Social identity and social action in Wales: The role of group emotions

Tony Manstead (Cardiff).

Social identity and social action in Wales: The role of group emotions

Context

We examine the emotional bases of Welsh identities in relation to social action and political participation. The role of group emotion in social identity and social action has been neglected in social identity research on nationality. We investigate the importance of emotion as a product of identity and context, as a mediator of social action, and as a basis for collective identity definition itself.

Our aim is to assess how Welsh identity is defined, examine its emotional bases, and investigate how this orients people to different political projects concerned with Welsh development, including assimilation with England, devolution, and independence.

Key Findings

  • While the Welsh language clearly plays an important role in national identity in Wales, there is also variation in how and why it is important.
  • For Welsh speakers, these relate to strategic concerns about the relationship between Wales and England, and have consequences for how non-Welsh speakers are positioned within the national category.
  • For non-Welsh speakers, orientations to the Welsh language relate more to their need to define or claim their own place within the national category.
  • Welsh language ability in turn has the potential to impact on support for political action - such as Welsh national autonomy - through its influence on one's sense of national identity.
  • These effects are accentuated in contexts where the Welsh language is more prominent. In such contexts, not speaking Welsh can increase one's identification as English, as well as undermining Welsh identification.
  • Emotions such as anger play an important role in explaining how perceived threats to identity, coupled with a sense of historical illegitimacy, create conditions under which more radical, and possibly illegal intergroup actions (e.g. an arson campaign) are considered.
  • As well as being shaped by social identities, emotions can also provide a basis for social identities. Specifically, the nature and sharedness of others' emotional reactions to identity-relevant events help to shape the identities that emerge as a basis for action.

Highlights of the Research

This project examines the emotional bases of Welsh identities in relation to social action and political participation. We investigate the importance of emotion as a product of identity and context, as a mediator of social action, and as a basis for collective identity definition itself.
A critical feature of Welsh identity is the Welsh language, which provides a marker of national identity that is also a way of differentiating the Welsh from the English. However, there is no clear consensus concerning the issue of political independence in Wales and the range of views is broad and dynamic. The Welsh context therefore provides an arena in which to explore a range of identity positions for a minority's relation to both a majority (English) and the superordinate national category that embraces both (British).
We apply a social identity approach that incorporates intergroup emotion to enhance understanding of how identity relates to social action. In social psychology at least, emotion is a relatively neglected aspect of identity, and its role in collective action is also underdeveloped. An emotion-based analysis provides a way of understanding orientations to action that relate social identity content (i.e. what it means to be a member of a particular social category) to 'identity projects', such as political autonomy. The current research addresses these themes, focusing on how emotional routes to mobilization and change differ from but also interact with other social and cognitive processes (e.g. group identification; threat; illegitimacy). Our aim is to show that how identity is defined and felt will govern orientations to different identity projects concerned with Welsh development, ranging from assimilation (closer contacts with England), through devolution to full independence.
The research has been conducted in three related phases: (1) interviews and survey, (2) field studies, and (3) laboratory-based studies. In the interview phase, we investigated the different ways in which 'Welshness' can be defined, and how these definitions relate to the broader relationship between Wales and England. These interviews focused in particular on the different ways in which the Welsh language can be used to 'manage' Welsh identity.
The survey built upon the interview data by investigating quantitatively how identities relate to action tendencies and attitudes to political issues. Analyses here focus on (1) the role of Welsh language ability and national identification in shaping support for political autonomy, (2) the role of perceptions of identity threat and historical illegitimacy in the Wales-England relationship in shaping intergroup orientations, and (3) how these processes vary in Welsh-speaking and Non-Welsh-speaking regions of Wales. The field studies were used to follow up the findings of the survey, focusing on the factors that underlie different intergroup orientations (e.g. support for autonomy), and how these might vary as a function of context and future prospects for Welsh identity.
In the third, ongoing research strand, laboratory-based studies are being conducted to show how emotion can be constitutive of identity. Previous research on social identity and emotions has examined how social identities form bases from which to experience emotions at the group level. According to this view, emotions flow from group identities. Other approaches to identity suggest that identities themselves might be structured or even constituted around the experience and sharing of emotion. In this arm of the research we aim to show that emotional experience in groups can form ways of constructing identities demonstrating the reciprocal relation between emotion and identity.

Characterising Welsh-English Relations and the Role of the Welsh Language

Our initial focus was on how particular attributes, such as the Welsh language, are deployed strategically as identity management resources. Using interview data, we examined how group members' characterisations of the ingroup's social position are used to give impetus to particular forms of engagement with the Welsh language.
The interviews suggest that:

Welsh Speakers

  • Among Welsh speakers, the Welsh language can be characterised in very different ways (e.g. as a nonessential and non-political marker of cultural identity; as a means to achieving political autonomy for Wales).
  • These characterisations of the Welsh language are associated with (and justified by) different characterisations of the relationship between Wales and England (e.g.as fair or illegitimate; as ripe for change or likely to stay the same).
  • Welsh speakers' characterisations of the Welsh language can in turn be used to determine whether or not non-Welsh-speakers should face pressure to learn the language in order to become fully 'Welsh'.
  • While the Welsh language is - not surprisingly - seen as important among Welsh speakers, there are important differences in why it is seen as important, and what this means for those who do not speak Welsh.
  • These differences highlight the strategic value of the Welsh language as a means of defining, protecting or changing Welsh identity.

Non-Welsh-Speakers

  • Like Welsh speakers, non-Welsh speakers characterised the language in very different ways (e.g. as essential or non-essential to an individual's 'Welshness').
  • However, unlike Welsh speakers, these characterisations of the Welsh language were associated most strongly with non-Welsh speakers' own need to negotiate a place within the national category.
  • Non-Welsh speakers' characterisations of the Welsh language were particularly associated with whether or not it was seen as necessary to learn the language in order to become fully 'Welsh'.
  • Non-Welsh speakers' characterisations of the Welsh language are therefore still strategic in nature, but more in terms of achieving or defending their own 'Welshness', rather than defining, protecting or changing Welsh identity per se.

The Impact of Welsh Language Ability on National Identification and Support for National Autonomy

From contestation over the importance of particular attributes, we turned our attention to the consequences of defining identity in terms of particular attributes. The aim here was to examine a potential dilemma faced by members of groups that experience not just low power, but also threats to their essence or existence. On the one hand, asserting the criterial importance of a particular attribute (the Welsh language) may provide a focus for preserving the ingroup's existence. However, it may also undermine the potential of group members to mobilize toward particular group goals, such as national autonomy. This is because the identity criteria that define group membership may in turn affect group identification among ingroup members who do not have the identity-defining attribute (i.e. non-Welsh speakers).
In support of this idea, questionnaire and survey-based data suggest that:

 

  • There is an association between Welsh language ability and attitudes to political autonomy for Wales.
  • This relationship is one that works 'through' national identification: greater Welsh language ability predicts stronger Welsh identification, which predicts more positive attitudes to political autonomy.
  • The flipside is that lower Welsh language ability can lower Welsh identification and felt 'Welshness', which lowers support for autonomy.
  • In Welsh speaking regions, low Welsh language ability also predicts greater English identification among self-defined Welsh people. English identification, in turn, lowers support for political autonomy - another way in which low Welsh language ability might undermine support for Welsh political autonomy.
  • This suggests that in contexts where national identity is more strongly defined in terms of language, those who lack this 'criterial attribute' can start to see themselves as somewhat English (despite also feeling Welsh), making them less positive about greater autonomy for Wales.
  • While defining Welsh identity largely in terms of language might help to distinguish Wales from England and Englishness, it might also undermine moves for greater political separation by marginalizing non-speakers.

Politics and (other) Protest: How Identity Threat, Illegitimacy, and Emotion Shape Support for Different Intergroup Strategies among Welsh People

Supporting autonomy is of course only one among several possible goals and forms of action. Our third concern was to examine how different intergroup orientations - for example, protecting ingroup identity by radical or non-radical means, or seeking social and political equality - are rooted in differing appraisals of the ingroup's social position, and the emotion they evoke. In particular, we examined the interaction between appraisals of threat to the existence of ingroup identity, and of illegitimacy in the relationship between the ingroup and outgroup (England). Our hypothesis here was that a sense of the illegitimacy of the ingroup-outgroup relationship helps to focus the consequences of perceived threat more on radical, or even violent identity protection orientations against the outgroup (e.g. sympathy for an arson campaign). Likewise, perceiving threat as well as illegitimacy should draw orientations toward identity protection rather than political change (e.g. support for national autonomy), because securing ingroup identity is a pre-requisite for engaging in identity-based social change strategies.
In support of these ideas, survey findings indicate that:

For people in both Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking regions:

  • Both the perceived vulnerability of identity and the perceived unfairness of the relation with England (independently) predicted anger.
  • Anger in turn predicted support for all three types of political strategies.
  • But anger most strongly predicted support for the radical identity protection strategy.

For the Welsh-speaking region only:

  • The combination of both (high) vulnerability and (greater) perceived unfairness predicted anger, resulting in stronger support for the radical identity protection strategy.

Together, these findings suggest that:

  • Emotions such as anger play an important 'mediating' role between perceptions of illegitimacy in the relationship to the English to the Welsh, perceptions of threats to Welsh identity, and the ensuing political strategies and actions.
  • The Welsh support a range of different political strategies to "cope" with, or address, identity threats and the perceived relations with the English, ranging from more constitutional and conformist to more radical.
  • Support for more radical actions are most likely when identity is both perceived as vulnerable, and the relation to the English as unfair, in communities where identity
    is most defined in terms of the Welsh language.

Emotions as a Basis for Social Identity

As well as being a product of social identity-based concerns, emotions can also play an important role in shaping social identities. The final, ongoing phase of the project examines the ways in which the nature and sharedness of others' emotional reactions to an event help to shape (1) which social identities emerge as contextually-relevant, and (2) the scope and forms of action that become possible as a result. Preliminary findings indicate that:

 

  • The extent to which one feels part of a particular social category (e.g. SouthWales Welsh or Welsh) depends in part on the fit between one's own emotional reactions to a 'threat' (e.g. the threat of closure of important heritage sites in South Wales) and those of other potential group members (e.g. people from South Wales and North Wales).
  • The emotional reactions of others help to shape which social identities (e.g. South Wales Welsh v. Welsh) emerge as a result of the 'threat'. When emotional reactions are shared, then more inclusive identities can emerge. For example, if South Wales people and North Wales people feel angry, then the broader category of Welsh becomes relevant.
  • Emotions, and the categories they evoke, also shape collective action tendencies. For example, if South Wales people and North Wales people feel angry, then there is stronger support for a nation-wide campaign against the implied 'threat'. In contrast, a limited campaign amongst South Wales people becomes more likely when North Wales people do not share South Wales people's anger.
  • Action tendencies also depend on the nature, as well as sharedness of emotional reactions. For example, if South Wales and North Wales people share an emotional reaction of indifference rather than anger, then the potential for collective action is reduced.

In summary, this project has helped to show that the link between identity and action requires an appreciation not only of how action requires shared identity as a basis from which to appraise and act, but also of how identity often requires action as a means of shaping and protecting a shared sense of who 'we' are.
More information on these findings can be found on the project website:
http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/psych/sisaw/index.html

Background to the Study
This project examines the emotional bases of Welsh identities in relation to social action and political participation. We apply a social identity approach that incorporates intergroup emotion to enhance understanding of how identity relates to social action. The research has been conducted in three related phases: 1) interviews, 2) survey and field studies, and 3) laboratory-based studies. In the interview phase, we investigated the different ways in which 'Welshness' can be defined, and how these definitions relate to the broader relationship between Wales and England. The survey and field studies then investigated quantitatively how identities relate to action and attitudes to political issues.
In the third research strand, laboratory-based studies are being conducted to show how emotion can be constitutive of identity. In this research we aim to show that emotional experience in groups can form ways of constructing identities, highlighting the reciprocal relation between emotion and identity.

Publications Include
Livingstone, A., Spears, R. and Manstead, A.S.R. (in press) The language of change? Characterisations of in-group social position, threat and the deployment of 'distinctive' group attributes. British Journal of Social Psychology.

Tags: Workshop 2009