n Africa Insight - National identity and distinctiveness - developing a common identity in a nation state (with references to South Africa)

Volume 42, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0256-2804


The aim of this article is to argue that distinctiveness is at the core of national identity and nationalism. After a brief assessment of mainstream theories of nationalism with an emphasis on civic and primordialist approaches, the following question is posed: How important is the association of national identity to the stability of the nation-state? The objectives are firstly to assert that in a state such as South Africa, the social identities such as race, culture and language remain stronger than national identity. It would appear that the social identities form the primary identity. Secondly, that history, symbols and narratives create an understanding of unique experiences and therefore a unique character within societies and, thirdly, to determine whether lacking distinction compromises nation building in a state.

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