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Abstract

Social constructivist theories regard the nation as ‘imagined’ (Anderson), ‘invented’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger), and ‘narrated’ (Bhabha). National narratives use mass rituals, performances, and selective national history to reinvigorate collective identity. This article examines the 1910 centennial festivities in Chile as a collective and discursive quest for national identity in a changing society longing for stability. The article uses a discourse analysis approach to study a series of Chilean national history abstracts and coverage of the centennial festivities as presented in Zig-Zag, the most relevant political magazine at the time. The study finds that selective memory and mass ritual discourse are a constitutive part of national identity. Through the process of selective memory, the sources depict Chilean history as a series of linear, coherent, and meaningful events to foster collective identification with the nation. The images of mass ritual discourse of the centennial celebrations reinforce common national characteristics and confidence in the nation. Mass performances provide emotional self-affirmation and an endowment of meaning for individuals within their national group as they restage current national membership with reference to a common past. The study identifies themes of national representation along which the nation is narrated, and suggests that this typology can be generalised beyond the case of Chile. In doing so, this article underscores the need for further research on the concept of discursive national identity formation and its relevance in contemporary politics.