National identities are not essentially fixed or given but depend critically on the claims which people make in different contexts and at different times. The processes of identity rest not simply on the claims made but on how such claims are received, that is validated or rejected by significant others. Because actors are able, up to a point, to anticipate validation or rejection in particular contexts and at particular times, this influences the identity claims that they make. Identity is claimed and read off from various identity markers according to identity rules. Identity rules are the probabilistic rules of thumb whereby under certain structural conditions and in certain contexts, markers are interpreted, combined or given precedence one over another. This paper locates this approach to studies of national identity in the literature, and presents evidence for these assertions from a study of national identity, with examples taken from interviews in Scotland with two elite groups. Those interviewed were for a variety of reasons sensitive to issues of national identity. However, we argue that similar processes are at work generally, albeit people who have less reason to concern themselves with their own identity and the identity of those with whom they interact, see national identity more as something ‘taken-for-granted’, and relatively fixed.
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