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National identity and social cohesion: theory and evidence for British social policy

Richards, Benjamin (2013) National identity and social cohesion: theory and evidence for British social policy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Arguments that a national identity could create a sense of social unity, solidarity and cohesion in a national group have a long tradition in social and political theory. J. S. Mill, for instance, argued that “the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities” because a state with several nationalities is one in which members are “artificially tied together” (2001, 288). In Britain in the 2000s these arguments resurfaced in public and political discourse through a distancing from multiculturalism, which was increasingly seen as divisive, and a new emphasis on national unity and social cohesion through the promotion of British identity. There is, however, a lack of empirical research in Britain on what the relationship between national identity and social cohesion might actually be, and the strength of the relationship as compared with other issues that might also be important for social cohesion. This mixed-methods thesis attempts to address the research gap both through analysis of the Citizenship Survey covering England and Wales, and through semi-structured interviews with respondents of Black-African and Black-Caribbean ethnicity in an area of London. I argue first that the type of national identity in question is of crucial importance; a distinction between constitutional patriotism, civic national identity, and ethnic national identity is helpful, and evidence suggests the latter form may in fact be detrimental to some aspects of social cohesion. Second, I argue that social cohesion might be better broken up into two separate concepts – one referring to a commitment to certain of the state’s institutions (termed ‘institutional cohesion’), and the other to associational types of behaviour (termed ‘associational cohesion’) – since the correlates of each of the two concepts are rather different and their separation would resolve many of the confusions in academic and public discussions of social cohesion. Third, I find evidence to suggest that British identity may be of more relevance for the associational type of cohesion than the institutional type, but overall both British and English identity are of marginal relevance for social cohesion as compared to education, deprivation, and perceptions of discrimination. This suggests that attempts to use British identity as a tool to create unity and cohesion in the context of increasing diversity may not work or even be counterproductive; issues of inequality and discrimination may be much more important to address. Fourth, I reflect on the extent to which issues of unity and cohesion at the level of the nation-state are still relevant in the context of identity politics on the one hand, and processes of globalisation on the other. I argue that nation-states, for the time being, remain important sites of redistribution and reference points for perceptions of equality; to the extent that these issues are important for social cohesion, nation-states are therefore important too.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Benjamin Richards
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Research centres and groups > Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE)
Supervisor: Dean, Hartley and Burchardt, Tania

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