A Quest for National Identity

What is Identity?

Questions of identity

1.1 What is identity?

“This course is about questions of identity. Identity itself seems to be about a question, ‘who am I?’ We are going to focus on three key questions in this section:

  • How are identities formed?
  • How much control do we have in shaping our own identities?
  • Are there particular uncertainties about identity in the contemporary UK?

First, we need to think a bit more about what we mean by identity.

If identity provides us with the means of answering the question ‘who am I?’ it might appear to be about personality; the sort of person I am. That is only part of the story. Identity is different from personality in important respects. We may share personality traits with other people, but sharing an identity suggests some active engagement on our part. We choose to identify with a particular identity or group. Sometimes we have more choice than others. This chunk will address the relative importance of structures, the forces beyond our control which shape our identities, and agency, the degree of control which we ourselves can exert over who we are. Identity requires some awareness on our part. Personality describes qualities individuals may have, such as being outgoing or shy, internal characteristics, but identity requires some element of choice. For example, I may go to football matches on Saturdays because I enjoy shouting loudly with a crowd of lively extroverts, but I go to watch Sheffield Wednesday because I want to identify with that particular team, to wear that scarf and make a statement about who I am, and, of course, because I want to state that I support one Sheffield team and not the other (Sheffield United). We may be characterised by having personality traits, but we have to identify with – that is, actively take up – an identity.

This example also illustrates the importance of marking oneself as having the same identity as one group of people and a different one from others. Think about a situation where you meet someone for the first time and, in trying to find out who they are, ask questions about where they come from and what they do. In such situations we are trying to find out what makes up this person and also what makes them the same as us – that is, what we have in common – and what makes them different.”

What is National Identity?

National identity is a person’s identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation.[1][2] It is the sense of “a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language.”[3] National identity may refer to the subjective feeling one shares with a group of people about a nation, regardless of one’s legal citizenship status.[4] National identity is viewed in psychological terms as “an awareness of difference”, a “feeling and recognition of ‘we’ and ‘they'”.[5]

As a collective phenomenon, national identity can arise as a direct result of the presence of elements from the “common points” in people’s daily lives: national symbols, language, the nation’s history, national consciousness, and cultural artifacts.[6]


What is Canadian Identity

If you are struggling with your own sense of Canadian identity, consider these questions:

1. What do I value about my way of life that I would fight to preserve?
2. What aspect of being a Canadian makes me most proud?
3. What makes me feel connected to my community and my country?
4. Why do I think people choose Canada as a place to move to?
5. What vision do I have for Canada in the future?
6. What would I miss about Canada if I had to live elsewhere?