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Examine how national identity and nationalism are central to current debates in political geography Essay

Essay Topic:

When considering the question of how central nationalism and national identity are in modern political geography it is important to firstly show and define what we mean when we are talking about these concepts. Firstly when I am talking about political geography in its simplest dictionary definition it is the “geography of states, federations and sub state units.” The term can be attributed originally to Montesquieu who was the first to suggest that there was a relationship between climate and the regime of a state. However this is a very simple definition of the term and I intend to expand on this during the course of this essay.

The definition of Nationalism again in a very simple form is a “patriotic feeling and a set of principles usually derived from an affiliation to ones country or area.” National identity is very closely linked to nationalism as it is the “sense of belonging and individualism to a certain state.” So now we are clear on the definition of the terms that we are dealing with we can continue by examining the question, during the course of this essay I intend to show using various examples, especially Europe, and using various sources just how the concepts of nationalism and national identity are central to current debates in political geography. I intend to show that they are indeed central to modern debates, but it must be noted that they are not the only debates that are at the centre of modern Political Geography.

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Nationalism and national identity in a modern sense is very much a part of every day life whether you are dealing with European integration and the loss of sovereignty, war or even an international football match, all of which exert one form or another of nationalism. However in the context of political geography there is probably no better example of a current issue in which nationalism and identity come into play than over the issue of the European Union. It is in this context that political geography becomes obvious, as it is concerned with the boundaries of individual states and in this example there are many who argue that an integrated Europe should be one merged closer and international boundaries broken down between the members, allowing a free movement of goods, capital and labour. Now the concepts of nationalism and national identity come into play here because with many advocating for a further integrated Europe then many believe and argue that this will lead to a loss individual state sovereignty.

Now state sovereignty is without doubt one of the key aspects of nationalism as it is state sovereignty that has through history led to a states position in modern times. In other words sovereignty has in the majority of cases allowed each individual state to develop and given each state its own sense of national identity, because it has held its own power and been able to govern itself, so elections have made people feel a part in the governance of their own state. For example in Britain its national sovereignty through history has given it its rule over the empire and colonies, free from any external interference on the large part, until recently, and so this has led to the strong British sense of national identity and also a slight isolationist and cautious view towards European integration.

Using the example of Britain it is also obvious that there are geographical reasons why a country develops a sense of national identity. Britain is an island and all throughout history as I have already stated has had a strong sense of national identity and nationalist tendencies as it has traditionally seen itself as almost sufficient due to its large empire. However may argue that this sense of national identity has grown and developed out of a sense of isolationism due to its geographical location. In other words Britain and its people have always felt in a sense that “they are on their own” because they have no neighbouring countries. Whereas if we look at the continent of Europe all of the other countries share at least one border with a neighbouring EU member and have done throughout history, so over time trade links and stronger relations have developed between European countries, so it is generally argued that whilst they do have a sense of national identity it is not as strong as a country such as Britain.

In evidence to support this Barbara Goodwin argues that if we take for example Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg who all share borders with one another and have very strong relationships with one another. Now these countries ever since the first talks of integration have been very keen on further an greater integration between European countries, largely as Goodwin argues because they do not have a great sense of national identity as they are seen as more of a collective group, and that their populations see themselves as close allies and due to their close relationships throughout history and their geographical position their sense of national identity is one that is arguably shared across all three of them, and this is possibly one of the reasons that they are one of the driving forces behind further European integration, because they are used to working with others as they have had to in the past due to their small size.

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