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Claiming and displaying national identity: Irish Travellers’ and students’ strategic use of ‘banal’ and ‘hot’ national identity in talk

Authors


Clifford Stevenson, Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Limerick, Republic of Ireland (e-mail: clifford.stevenson@ul.ie).

Abstract

Two complementary explanations have been offered by social psychologists to account for the universal hold of national identity, first that national identity is ideologically assumed, as it forms the ‘banal’ background of everyday life, and second that national identity is ‘hotly’ constructed and contested in political and everyday settings to great effect. However, ‘banal’ and ‘hot’ aspects of national identity have been found to be distributed unevenly across national and subnational groups and banality itself can be strategically used to distinguish between different groups. The present paper develops these ideas by examining possible reasons for these different modes and strategies of identity expression. Drawing upon intergroup theories of minority and majority relations, we examine how a group who see themselves unequivocally as a minority, Irish Travellers, talk about their national identity in comparison to an age and gender-matched sample of Irish students. We find that Travellers proactively display and claim ‘hot’ national identity in order to establish their Irishness. Irish students ‘do banality’, police the boundaries and reputation of Irishness, and actively reject and disparage proactive displays of Irishness. The implications for discursive understandings of identity, the study of intra-national group relations and policies of minority inclusion are discussed.

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