Can Identity be Location or Profession-based, rather than Nationality-based?

August 16, 2012 by admin

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A Londoner’s perspective

The 2012 Olympic Games drew on our national allegiances, with each nation willing their athletes to do their country proud. With the Games now over, is it now time to reflect on the other multiple facets that make up our social identity?

It was interesting to read, during the Olympics, the letters from many non-British Londoners who wrote in to the newspapers to express their support for the Team GB athletes. This was instead of, or in addition to, supporting the athletes from their home country. It goes a long way to showing the extent to which social identity can be based on factors other than nationality, with expatriates being an interesting case.

London, for example, is home to between 300,000 and 400,000 French citizens, more than those that live in Bordeaux, Nantes or Strasbourg. For some of those who have made the capital their home for five years or more, their identity as Londoners may be just as important as their identity as French nationals.

Professional identity is another important aspect of social identity, and is something that can be seen very clearly in large cities such as London. The metropolis is not only about bankers, lawyers and business people, it is also the headquarters for many international NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Save the Children and Christian Aid.

London is also an important centre for research into International Development, and notably Prime Minister David Cameron has ring-fenced the Department for International Development’s budget. Despite being the sixth most expensive city in the world, many bright and idealistic young professionals have chosen to live here in order to work for the NGOs. In the Farringdon area there is a real sense of community among agencies, with many NGOs being only streets apart. Many employees choose to live nearby in East London, which is home to a large artistic community and is also vibrantly multicultural.

I went to a barbecue in East London a few weeks ago, where the attendees were predominantly French, Spanish, Italian or Latin American, and mostly worked for NGOs. I was struck by just how much of a common identity these people had. They all wanted to make the world a better place, and encourage people to give something back to society, rather than being focused on material goals (such as buying a bigger house, car, etc.).

They had formed a shared identity, based on a common cultural background (despite having various different nationalities) and a common outlook on life. Their identity was not strongly location-based, in fact many had chosen not to support the British team in the Olympics due to the high profile of corporate sponsors of the London 2012 games, and the privileges afforded to them. But at the same time it was London that had brought them all together.

At a time when the role and responsibility of society is being questioned, it is interesting to see that social identity, based on location, profession and ideology as well as social class, can interact with or overpower national identity. This is particularly evident in a city such as London where so many nationalities interact and mingle.

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