An age of consumer nationalism?

February 4, 2017 Comments Off on An age of consumer nationalism?

hamburguesaWalls planned by ‘America First’ President of the United States; the Brexit progression to ‘Make Britain Great Again’; a growing cross-European populism trying to keep the national-order-of-things; multinational states under reinforced claims for self-determination; increasing tension around the Russian borders to recover a global influence; serious dispute for tiny islands’ between China and Japan… There is no doubt that we are facing a new wave of conflicts fueled by nationalists motivations.

Like in other moments of history, this nationalism has economic consequences. But today, nationalism is not merely expressed in the already known ‘economic nationalism’ attached to old practices like taxing foreign products or protecting the national labour market, and so on. National tensions have also consequences on a wide range of comercial and consumer daily basis practices. Therefore, there are very different, sophisticated or sometimes banalized, forms of what we know as consumer nationalism: a wide range of consumer practices and discourses attached to motivations grounded on nationalism. Are we perhaps living in an age of consumer nationalism?

Jointly with Sabina Mihelj, we have published an article in which we try to better define this phenomenon and to distinguish different types of consumer nationalism. The article has been published by the Journal of Consumer Culture:

Enric Castelló & Sabina Mihelj

In recent years, nations have regained prominence as central symbols of political unity and mobilization, and proved capable of serving political goals across the political spectrum. Yet, the current revival of the national extends well beyond the realm of politics; it is anchored in the logic of global capitalism, and has become inextricably intertwined with the practices of promotion and consumption. Our article seeks to map the interface between nationalism and economic life, and bring some clarity to the so far fragmented debate on the topic, which developed under diverse headings such as ‘economic nationalism’, ‘nation branding’, ‘consumer ethnocentrism’ and ‘commercial nationalism’. We focus more closely on developing the concept of consumer nationalism, which received little sustained attention in cultural studies and in social sciences and humanities more generally. We offer a definition of consumer nationalism, situate it vis-a-vis the broader phenomena of economic nationalism and political consumerism, and propose an analytical distinction between political consumer nationalism and symbolic consumer nationalism. Drawing on existing literature we then consider a range of examples and examine how these two forms of consumer nationalism become involved in the reproduction of nationalism, taking into account both consciously nationalist discourses and practices as well as the more banal, everyday forms of nationalism.

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Nations in the Market

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

How consumer practices are nested in nation branding rationales

IMG_20150531_125454We eat Indian, we enjoy a Spanish trip experience, we drink Scotch, and we wear English, or drive a German… The nation and nationalism have adapted well to globalization. Today nation branding is everywhere and it is a category assessing which countries have more or less reputation. There are many factors involved, and today nations are legitimized not only by military or economic strength, but a true system of soft power makes them more or less attractive for tourism, investment, education and international relations. Although some nations like Catalonia claim for a state, they should be aware that states drive only part of the process of national construction. Other socioeconomic actors have taken on the weight: companies of all kinds, public relations consultants, corporations, universities, travel agencies, airlines, etc.

During these weeks I am researching in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University on mapping diverse forms of consumer nationalism. We assist not only to campaigns promoting products in a given country (buy British, buy American, etc.), but these initiatives often become negative when are launched against products of a particular country, such as the repeated boycotts against Catalan cava in Spain, or attacks on Japanese products in China, or the ones suffered by French products in USA when the Iraq war. In the UK, you can see many forms of consumer nationalism ranging from the imprinted Union Jack in many products in the supermarkets, clothes, or establishments, to more subtle presences in gin labels, teas and plenty of products. Occasionally some megastore launches a “Celebrate British” campaign.

In Catalonia we also have examples of this in recent times, and it is not difficult to find wines or beer brands appealing to Catalonia or the Catalans, or even the independence, as shoes with the estelada flag, t-shirts with national emblems, etc. Not to say on the explosion of consumer nationalism around the Spanish flag or other emblems (the bull, la Roja), and many other symbols that exhibit the national symbols in clothes, the watch or even in a tattooed arm. These practices turn nations in tags, marketing strategies and claims for consumers. And this presence is often unnoticed, perhaps banalized to quote Michael Billig’s celebrated concept. This is where the consumer nationalism certainly wins the bet.

We might think that this only occurs in contexts of hot nationalism, like the one in Catalonia, but this is not the case. The United States has practiced very fierce consumer nationalism throughout history. Its flag and national emblems, from hymns or patriotic songs, or the eagle, through a range of symbols that express the Americanness are everywhere in restaurants, supermarkets, clothing stores, etc. In the eighties the United States expanded this national symbolism internationally through products such as tobacco or jeans, and other consumer goods that were linked to the American way of life. It’s true that it had some opposition, but the Western world embraced these national emblems with joy, and linking them with the ideals of ​​freedom, progress and cosmopolitanism.

This consumer nationalism is also a sign of normality of a given country in a global map. Catalonia is in a stage of nation brand building as it was diagnosed by Albert Castellón’s book, Catalonia, next brand in Europe. Maybe the F.C Barcelona is the most successful initiative in this regard. We can say that the football club is the organization which most clearly associates its brand with Catalonia around the globe since the team placed the Catalan flag shirt. It is therefore no coincidence that, when doing research on the presence of Catalan in foreign media, the club is one of the most recurrent themes.

It is obvious that not all national expressions denote activism by those who exhibit them through their t-shirts. Even in some contexts, carrying a bag with the American flag and a stamped skyline of New York is perceived as a symbol of cosmopolitanism and postmodernity. Thousands of people every day walk with a pair of sneakers with a British flag or showing an American emblem in the belt, and so what? But, if we see someone with a badge of Kosovo it is difficult to detach the expression of any political significance. Does the same apply to the Catalan and Spanish flag? Can they be displayed with a high degree of banality? It depends on the context and practices. We dare to say that the four bar flag has reached a degree of banality, so the estelada is used increasingly as a symbol of the national demands.

To consider nation branding is today a must, not only in the field of politics, but in the spheres of culture, education, tourism and business. It is certainly the best way we perceive how nationalism has adapted to the globalized world and the neoliberal context. In contemporary communication practices, the nations are in the market, competing with other national brands and labels, printed in bags, belts, shirts, shoes, eyeglasses, cars… Yes, we can say that there is a true ‘market of nations’ and that our consumption habits are nested there. Let’s go for a Chinese dinner?

Enric Castelló, senior lecturer at Universitat Rovira i Virgili and guest-researcher at Loughborough University

Interesting seminar with LUNN colleagues

June 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

IMG_20150603_214030 (1) Yesterday I participated in a seminar at Loughborough University, invited to talk about consumer nationalism by the Loughborough University Nationalism Network. Jointly with my colleague Sabina Mihelj, we had the chance to exchange our first thoughts about a short project I am developing here during summer. Our presentation was entitled Promoting and Consuming the Nation: Nations in the World of Global Capitalism, and we tried to map a set of consumer practices attached to national discourses and identities. Following, the abstract of our presentation.

Promoting and Consuming the Nation: Nations in the World of Global Capitalism

Sabina Mihelj (Loughborough University) & Enric Castelló (Universitat Rovira i Virgili)

Far from becoming historically obsolete, nations and nationalisms have seen a revival in recent years. From the growing influence of populist parties across Europe to the public rallies across France in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, nations have regained prominence as central symbols of political unity and mobilization, and proved capable of serving political goals across the political spectrum. Yet, as we argue in this paper, the current revival of the national extends well beyond the realm of politics; it is anchored in the logic of global capitalism, and has become inextricably intertwined with the practices of promotion and consumption. Our paper seeks to map the interface between nationalism and economic life, and bring some clarity to the so far largely fragmented debate on the topic, which developed under diverse headings such as ‘nation branding’, ‘consumer nationalism’, ‘commercial nationalism’ and ‘public diplomacy’. We also ask what the anchoring of the national in the logic of capitalism means for the ability of the nation to serve as the basis for political mobilization.

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