This essay addresses the relationship between white-collar workers and nationalism by introducing a cultural-symbolic approach to examine how national discourse became an essential “point of production” of white-collar identities, particularly those of clerks and clerical work. Based on an analysis of the imagery that clerks use to describe their work experience, this discussion attempts to document and explain how and why nationalism, as a cultural system with an internal logic and specific stylistic devices, was employed by the clerks “from below” to construct their occupational identity.
The association between white-collar workers and nationalism, particularly in the context of state building, has long attracted the attention of sociologists and historians. First, the emergence of non-manual workers as the social basis of bureaucratic organizations was linked to state formation. Second, the role of white-collar workers in the evolution of national-capitalist economies and urban consumer communities was regarded as essential in linking state building and economic change. Third, political and social histories of the nationalist Right centered on bureaucrats and clerical employees as standard-bearers of conservative politics.