The semi-detached nation: post-nationalism and Britain

Steve Fenton

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Abstract :
Until relatively recently ‘national belonging’ could not be taken for granted as evidence, even from the early twentieth century, shows. But we have become used to the idea of a world made up of nations, and of individuals having a primary national identity. In Britain and other countries these unquestioned national sentiments have become problematic; in this speculative paper I attempt to understand how and why Britishness has become precarious, and where present tendencies may lead. Whilst much of the discussion of this question has been overwhelmingly ‘cultural’: here I attempt to set the question in a material context. For one thing this requires both halves of the nation-state for it is mostly states who have sought to create, foster, or harness the national identification of their citizens. Once nation-states ‘ruled the world’, observers began to regard national identity as foundation, the ‘trump card in the game of identity’. But I then examine social changes which, in Britain, have diminished the force of the ‘nation’ and its appeal to the individual. After then revisiting Bauman’s arguments for the ‘divorce’ of state and nation, I conclude with some observations about the possible futures of Britishness.
Published : 2010-03-11


Steve Fenton, « The semi-detached nation: post-nationalism and Britain », Cycnos, 2010-03-11. URL :