Selling the state: nation branding as a tool for banal identity building in Estonia
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Nation branding materials represent a new forum for identity construction, yet have been largely ignored in the field of political science. Despite being a rich medium, full of symbolism and iconography, these materials continue to be regarded as ‘just marketing’, rather than an important repository for state concerns. Existing studies focus predominantly on interpreting and understanding the content that is presented, rather than understanding how they might function as an identity building tool. This paper addresses this through a focus on process, rather than end results. It asks the central question: are Nation Branding Campaigns a viable and effective tool for identity construction? Do they have a meaningful impact on their audience, both domestic and foreign? What are the limits of what can be constructed in discourse? It shows how banal nationalist tropes and ideas are negotiated and disseminated in Nation Branding campaigns and considers the unanswered question as to whether Nation branding materials are actually effective as a medium for disseminating ideas through analysis of qualitative and quantitative data. It shows the limits of what can be constructed in discourse by studying how participants contest the norms presented to them. Finally, this study examines which norms and tropes are most effective and uses this evidence to critique elements of Billig’s original thesis. There is a gap in the literature for understanding how Nation branding materials are used and whether they are effective at all at shaping opinion among the local population or in the foreign audience. Scholars such as Billig (1995), and Jansen (2004) assert that citizens are receptive to these messages but is this really the case? Does Nation Branding turn everyone into a sales representative or ad-hoc ambassador? To what extent do citizens and residents contest the material they read?
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