The Informalization of National Identity


The phenomenon pejoratively known as the new "ethno-nationalism" conceals a rich array of cultural processes. Having seen how this ideology can be used to manipulate, can we then take the leap down to everyday life to see how people use it in practice? On the basis of Nordic experience, the article discusses how the national is informalized and wrested from the hands of power, how it is appropriated by individuals, groups, and local communities to articulate a cultural identity that does not need to have so much to do with the nation. It is used to convey messages that can be about the relation of periphery to centre, about young people's relations to adults, tho relations of Swedes to immigrants, etc. By giving a temporary cultural identity, the national can be used to highlight life policy questions about how we should live in late modernity. In this way, it becomes a channel for remoralizing everyday life. The care with which people seize national symbol is partly due to informalization: hardly a single birthday, annual festival, sports contest, or other event passes without the flag being used - literally - to decorate the cake. But this is a type of national identity which people can allow themselves to play with, without being exposed to anything deadly serious. The article discusses how national identity can also become a tool in the service of cultural complexity - not of homogenization - and it can contribute to the negotiation of new collective identities and deeper reflexivity.

How to Cite

Frykman, J., (1995) “The Informalization of National Identity”, Ethnologia Europaea 25(1), 5-15. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.
  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Jonas Frykman (University of Bergen)



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