ED209 revision: national identities in children and young people

National identities in children and young people is quite a well structured chapter with relatively few theorists mentioned so, in principle, an easier one to revise than most.

The chapter starts off with basic definitions of ingroup (ie your own national grouping) and outgroup (everyone else) before moving on to cover some quite basic aspects such as categorisation (eg French people or British people), stereotypes (acquired by age 5), emblems and so on.

Piaget’s open-ended interviews showed the development of national self-categorisation with children from age 5 knowing that they lived in Geneva, that they lived in Switzerland but not that they were Swiss. However, open-ended interviews are tough going when you’re 5 so Barrett used labelled cards instead and found that most children knew they were Swiss by age 6. The factors Barrett found going into the importance of national identity were age (things rated important at 6 were still important at 15, things not so important at 6 tended to be more important at 15), geographic location (more important in national capitals), ethnicity (while London born adolescents rated being British/English more important than those from ethnic minorities and language (generally related to the parents’ politics eg Catalan). This variability challenges Piaget’s ideas.

We then move on to children’s views about members of other national groups. Carrington & Short found that their criteria for labelling someone as a member of a given group included birthplace, English as a first language (British kids) and place of residence; notably ethnicity and race weren’t included. Barrett & Short found that stereotypes began to emerge at age 5. They found that ingroup favouritism existed but that negative feelings were reserved for historic enemies; in general both attitudes were moderated by age. Barrett found that there was no relationship between strength of national identity and attitudes/feelings towards in or out groups. The sources of all these attitudes were the usual culprits ie TV, books, holidays, etc. Notably a lot of this research is quite dated (c1960s) and doesn’t take account of foreign travel nor indeed changes in national boundaries.

The explanations for the development of national identity include cognitive development theory (Piaget). Aboud attributes the reduction of ingroup favouritism from 6 to 12 to underlying domain-general cognitive change (no way will I remember that phrase in an exam!) and in particular: the onset of conservation, multiple classifications, ability to judge deep similarities and the ability to attend to individual differences. This explains the reduction in ingroup favouritism but doesn’t explain differences between countries, attitudes towards historical enemies nor why everyone isn’t the same. Tajfel & Turner’s Social Identity Theory considers membership of social groups as part of our self-concept. Sounds good but the research doesn’t support it.

Overall, a reasonable chapter to revise with the potential for cross-linking to some issues in the gender identity chapter ie ’tis worthwhile doing the two as a pair. It’s on to young consumers next.

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