Boundaries and belonging: Dominant ethnicity and the place of the nation in a changing world

Skey, Michael (2014) Boundaries and belonging: Dominant ethnicity and the place of the nation in a changing world. In: Nationalism, Ethnicity and Boundaries. Routledge Studies in Nationalism & Ethnicity (First). Routledge. ISBN 978-0415857437

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In the contemporary era, the link between a settled sense of place and identity has been called into question as human populations, cultural representations and artefacts become increasingly mobile. There is increasing evidence that these new forms of mobility have enabled growing numbers to create and maintain ‘transnational connections’ (Hannerz, 1996) and/or critically reflect on dominant narratives of belonging and identity (Dolby, 2007). Many of these approaches have also been theoretically stimulating, challenging us to rethink established concepts such as society, community and identity (Urry, 2000). However, in setting the ‘study of mobilities as … the definitive context and experience of human life’ (Jenkins, 2002: 29), these studies tend to underplay the extent to which everyday practices and social activities continue to be influenced by and organised in relation to boundaries, not to mention wider attachments to particular places. In privileging the experiences of more mobile groups, the views of, what Skrbis and his colleagues, label, ‘the sedentary underclasses and … sedentary glocals’ (2004: 121) are sometimes overlooked. These are the substantial numbers of people who are increasingly able (and willing) to engage with other cultural forms, through forms of consumption and travel, but still remain relatively rooted, in terms of their everyday habits and social relations. Interestingly, while it is these more sedentary groups that often form the unmarked categories against which more visible or mobile minorities are defined, we know relatively little about their views and experiences. Moreover, where mobility is viewed as a progressive force, undermining more parochial or local allegiances, more sedentary groups may be seen as an obstacle to normative goals or principles. As a result, there has sometimes been a tendency to ignore the reasons why established socio-spatial relations might be valued. For instance, in putting forward his ‘cosmopolitan vision’, the sociologist Ulrich Beck has dismissed the ‘experiential frame of national societies [as a] … scam’ (Beck, 2002: 29). The trouble with such a view is that it offers little in the way of explanatory power when trying to make sense of those activities that continue to draw on, and reference, such a ‘frame’ (debates around immigration and economic protectionism being the most obvious examples). To do this, requires actively investigating the processes by which particular places become (or cease to be) meaningful to certain groups and how their management is used to establish or maintain relations of power, often by drawing distinctions between those who do and do not belong. In this chapter, I will explore the attitudes and activities of people who claim belonging to such a group, members of the Anglo-white majority in England. To borrow from Wallman’s social-boundary matrix, I am interested in the perspectives of those who are firmly located inside the national boundary forming part of the ‘us’, that ‘use the boundary for our purposes, according to our needs’ (quoted in Donnan & Wilson, 1999: 23). While this group is far from homogeneous, undercut by intersections of class, gender, age, region and so on, it is interesting to note how, in talking about their own lives, and, in particular, their relations with ‘others’, they position themselves as people who belong ‘without question’ to the nation (Skey, 2011, 2013). In engaging with these groups, we may be better able to assess the relationship between (national) boundaries and belonging, by examining how they discuss both ‘their’ own mobility and that of and ‘others’, in an era of rapid global change. Before examining specific examples from my own empirical data, I will discuss the theoretical framework that will be used in this paper. The first section examines the hierarchies of belonging and entitlement that operate within a given nation and the changing status of dominant ethnic groups in the current era. Leading on from this, the second section will address the importance of spatial representation and management to national forms of imagination, organisation and solidarity and, consequently, the ways in which the everyday (re)production and management of a bounded national space underpins the status and agency of more dominant groups.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: nationalism,race ,ethnicity ,international politics,political geography ,political theory
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 06 Jan 2015 15:56
Last Modified: 22 Apr 2020 10:45

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