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State institutions and social identity: National representation in soldiers' and civilians' interview talk concerning military service

Authors

  • Stephen Gibson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, York St John University, York, UK
      Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Stephen Gibson, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, York St John University, York YO31 7EX, UK (e-mail: s.gibson@yorksj.ac.uk).
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  • Susan Condor

    1. Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
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Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Stephen Gibson, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, York St John University, York YO31 7EX, UK (e-mail: s.gibson@yorksj.ac.uk).

Abstract

Theory and research deriving from social identity or self-categorization perspectives often starts out with the presumption that social actors necessarily view societal objects such as nations or states as human categories. However, recent work suggests that this may be only one of a number of forms that societal representation may take. For example, nations may be understood variously as peoples, places, or institutions. This paper presents findings from a qualitative interview study conducted in England, in which soldiers and civilians talked about nationhood in relation to military service. Analysis indicated that, in this context, speakers were often inclined to use the terms ‘Britain’, ‘nation’, and ‘country’ as references to a political institution as opposed to a category of people. In addition, there were systematic differences between the ways in which the two samples construed their nation in institutional terms. The civilians were inclined to treat military service as a matter of obedience to the dictates of the Government of the day. In contrast, the soldiers were more inclined to frame military service as a matter of loyalty to state as symbolically instantiated in the body of the sovereign. Implications for work adopting a social identity perspective are discussed.

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