There are two basic ways of thinking about national identity. Firstly, one can think of it as a story that gives origin and belonging to a particular nationality. Secondly, by understanding the national identity as the relationship between the various activities that takes place in a nation.
In the first case, a reference axis is required to arrange the identity. For this there are several possibilities. The most traditional one supports the idea of the existence of common ancestors among the inhabitants, thus connecting the nation with the fatherland and the idea of the homeland.
There are other axes too, for example, there are cases where religions organize national identities, cases in which a shared language and space has helped to create nationalities and even cases where class consciousness or where the social pride of owning a successful manufacturing process are used. There are also cases where a law, constitution or objective accepted by the majority is a reference of the national identity.
The problem with this approach is that it fragments a nationality to think of itself only from fixed axes such as race, religion, language, etc. These axes inevitably lead to conflict as they are unlikely to include the whole of society and as such make some love and others hate.
Thus, historically, groups of people have been left out of national identity, classified as little more than ghosts or outcasts from the system this model generates. The problem with this scheme is that it is difficult to find a clear common denominator or history between the different sectors of any national community.
There is, however, another way of thinking about citizenship which successfully unites the different identities of the inhabitants of a nation.
To assess this option it is first necessary to rethink the idea of identity and accept that we all owners of distinct identities and not just objects of the aforementioned national axes.
In addition to belonging to a nation or a political party, one is part of a genre, a generation, a biological or emotional family, a neighborhood or town, a club, a religion or a group does not believe in religion. Furthermore, one even owns multiple desires, interests and other parallel activities. As such, a person is a part of a group of people who have certain common features among all the possible features that can be used to define them, not only as political beings but as human beings.
By widening the classification of the inhabitants of a nation we can see that the important thing is not a nationality in itself, but the cords that are woven together and how they relate different aspects of life. As they connect and are layered, the separate identities form a social fabric which is inclusive and integrative, and it is this which gives a practical meaning to national identity and a life in common.
©Sebastian Guerrini, 2009