Nationalism: A Tool of Manipulation and Mobilisation? | Zeena Mistry


Nationalism has certainly seen a revival over the past few years, from 52% of the population voting to leave the European Union to a renowned sense of community and shared sense of belonging following a summer of sports (the Euros and Olympics). But, how far has the UK government utilised nationalism to manipulate and mobilise the people?

The answer: significantly – it’s now a lifeline in how the government gets their message out there to stay in control. One only has to look at the handling of the Coronavirus; manipulating people to stay at home and whilst mobilising them to protect (what now appears to be) Britain’s most beloved institution – the NHS. Yet the coronavirus pandemic is the pedestal for what comes next; Boris Johnson has pledged to “Build Back Better” but no-one seems to know what that actually means – a laughable fact considering the Conservative Party Conference was just a few days ago. People have been manipulated into believing that more government is good, knowing everybody’s private medical records is good and that the loss in the sense of individuality along with the disappearance of critical thinking will get us out of this rut we currently find ourselves in. I strongly believe that people must start turning their backs on the government and take back control of the ‘imagined community’ narrative and as soon as this takes place then the mobilisation and manipulation that we are living through will be so much brighter on the other side. 

Of course, this takes work. The theory of the imagined community (my favourite of many definitions of nationalism) derives from Benedict Anderson who writes that it is an abstract belief that “the nation is an imagined political community that is inherently limited in scope and sovereign in nature. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” As we come out of the pandemic and look to the future, there is a lot that we as a society must improve on. Whether this is done locally or centrally is an important question but just how nationalist feeling is used for good is so very important. 

A key aspect of this is the increased use and growth of social media. In the modern world, social media is central – it’s inexpensive, easy to access and it provides an incredibly rich environment for users to create content – just look at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. More impressively, the sheer rise in numbers of people joining social media platforms is incredible, more people than ever before are becoming connected – and according to a graph from Statista – it’s not slowing down anytime soon. 

Now, focusing the attention back to the UK and the idea of the imagined community. It doesn’t have to be all bad; nor does being manipulated and mobilised. I mentioned earlier how Boris Johnson has pledged to ‘Build Back Better’ – a nice catchy phrase, open to interpretation and shows that the Conservatives are listening (performative, perhaps), and the Labour Party are not. 

As social media users, we can utilise modern technology for our own good and influence where the country goes; by talking to people outside our normal circle and sharing ideas. A good, healthy debate is missing yet there has never been a better time to plug it back into society and make it the norm as so many people are more connected than ever before. 


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