Social representations of national identity in culturally diverse societies

Andreouli, Eleni and Chryssochoou, Xenia (2015). Social representations of national identity in culturally diverse societies. In: Sammut, Gordon; Andreouli, Eleni; Gaskell, George and Valsiner, Jaan eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Social Representations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 309–322.



The concept of identity, although quite recent in the social sciences (it was popularized by Erikson in the 1950s; see Gleason, 1983), is one of the few concepts to have been so widely studies and theorized. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, even political philosophers, have used the term to shed light on a variety of sociopolitical phenomena, ranging from belonging to exclusion and from stability and homogeneity to social change and cultural pluralism. As such, identity has acquired an array of conflicting meanings, from essentialist notions which focus on unity and distinctiveness to conceptions which emphasize the fragmentation of the modern subject (Brubaker and Cooper, 2000). The challenge in defining identity stems from the fact that it refers to both an individual's sense of self as well as to an individual's relations with others. It is, in other words, a concept that resists the individual-social dichotomy which has traditionally dominated the social sciences in general, and social psychology in particular. In this chapter we adopt a social representations perspective to theorize identity at the social-individual interface. We focus on national identities which have been particularly problematized in the context of growing cultural diversity within nation-states and are often seen as declining or changing.

The chapter is structured as follows: we start with a brief account of the theory of social representations and then present our main argument of identity as a social representation embedded in strategic projects. Then, in two different sections, we discuss national identity projects in culturally diverse societies with a particular focus on Britain and Greece. We conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of these national identity projects for the integration of migrants.

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