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Talking with ‘real’ South Africans: An investigation of the dilemmatic nature of nationalism

Gray, Debra; Delany, Aislinn; Durrheim, Kevin


Debra Gray

Aislinn Delany

Kevin Durrheim


This study is a discursive analysis of how a group of South Africans, who are seriously contemplating emigration, talk about South Africa and their place in it. The primary aim was to investigate the discursive construction of national categories, in order to highlight the way in which context informs both the content and nature of nationalist accounting. The talk of emigrating South Africans showed the existence of a fundamental dilemma of nationalism, as evidenced by the existence of co-existing, contradictory themes of nationalism and anti-nationalism across the interviews. Participants attempted to resolve this dilemma by identifying and disidentifying with a ‘South African’ national category at various points. In particular, three rhetorical strategies are discussed that allowed participants to distance themselves from the national category that is, collective versus personal, splintering the nation and refuting the collective. These findings are compared to those of Billig’s (1995) work on banal nationalism and Condor’s (2000) study of English national identity in order to draw parallels, or point to differences, in the way that people orient to national categories in different settings. These findings highlight that generalist studies of discourse may not be relevant across all national contexts. Instead, it is argued that an understanding of South African national accounting will very much depend on an understanding of the contexts in which these accounts are realised.


Gray, D., Delany, A., & Durrheim, K. (2005). Talking with ‘real’ South Africans: An investigation of the dilemmatic nature of nationalism. South African Journal of Psychology, 35(1), 127-146

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2005
Deposit Date Jan 27, 2011
Journal South African Journal of Psychology
Print ISSN 0081-2463
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 1
Pages 127-146
Keywords South Africa, dilemmatic, nationalism
Public URL
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