Archive for January, 2012

Not just bluster, spectacle helps


The Telegraph, 26 January 2012

For some veteran watchers, the rolling battle tanks, the soaring strike aircraft, the colours of state tableaux, and the march-pasts of the Republic Day parade may appear ritualistic. But social science scholars and psychologists say the annual pageantry, even in its seventh decade, has spin-offs for the nation and individuals.

The celebrations and the symbols, they say, contribute to a bond towards the nation-state and, as recent research reveals, may even add to a sense of wellbeing and happiness.

The Republic Day continues to be an occasion to remind Indians to move beyond their inherited or ascribed identities such as caste or religion, or language or region and reaffirm their commitment to constitutional values, said a researcher who specialises in post-colonial studies and national identity.

It’s a way to seek uncompromising commitment to constitutional values crucial to sustain this diverse and pluralistic nation, said Sarbeswar Sahoo, assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, currently a Humboldt Fellow at the Max-Weber-Centre at the University of Erfurt, Germany.

“This is still an event that people wait for — and enjoy,” said Aruna Pendse, associate professor of civics and politics at the University of Mumbai. “It should be seen as a celebration of our democracy and our diversity, something intended to bolster national pride,” she said.

National pride, as recent studies suggest, can keep people happy. A study by psychologists Ed Diener, Louis Tay and Mike Morrison at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, last year found that feeling good about a country increases a sense of personal wellbeing.

Their research, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that people who feel proud to be a member of their country are also happier than those who don’t feel affiliated to their nation-state. Their study, based on a poll of 1000 people from 128 countries also showed that this association was far stronger among people with low incomes and people from poor countries than among people from the industrialised nations.

But just how much national pride actually translates into happiness may depend on how a person defines nationalism. Research published last month has shown that the level of happiness is influenced by whether an individual is a “civic nationalist” or an “ethnic nationalist”.

Sociologist Tim Reeskens at the Catholic University of Belgium and Matthew Wright, a political scientist at the American University in the US, examined the association of happiness with national pride among 40,600 people from 31 European countries. But they split the idea of national pride into two categories — civic nationalism, an inclusive concept that requires only respect for a nation’s institutions and laws, and ethnic nationalism that insists on ancestry or blood ties to a nation.

Their study, also published in the journal Psychological Science, found that the greater the national pride, the greater the sense of well-being. But civic nationalists were happier than ethnic nationalists.

“The most happy were the respondents who were proud of their countries and were civic nationalists, while the least happy were people who were not proud of their country and thought about their country mainly in ethnic terms,” Reeskens told The Telegraph.

But even the proudest ethnic nationalists, the study has revealed, had a sense of wellbeing that barely surpassed the sense of well-being of people with the lowest level of civic pride.

The relevance of these results to India is still unclear. But, Reeskens said, the findings relating to the ethnic nationalism were stable across countries and may apply in India. But while the (Republic Day) celebrations are likely to foster a stronger national identity, the social science scholar points out, what is still unclear is whether these celebrations and the symbols will promote an inclusive civic identity or an exclusive ethnic one.