analysis. Moreover, evidence based on divergent patterns of relations with various forms of national membership indicates that symbolic and instrumental involvement are rooted in distinct motivational concerns related to identity expression and object appraisal, respectively. These findings suggest that national symbolism evokes a psychological attachment to the nation as an abstracted social entity, but not as a concrete functional system.

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