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Keywords:

  • Nation;
  • state;
  • identity;
  • sociology;
  • newspapers

Abstract

Although globalization has highlighted the danger of conflating state, society and nation, sociologists remain insufficiently alert to such banal nationalism. Newspapers offer a strong test case of the extent of diversity in the construction of state, national and social boundaries, since Billig and Anderson have argued they comprise a special case where their orientation to an audience simultaneously located in a state, society and nation allows them to reproduce a sense of national identity. However, despite the commonsense obviousness of the term, it proves remarkably difficult to define what the ‘British national press’ might comprise. Circulation density of titles varies substantially across different parts of the UK and editorial copy is altered to address diverse ‘national’ readerships. ‘British’ newspapers also circulate in other states, especially the Republic of Ireland. After reviewing how newspapers might be defined as ‘national’ and/or ‘British’, we conclude that both Anderson and Billig over-estimate the congruence, relevance and obviousness of state, society and national boundaries. If the conceptualization of such boundaries is problematic in the case of the press, it follows that it must be still more so for most other objects of sociological analysis, including that of ‘society’ itself.