Symposium "National Symbols across Time and Space"

This symposium is part of the project “Discourses of the Nation and the National”

This symposium is part of the project “Discourses of the Nation and the National” which focuses on a comparative study of various aspects of the national across various discourses.


Symposium program (PDF)


Despite the evident weakening of the nation and the national during these times of cultural globalization, nationalisms are not disappearing in the world. Instead, they are reappearing in a range of new forms utilizing both new and renewed symbols. Or perhaps we are witness to a reconstruction of old forms and old symbols? Symbols are often understood as abstract universals (Piercy 2013) raising the question of whether or not national symbols reflect universal patterns in symbolic systems. Or, is the analysis of symbols most usefully understood in relation to the particularities of different national discourses? We are interested not only in discussing concrete symbols (like objects or persons) representing a nation, but also in abstract symbols (like language and ideas).


Symbols give form to the invisible and describe the intangible, constituting in effect a masked pattern of culture. But while symbols can unify a group of people, the interpretation of symbols can also divide them. Contested symbols may be linked to “discursive battles” as to their meaning, acceptance, or rejection. Arguably, self-identified groups wish to avow their own symbols meaning that symbols become an avowed pattern of culture subject to disputation and conflict. In our workshop we would like to discuss different faces of the national symbols and their role in a construction or a deconstruction of the nation.

The submitted papers can include reflections on the following questions:

-What does the expression “national symbol” mean? What are the characteristics of national symbols? Who chooses them, and why? What are the criteria for their acceptance? Who needs these symbols, and why?

-   Do political/cultural oppositions between strong and weak, opened and closed, totalitarian and democratic societies predict the type of symbols utilized as well as the attitudes toward these symbols?

- Can we use the distinction between material symbols (flags, monuments) and non-material symbols (ideas, personages) to distinguish between types of national discourse?

- Are the symbols used to frame national discourse largely the reconstruction/renewal of old ones, or are genuinely new symbols generated? How are symbols transmitted from generation to generation?

- Do symbols function to reveal or conceal the passage of time (history)? Can one distinguish between symbols that dominate in history and are more successful and symbols that are weaker and become lost or forgotten or are not generally accepted? Why are some symbols more stable than others?

- Language has also a symbolic value for the nation: words and ideas can be considered abstract symbols: e.g., fado in Portuguese, is untranslatable in other languages. How can we identify and describe these abstract symbols? What place do they have in the process of the construction of the nation?


We particularly welcome interdisciplinary approaches to national symbols, and contributions concerned with symbols in discourse.


Organizers: Elizaveta Khachaturyan, Mark Luccarelli, Ljiljana Šarić


Published June 18, 2015 12:02 PM - Last modified July 4, 2016 4:24 PM