uu.seUppsala University Publications
Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
The pervasiveness of nationalism: “How the world should be politically organised”: The rhetorical construction of European identity in the ‘Brexit’ debate.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The June 2016 UK referendum on EU membership is indicative of the challenges facing the EU, in terms of an apparent lack of unity and solidarity among its component member states. The very fact of a potential ‘Brexit’, and the ramifications that it might have, call into question the concept of European identity, indicative of a sense of belonging and attachment to a community beyond the confines of the nation-state. European identity has been conceived by both European elites and academics such as Jürgen Habermas, in his vision of ‘constitutional patriotism’, as something which can be constructed and fostered, in much the same way that national identity has been in the past. Euroscepticism tends to be associated with a lack of European identity, and an emphasis on nationalism.


However, such views downplay the importance still accorded to the nation-state, and the pervasiveness of nationalism. This study argues that European identity is first and foremost a construct of national discourse, and this affects the role that it plays in fostering support for the EU. Therefore, the research examines British national discourse on Europe and the EU, asking: Does the concept of European identity play a role in the Brexit debate? It considers this in relation to affective attachment to the nation-state, examining the kind of assumptions that such attachment enables. Given its emphasis on European identity as a rhetorical construct, this study uses a method of Critical Discourse Analysis, looking at political and public discourse in the UK over a three-month period in the lead up to the ‘Brexit’ referendum.


The findings confirm the pervasiveness of nationalist assumptions used in discourse, demonstrating that they are not associated solely with Euroscepticism. Moreover, the Brexit debate indicates the rhetorical nature of European identity rooted in shared culture or values. As a result, we see strange bedfellows: support for the EU is premised with an emphasis on national allegiance and belonging, while European identity (based on cultural similarity and belonging) is used as an argument against the EU. Both sides of the debate rely to some extent on a separation of ‘Europe’ and ‘EU’. Support for the EU, then, does not necessarily require a ‘thick’ identity, or that the bonds of nationalism be completely broken down. This prompts some reflection on the potential for identification with Europe based on rational, national self-interest. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Brexit, nationalism, European identity, EU, discourse
National Category
Social Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-300187OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-300187DiVA: diva2:951026
Subject / course
Educational program
Master Programme in Euroculture
Available from: 2016-08-18 Created: 2016-08-04 Last updated: 2016-08-18Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

fulltext(1248 kB)95 downloads
File information
File name FULLTEXT01.pdfFile size 1248 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type fulltextMimetype application/pdf

By organisation
Department of Theology
Social Sciences

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
Total: 95 downloads
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Total: 547 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link