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The Symbolic Regimes of Nations: nation building and rival clusters of symbolism in Europe

Conference contribution
Authors Gabriella Elgenius
Published in Keynote, British Sociological Association (BSA) Early Career Event: Symbolic objects and contentious politics, University of Aberdeen 6 april, 2019.
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords Symbolic regimes, national symbolism, rival clusters, symbolic content and use, national day design, national museums, repatriation of cultural heritage.
Subject categories Sociology


As part of the nexus of symbolism, national symbols are used as political tools to raise awareness, claim and construct national identities whereas negating others. Nations use similar toolkits – they all have flags, anthems, national days and national museums – to demonstrate that they are distinct, yet equal and independently on a par with other nations. Nation building therefore follows similar patterns. All national symbols are introduced at pivotal times in the nation’s history with independence, the break-up of empires, the loss of empire, the forming of republics, kingdoms or unions. Symbols constitute therefore strategic markers of nation-building. Studying national symbols as part of wider national building strategies draw attention to nations as layered and to nation building as an on-going as well as strategic undertaking on behalf of nation-builders and elites within. An interesting pattern emerges when national symbols are analysed in a systematic manner. Of particular relevance for this comparative framework are adoption of national flags, the introduction of national days and the inaugurations of the first national museums in the European countries (and the presence of rival clusters of museum-making within Europe).

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