I'm from Austria ... and from Europe - Multiple Identities in the Global Village

A love for one's country does not preclude a love for one's continent - instead, the two usually go hand in hand. That is the conclusion reached by a study carried out on the topic of national identity. Unique in terms of its scale and scope, new results generated by this study were presented in Vienna to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). The study - which was supported in Austria by the Austrian Science Fund FWF - gives a fascinating insight into the extent to which people identify with various political and geographical entities, and also acknowledges that there are certain differences between Europeans and the inhabitants of other continents.

Flagging identification with your country? The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) is providing an answer. © Use of this photo for editorial purposes is free of charge, subject to attribution: European Communities, 2009

Anyone who is keen to witness national pride in its most pronounced form should pay a visit to an international sporting event. Nowhere else is it possible to experience such intense levels of sheer joy and despair at first hand. That's because a nation's sporting prowess plays a key role in boosting national pride and generating a feeling of identification with one's country. But when it comes down to it, just how strong or how weak is this feeling of identification with the state, and indeed with other political and geographical entities? The International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) - a programme of leading social scientific research institutes in 45 countries for regular cross-national surveys and analyses of important social and political issues - is providing an answer to this question.

The primary outcome of the survey on national identity in 35 countries is extremely clear - 48 % of those surveyed feel a "very strong" connection with their own country (and a further 40 % feel a "strong" connection). People also feel a "strong" connection with their home town and local region, with results of 38 % and 32 % respectively. Just 19 % - the lowest figure recorded - felt a very strong identification with the largest named political and geographical entity - the continent, i.e. Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe (a further 34 % said they felt "connected" with their continent). This refutes the hypothesis of the "death" or declining significance of the nation state. However, the study also reveals that a strong sense of identification with the nation state does not necessarily imply a weaker bond with the continent on which an individual lives. As is the case in Europe, it is more often the case that the two go hand in hand.

Either … or?
"Citizens feel a strong connection not only to their own nation state, but also to Europe as a whole. At the same time, they have a strong bond with their home town and local region. This leads to the surprising conclusion that, in Europe, the degrees of identification with the various political and geographical entities show a strong positive correlation. So if, for example, a person feels a particular connection with his home town, he is also likely to experience a similarly strong bond with all other entities. Conversely, if an individual feels absolutely no national pride, then also his sense of identification with his continent, home town and home region will be correspondingly weak. Such individuals could be described as being geographically rootless. This refutes the hypothesis of a conflict between a national and a European identity," explains Prof. Max Haller from the University of Graz, who heads up the study.

This trend toward a correlation between an individual's identification with local and national political and geographical entities and a correspondingly more pronounced sense of connection with his own continent is evident in 17 of the 21 European countries examined in the study. Hungary achieved the highest values, with 65 % of people saying they felt a very strong bond with Europe. Significantly, Hungary also records the highest scores in Europe in terms of people's identification with their own country. While Americans also display an above-average level of identification with their own continent, people in Asia, for example, are more distanced in their relationship to their continent. However, this particular trend is perhaps to be expected, given that Asia is home to such a diverse range of cultures.

The Four Pillars of True National Pride
As part of the FWF project, Prof. Haller investigated not only the degree of identification with political and geographical entities, but also the factors that play a particular role in building a sense of national pride. He explains: "The study shows that there are four key factors that apply across all the different countries. In each of them, we discovered that 80 % to 90 % of the citizens were proud of their country's history and its scientific, sporting, cultural and literary achievements. In Austria, we also observed that the majority of the population is particularly proud of the economic progress made by the country." Using scientific methods and results, the ISSP-study therefore reveals that citizens experience a strong sense of patriotism, no matter which country they live in. Regardless of how small or poor a nation may be, its people will always find a reason to love and to be proud of their country.

Scientific Contact
Prof. Max Haller
University of Graz
Institute of Sociology
Universitätsstraße 15/G4
8010 Graz, Austria
T +43 / 316 / 380 - 3541
max.haller(at)uni-graz.at

Austrian Science Fund FWF
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt

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