How the “Northern Irish” National Identity Is Understood and Used by Young People and...


Authors: Kevin McNicholl, Clifford Stevenson and John Garry

The conventional understanding of the nation within social psychology is as a category of people or “imagined community.” However, work within the discursive tradition shows that citizens tend to discuss nationhood in a variety of modes, including the use of nonhuman categories such as references to the physical landscape of the country. This article aims to give a more comprehensive overview of how young people understand the Northern Irish identity, a new and potentially inclusive national category in a divided society, and how politicians articulate it in rhetoric. In Study 1, students (N = 286) discussed this identity in 44 peer-led focus groups. Thematic analysis of their discussions shows four distinct ways in which it is constructed: as a distinctive people, as an identity claim, as a “hot” political project, and as a “cold” or banal indicator of place. In Study 2, Members of the Legislative Assembly at Stormont (N = 49) responded to open-ended questions about the Northern Irish identity. Each of the parties used different conceptualizations for rhetorical effect. These results give a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of national identity and its ability to promote political agendas.