From “Let’s take back control” of the Brexit campaign to “Make America great again” and the generalised growth of nationalistic and xenophobic parties, nation is back at the centre of politics.

Not only debated by politicians, but also by ordinary people in more mundane settings: at home, in the pub, on the bus, or in the working place. This does not mean that nation has never been a prominent register in people’s lives; but, as Billig (1995) aptly showed, particularly in Western societies the nation was limply hanging in the background, consciously flagged only in ceremonial or sport occasions. Now, the nation is very much foregrounded in everyday life discourses and practices. It is one of the most topical issues of the day. Yet, as much as there is a ‘national revival’, this is also a contested revival. What is the nation, to whom does the nation belong, and what nations should or should not do are questions which are producing increasing polarization among people. The major cleavage is between those who view the nation as a shield that can protect them from and has to be protected against a variety of threats (globalization, immigration, and terrorism being the main ones); and those who believe that the nation is fluid, open to change and that is a plural, inclusive and cosmopolitan project.

The Nation Theme will explore the continuing salience of the nation, both as a cohesive and a divisive register, in shaping the kind of responses people give to specific events. Nations still matter not only because they are one of the most universally legitimate articulations of group identity, but also because they offer a meaningful framework for interpreting and producing social, political, and economic life. That is why it is important to bring the national framework in when studying some of the most pressing issues of our times: migration, social cohesion, climate change, or population resilience. How political actors and ordinary people engage with these issues is also dependent on national cultures, values, and imaginaries.

The IAS nation Theme will consolidate and expand existing research capacity organised around the Loughborough University Nationalism Network (LUNN).

Theme lead: Dr Marco Antonsich, School of Geography and Environment.

Visiting fellows