AbstractThis research paper provides an exploratory theoretical examination of national identification and uses selected examples of television sports as an empirical background for this examination. A theoretical discussion of major themes and existing approaches to national identity is undertaken in a dialogue with the work of leading theorists. The constructed nature of national identity is revealed and the question of how to understand it is developed in reference to issues surrounding ideology, subjectivity and postmodernism. Nation as culture is seen as the terrain of contestation in which versions of national identity may be played out.
Television sport is chosen as a relevant empirical context through which to study the operation of national identity through nation as culture. Semiotic analysis is chosen as the most appropriate method in this endeavour as textual practices may be seen as social practices in search of meaning. Consequently, a discussion of theories of textual practices takes place that complements the approach to the theoretical discussion of national identification. This linking of the social and textual allows for consideration of the question of whether a post-modern subject for nation may be emerging.
The empirical analysis takes the form of a thickly descriptive semiotic approach to television sports texts, separated from the theoretical discussion of textual practices. Analysis of the 2002 World Cup football match between Argentina and England forms the major part of the case studies, alongside satellite analyses of a British Olympic heptathlon winner, a British Muslim boxer and the first live female boxing match on UK television. The sample provides different configurations of belonging, difference and national identification. This narrative analysis of national identity is placed alongside the theoretical discussions of textual and social practices in search of meaning so that, for the ‘active’ reader, this empirical context is revealing of processes of national identification.
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