Project Summary

Negotiating the nation: implications of ethnic and religious diversity for national identity (NATION) explores the on-going negotiations of ‘the nation’ in contemporary European societies, based on the empirical cases of Norway, France, and the United Kingdom. The NATION project explores nation building not merely as a top-down process, but rather one that includes negotiation of the nation from multiple actors in different positions of power. Through this we highlight tensions between legislation on national citizenship on the one hand, and the messy reality of lived experience on the other. In our study of negotiations of national identity we combine academic literature on identity, belonging, ethnicity and migrant integration – with literature on citizenship. It seeks to explore these themes through three overarching research questions:

   1) Along which boundaries do conflicts around the meaning of national identity arise?

   2) What are the implications of increased ethnic diversity on national identity?

   3) How do religious and ethnic identities interact in current negotiations of nationhood?

Photos: Werner Anderson, Anders Adermark, Jan Richard Tallaksen / CCBY

The research questions are explored from top-down, meso-level, as well as bottom-up perspectives focusing on the power of definition that different actors hold in processes of negotiating the nation. Our empirical data incorporates a variety of different perspectives. Data collection in different urban and rural locations in Norway ensures a diversity of perspectives on the nation from places where contestations over ethnicity may differ: for example multicultural suburban Oslo, versus Northern Norway where Sami identity is more prevalent. Furthermore, we move beyond the increasing focus on Islam and Muslims in debates on religious diversity by including a variety of religious and life-stance positions. Drawing on international comparisons with France and the UK add additional perspectives in exploring negotiations of national identity in Europe. Our data collection consists of:

  • Collection of relevant White papers and policy documents, selected official speeches, and parliamentary debates, in Norway, France and the UK, supplemented by interviews with 10-15 policy makers in Norway.
  • Collection of relevant opinion pieces, editorials, commentaries and letters to the editors from the following newspapers (2011-2014): Aftenposten, Bergens Tidenden, Klassekampen, Nordlys, VG (Norway); Le Figaro and Libération (France); The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Times (the UK), supplemented by 10-15 interviews with editors and authors of op-eds in Norway.
  • Conducting 15 semi-structured interviews in each of four localities in Norway (two in Oslo, one in the Western Norway, one in Northern Norway).
  • Collecting 100 school essays from four upper secondary schools (two in Oslo, one in Western Norway, one in Northern Norway), and conducting focus group interviews with selected essay authors in each school.

Photos: Fonna Seidu, Sparebank1 / CCBY

In addition to exploring how increased ethnic and religious diversity affect negotiations of nationhood, NATION explores how critical events play into these discussions. In the project’s main case study, Norway, nationalism and nation building have gained renewed attention since 22 July 2011. The massive public show of sympathy for the victims of the terror attacks was (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) accompanied not only by the prominent display of national symbols such as the flag, but also with appeals to the unity of the nation and adherence to ‘Norwegian liberal values’. NATION investigates the ways in which the nation has been negotiated, before and after the 22 July 2011 terrorist attacks. See also the web page of the PRIO project NECORE, explicitly focusing on effects of 22 July in Norway.

Photo: Kai Rune Storhagen / CCBYOne year commemoration of the terrorist attack on 22 July 

Project Organization

The project runs from December 2013 to December 2017, and is organized in five Work Packages (WP 1-5). The first WP (led by Marta Bivand Erdal) runs throughout the project period and focus on the theoretical-empirical links generated by the data collected and analyzed. WP 2 (led by Katrine Fangen)  focuses on how ‘the nation’ is discussed at the macro level, whereas WP 3 (led by Åshild Kolås) focuses on how it is discussed in the opinion sections in print newspapers. WP 4 (led by Marta Bivand Erdal) focuses on the micro-level: individuals’ of different ages and backgrounds perceptions of the nation in different geographic contexts in Norway, and how youth in particular understand national identity and negotiations of the nation, based on their experiences in four different geographic locations in Norway. The focus of WP 5 (led by Marta Bivand Erdal) is on project management and information tasks.

The context of the main case, Norway, is investigated in all parts of the project, while links to the French and British contexts are drawn through data collected and analyzed within WP1 and theoretical-empirical links. In addition to policy documents and opinion sections of print media, the international comparison involves a comparative study of processes and negotiations at community level in association with the construction of mosques in France and the UK, with possible comparisons to be drawn to Norway.