The dis/comfort of white British nationhood: Encounters, otherness and postcolonial continuities

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Recent work on the affective dimensions of nationhood, identity and belonging has often overlooked discomfort in favour of positive experiences of sameness and security. Contrary to this tendency, this paper, based on interview narratives produced with white British middle-class people in the suburbs of London, examines the role of discomfort in experiences of nationhood, as well as the nature and meaning of that discomfort. In the first part of the paper, I demonstrate how nationhood becomes in and through uncomfortable encounters with other people, places and objects. Then, in the second part, I show how, for some, the experience of becoming national in encounters with the ‘other’ is itself experienced uncomfortably in the context of a postcolonial Britain where people are expected to ‘love themselves as different’. On the one hand, the paper challenges the idea of privileged national belonging as wholly comfortable. Yet, the analysis also exposes the relative comfort of white British people’s nationhood. The paper offers important insight into the uneven and hierarchical nature of contemporary nationhood and highlights the value of attending to the entanglement of comfort and discomfort in work on affective nationalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 745-766
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2019


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