Jon Fox: Nationalist elites, representations, reception theory, social media, sports

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (July 2011) Tags: Nationalist elites representations reception theory social media sports everyday nationhood interests global awareness World Cup Olympics

Jon Fox

Jon Fox

Dr Jon Fox is Lecturer in Sociology at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies of Bristol University.

He obtained a MA and PhD at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and previously worked as Visiting Scholar at the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies of the University of California in San Diego.

The main research interests of dr Fox are nationalism, ethnicity and international migration. He is particularly interested in how ordinary people reproduce ethnic, national, and racialised forms of collective belonging in their everyday lives.

This interview addresses related topics such as elite representations of the nation and the role of schools, social media and sports in the production of nationhood.

For more information about his work, please have a look at his personal page:

University page of Jon Fox

Representations of national elites, reception theory and everyday nationhood

Which factors could explain differences between elite representations of a particular nation and the visions among its population of the national identity?

Elites and non-elites (if indeed such a division is sustainable) have different (material and symbolic) interests in the nation, and therefore different uses of the nation.

Elites (at least nationalist elites) often have vested interests in promoting nationalism (eg, vying for or consolidating their power base); non-elites do not (though they may directly or indirectly benefit from nationalism).The interests of ordinary people revolve instead around securing access to various scarce resources, but these attempts to secure resources are less likely to intersect with nationalism.

“The (empirical) question thus becomes, when are ordinary people’s interests facilitated (or obstructed) by nationalism?”

The (empirical) question thus becomes, when are ordinary people’s interests facilitated (or obstructed) by nationalism? This is something Cynthia Miller-Idriss and I discuss in our “Everyday nationhood” piece in terms of the institutionally mediated choices ordinary people make.

How could we study elite representations of the nation and their reception by the population simultaneously?

Scholars of reception theory have perhaps developed the most sustained approach to theorising and identifying the ways in which ordinary people as audiences consume various messages (though there’s comparatively little work on nationalism that makes use of reception theory; see Jeff Alexander’s work for an exception).

I for one however retain a certain scepticism about these approaches. My basic concern is that they rely on (and reproduce) a top-down, or trickle-down logic: ordinary people are the consumers of a top-down constructed nationalism.

“It is important to show the ways in which ordinary people are also producers of the nation – not (only) in ways that follow the logic of nationalist politics, but also according to the contingencies and imperatives of everyday life.”

Whilst I can accept this as a conceptual possibility, I’m more concerned about what such an approach occludes: a bottom up production of the nation as a conceptual possibility. I therefore wouldn’t want to reduce the study of nationalism to this top-down logic; indeed, my response is that it is important to show the ways in which ordinary people are also producers of the nation – not (only) in ways that follow the logic of nationalist politics, but also according to the contingencies and imperatives of everyday life.

Reproduction of nationhood: schools, internet, social media, sports, global awareness

How important are schools in the (re)construction of a national identity?

Schools are hugely important in the reproduction of national sensibilities.

The scholarship on globalisation would like to suggest that nations and nationalisms are dinosaurs, that they have no place in a fragmented world where various technological breakthroughs in transport and communication have chipped away at national sensibilities and replaced them with a new global or transnational awareness.

“As long as schools are situated in (and, to a lesser extent governed by) (nation-)states then the globalisation argument in my view falls flat.”

As long as schools are situated in (and, to a lesser extent governed by) (nation-)states then the globalisation argument in my view falls flat. Schools don’t have to be overt instruments of nationalism to produce nationalising effects.

By simply acting as a container for the communication and dissemination of cultural ‘stuff’ they produce subjects with shared (national) sensibilities.

What is the role of the media in the continual debate on national identity?

The media also play an important role in reproducing the nation.

Here again scholars of globalisation would like to point to the ways in which the media in general and the internet and other new social media open a global door for us tips, thus eroding people’s national sensitivities. Here (unlike in the case of schools) the infrastructure for producing global sensibilities clearly is in place: we can connect ourselves instantaneously to the entire world.

“How do we use these social media? Do we use Facebook to make new friends across the world or to connect to old friends across the street? Do we use the internet to watch Al Jazeera or to read our local newspaper online?”

But the (empirical) question again is whether we do this: how, in fact, do we use these social media? Do we use Facebook to make new friends across the world or to connect to old friends across the street? Do we use the internet to watch Al Jazeera or to read our local newspaper online?

The potential is there, and surely some of that potential is being realised; but I think at the same time the media are equally if not more important in reproducing national (as opposed to global) sensibilities.

Why is sports generally so successful in terms of the (re)affirmation of national bonds?

“Sports are effective in crystallising national attachments because of the inherent drama they convey. The competition that is a part of sport gets our attention; when that competition is framed in national terms, then the experience of that attention is similarly national.”

Sports, I have argued, are effective in crystallising national attachments because of the inherent drama they convey.

The competition that is a part of sport gets our attention; when that competition is framed in national terms (eg, in international sporting competitions like the Olympics or World Cup), then the experience of that attention is similarly national.

Holiday commemorations are contrived occasions for generating these sorts of attachments, but unlike sports, they often lack this crucial element of drama. So we can attend a Bastille Day or Fourth of July celebration but many of us will simply be unmoved. Not many of us who attend World Cup football matches are, however, unmoved.

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