Jul 6, 2021 in Sociology

It is hard to name a concept other than “national identity” which would have caused so many interpretations and evaluations. There are hundreds of definitions of the concept, and it is not surprising because the more complex the object of research is, the more varied is its expression, and hence the possibility of its definition. The term “identity” has substantially displaced such familiar concepts as “consciousness” and “self-determination.” This is primarily due to the fact that this term reflects a broader and more profound character of the positioning of an individual in the surrounding world as it is associated with both objective and subjective assessment. The concept of national identity has a rich historical background as it has been developing through ages, and even now, with the beginning of globalization, it is still undergoing significant changes.

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National identity is one of the components of a person's identity that is associated with perceived belonging to a particular ethnic group or nation. National identity is not similar to the concepts of nationality or citizenship, although they can be factors that exert a strong influence on it. National identity used to be considered a born trait, “but times have changed” (Orgad, 2015). Now it is known that it stems from the acquired awareness of the culture, history, and language of a particular group of people. This concept involves a sense of belonging to a particular state, commitment to the state’s identity, national idea, state symbols, and, what is more important, its language (O'Sullivan, 2017). National identity can be multilevel and complex. Small nations that do not have their statehood often have a national identity, which combines a regional ethnocultural identity and a broader national identity linked to a political nation and the state. The national identity of migrants can determine both their origin and self-identification with their new state and its cultural environment.

Historically, the first system of identity was a genus – a collection of people related by blood relationship which they could trace. Anthropologists confirm that in ancient times, the first thing one would do when meeting a stranger was to find common relatives and thus determine their generality and mutual position in the system. This process of identification, which is present even today, divided people into two categories: “ours” and “others” (Husamettin & Feyzullah, 2013). As the population grew, it became impossible to trace a specific relationship. At first glance, identity by a traceable relationship is replaced with an identity based on an ancestor, real or fictitious. In fact, identity is determined by loyalty to the leaders and their ideas because strangers can be taken into the genus on these terms. The mixing of the population, the creation of cities and empires is also blurring this identity. It transforms into ethnic identity and identity by citizenship. A person can speak any language from childhood, but he or she is “ours” only if he or she has the same suzerain. This type of identity is especially vivid in case of great empires of antiquity and the Middle Ages – the Roman, Persian, and the Ottoman empires (Berger & Conrad, 2015). However, the world slowly moves to globalization, and one level of identity is not enough anymore. As a result, a religious or civilizational identity emerges.

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Problems can arise if the boundaries of the two identities of a person fancifully intersect. For example, one can be a subject of the same emperor (or duke), but of another faith, or a fellow-believer, but a stranger (according to the central identity – citizenship). Conflicts create conflicts. However, such complex situations are rather an exception to the rule. Additionally, the industrial revolution contributed to another change of identity – the emergence of nations (more precisely, political nations). It was an entirely new phenomenon, unknown until then. The nations of the imperial metropolises were formed, and then the empires were destroyed. The parade of sovereignties generated new nations – first of all in Europe, where social and economic changes are the most rapid, and later in the overseas outgrowths of the European civilization.

The identity system based on nationality is significantly more complicated. Since the previous two identities (citizenship and religion) existed on two different levels, the identity consisted of two halves. They received the names of organic identity (by birth) and institutional identity (by belonging to socio-political institutions). For instance, a person is a Georgian and a Russian at the same time. He or she is Georgian by birth, self-perception, and behavioral stereotypes and Russian by language he or she speaks, thinks and sees dreams according to the culture to which he or she belongs. It is senseless to ask this person whether he or she is Russian or Georgian, American or Jew, French or Armenian. In mathematical terms, a one-dimensional identity is replaced by a two-dimensional identity and then a multidimensional one. As a result of the gradual complication and an increase in the variety of social roles, a one-dimensional identity, which in its early stages included blood relationship, tribal identity, a unity of beliefs, subjection to a single ruler, etc., splits. In sociology, this process is called differentiation. From ethnocentricity, identity begins to gradually move towards world-centeredness, from the national identity to a global one.

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The modern stage of social development, which is characterized by objective global trends, is associated with the emergence of a new national identity. Transformation in the economic and political spheres, a broad introduction of information technologies led to a change in the social structure, shook the foundations of national life, raised the question of the system of values, the level of marginality and cohesion in the society. The “unavoidable process” of globalization caused changes not only in the outer framework of social relations but also in the inner world of a man (Kaygusuz, 2012). Under such conditions, the problem of identifying a person, including his or her national identity, becomes particularly acute. The dynamics of identification practices and processes is a kind of an indicator of the social well-being of the society.

One of the consequences of globalization changes, wherever they occur and whatever institutional and cultural layers of the society and human behavior patterns are affected, is a radical transformation of traditional structures and principles of self-identification. Globalization changes not only the movement of capital, people, and things but also the way of identifying events, “values and practices” by the world-system participants (Israel, 2012). As Manuel Castells (2009) notes, due to the shift of the fundamental paradigms of life of an individual and the society, public de-structuring and delegitimization of social institutions and the ephemerality of cultural manifestations, identity becomes the main and sometimes the only source of meanings. People form their meanings not based on what they do but on who they are or their ideas about who they are.

In traditional and even industrial societies, the identity of a person was fixed and lasting because social roles were precisely defined and the corresponding mythology and ideology strictly regulated the sphere of thinking and behavior. The peculiarity of the globalized world, often estimated as a crisis, is the vulnerability and unreliability of living conditions. This crisis is a combination of personal experiences of unreliability of work, existing rights, and livelihoods, uncertainty in their preservation and future stability, and lack of security.

While earlier it was possible to speak about a specific set of identities (albeit relatively conditionally), in the modern globalized world, there is not only a supermarket of identities but rather a remarkably limitless multiplicity of identities. This “plurality and loss” of original identities is characterized by qualitatively new dynamism, mobility and rotation of modern social life, its openness to global informational and communicative expansion, rapid everyday changes in mass culture and, as a result, relativism and instability of the foundations of social life, and, therefore, social and identification processes (Hindi, 2014). Globalization significantly intensifies communication between people, imposes new social roles, freely or unknowingly makes them witnesses and participants of many social, economic, political, informational and cultural processes. According to Sebastian Labes (2014), “globalization is claiming new transnational public spheres and communities willing to transcend nationality and regional borders.” Space and time are separated from each other; social relations no longer depend rigidly on the physical presence of actors in one place at the same time. They seem to be removed from the specific context of interaction and reorganized in time and space with the help of universal symbolic means of trade and general schemes of scientific and technological knowledge. In other words, global interdependence implies a new sense of time and space. Time is reduced; space is squeezed.

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With the blurring of cultural boundaries and the growth of migration flows, the mechanisms of identity formation and support acquire a great deal of flexibility, dynamism, plasticity, and variability. As a result, national identity and self-identification become more complex, ambiguous and multilevel. According to Yi Wang (2007), such flexibility allows people to “change and create” their culture and identity. On the other hand, this freedom deprived them of confidence in their original identity. However, the underlying reason of the absence of a strong identity is not in constant changes of the individual or the community but in continuous reconsideration by the individuals of the features with which they identify themselves, confirmation or denial of belonging to individual communities, and identification of national identity.

In conclusion, the concept of national identity means a wide range of individualized and non-individualized interpersonal connections and representations, which forms the basis for self-identification of individuals and groups of people with a particular nation as a distinct community with its own history, territory, language, memory, culture, myths, traditions, objects of worship, and a national idea. National identity is a multidimensional concept, partially embracing the concepts of historical, imperial, political and religious identity, and culture. The process of identification has developed through ages, starting from blood relationship and subjection to a single leader, and evolving into national identity and even global citizenship. With the beginning of globalization, the distance between communities almost disappeared and the boundaries of communication erased. Thus, it has changed the meaning of national identity and brought self-identification to an entirely new stage of its definition.

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