Constructing an Intersubjective National Identity Data Base

Professor Hopf is a great professor, extremely knowledgeable and very passionate. I learned a lot.. — participant from Poland

This course applies discourse analysis to national identity. It introduces participants to the politics and psychology of national identity before turning to an intensive discussion of discourse analysis. Stress is put on developing valid and replicable conceptualizations and codings of national identity while remaining true to an interpretivist epistemological stance. While great attention will be paid to the collective discussion and determination of sampling strategies and coding rules for textual analysis, participants receive the opportunity to perform their own discourse analysis of national identity in a particular country and year. Participants do not only learn about theories of national identity, but gain first-hand experience in discourse analysis.


This course was offered in 2013.


Bentley B. Allan (picture), Johns Hopkins University
Ted Hopf (picture), National University of Singapore

Detailed Description

National identity is one of the central variables of constructivist work in international relations, comparative politics, and studies of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. However, large-n studies in international relations and comparative politics often ignore constructivist insights about identity and operationalize the concept in ways that robs it of intersubjective meaning. For example, scholars often substitute linguistic or religious affiliation for national identity, even while acknowledging the inadequacy of this measurement.

This course begins with an overview of the major theoretical approaches to identity from the fields of political science, social psychology, historical sociology, social theory, cultural anthropology, and social history. We then explore practical applications of discourse analysis to the recovery of national identity. Emphasis will be placed on developing reliable and valid coding rules for identifying the predominant discourses of national identity that appear in particular countries.

We will discuss how to sample across a wide variety of genres, such as official public speeches, leading newspaper articles and editorials, history textbooks, blockbuster movies, and bestselling novels, and how texts allow us to reconstruct the intersubjectgive worlds of the mass publics of various societies. Participants will learn to identify the prevalent ways in which a society’s population understands itself and how the national self is constructed in relationship to historical, domestic, and external others.

Participants are expected to apply their newly acquired methods skills and unique linguistic expertise and perform a discourse analysis on one of sixteen targeted countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. To the extent possible, pairs of participants will analyze the same country and texts so as to generate high levels of intercoder reliability and for them to learn from each other when analyzing discourses of national identity.

By the end of the course, participants will not only have developed a theoretical knowledge of identity and acquired and practiced a large set of discourse analytical skills, but they will also have learned a great deal about the national identity of a particular country of interest.


Participation in this course requires excellent language skills. In particular, all participants need to be able to fluently read English and, at the very least, one of the following nine languages: Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, or Russian.


Participants are expected to bring a WiFi-enabled laptop computer. Access to data, temporary licenses for the course software, and installation support will be provided by the Methods School.

Core Readings

Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann, 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Rabinow, Paul, and William M. Sullivan, eds. 1987. Interpretive Social Science. A Second Look. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Neumann, Iver B. 1999. Uses of the Other. "The East" in European Identity Formation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Milliken, Jennifer. 1999. The Study of Discourse in International Relations: A Critique of Research and Methods. European Journal of International Relations 5: 225-254.

Chirot, Daniel, and Martin E.P. Seligman, eds. 2001. Ethnopolitical Warfare. Causes, Consequences, and Possible Solutions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hopf, Theodore G. 2002. Social Construction of International Politics. Identities and Foreign Policies, Moscow, 1955 and 1999. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hopf, Theodore G. 2004. Discourse and Content Analysis: Some Fundamental Incompatibilities. Qualitative Methods 2: 31-33.

Lebow, Richard N., and Mark I. Lichbach, eds. 2007. Theory and Evidence in Comparative Politics and International Relations. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Abdelal, Rawi, Yoshiko M. Herrera, Alastair I. Johnston, and Rose McDermott, eds. 2009. Measuring Identity. A Guide for Social Scientists. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Schatz, Edward, ed. 2009. Political Ethnography. What Immersion Contributes to the Study of Power. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.