Halt! Identify Yourself

“Why did we choose to identify with nations and not something else?” I once again left class pondering this question. Why don’t we identify ourselves with things other than nations? In class, Professor Hayden joked about identifying yourself with a job and where you worked. “Can you imagine identifying yourself with Google” or something similar to that, he joked. Well, serious or not, this comment triggered my memory back to a book I read last summer called Jennifer Government.

Jennifer Government is a novel by Max Barry (an Australian novelist) that looks at the world if we didn’t identify ourselves with nations and instead identified ourselves with corporations. The plot of the novel itself is more on the complex side as it follows the lives of seven different people all of whom have been affected by the shooting of a girl over a pair of Nike sneakers.

But, the plot is hardly the point. What I found interesting throughout the world that Barry created was the dynamic that people had when they interacted with each other. They identified themselves by name with the company they worked for. For example, if I worked for Google, my name in Barry’s world would be Becky Google. But, if I had a daughter, her hypothetical names would be something like “Samantha McDonald’s” because her name would be based on the corporation who owned her school.

In Barry’s world, there is no distinction for family or tribes. You are your company. But, even with these people there was a still a sense of loyalty to those you worked for. So, this dynamic got me thinking. Perhaps even if we didn’t identify ourselves with nations, we would still manage to clump ourselves together and identify ourselves with others who were similar to us just based on other characteristics such as our job.

I think that the answer to Professor Hayden’s question is complicated, but the reason we identified with nations first is due to the fact that they were there first. People later came to identify themselves by what job they had, but it wasn’t until much later in time. I guess, in this sense, I’ve sort of agreed with Benedict Anderson and his notion of an “imagined community.” But, I don’t necessarily know if the “imagined community/nation” is exactly true and yet, the idea of “insert-sport-teams Nation” and online communities lead me in other directions. Honestly, I think people just want to be able to relate to one another and perhaps the nation was the first way to make that happen.



3 thoughts on “Halt! Identify Yourself

  1. Becky- I am really intrigued by the plot of this novel! But I’m not sure that I would say that people have identified themselves in terms of their jobs only recently- what about guilds? Guilds have been around since at least the Middle Ages in Europe, perhaps even earlier in India. They included a governing body that regulated the production and sales of goods in one’s city or town, and membership was necessary in order to practice your trade there. Some guilds provided social benefits to their members, such as health care allowances and death benefits for widows. Guilds eventually lost prominence with the advent of capitalism and free trade, and yes, the rise of the nation-state that took over regulating industries and commerce. Today instead we have a strong corporate culture, that provides its employees with benefits such as insurance. Ultimately however I think the state remains supreme in terms of regulating how a company conducts business and treats employees, and I don’t know many people who would place their loyalty to their company over loyalty to their country! Perhaps you are right though; as confidence in the government goes down, things may change.


    (Source for guild information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guild)

  2. It’s a very interesting question: how much does our environment shape how much we know, our identity, and how much we respond to certain historical events? I know if my father’s family had not been killed in Bangladesh, I probably never would have known of the tragedies inflicted on the people there. As it is, I don’t have any family in Israel or Palestine so when the stories break about those places, it’s harder to imagine what my reaction would be to living there.
    I’m not sure if how ‘imagined communities’ will continue to go on, but I believe that as long as people move out of where they were originally, we may still have them.- Tara

  3. Tory, I don’t necessarily think that people only identify with their jobs, but that it is one part of how people choose to identify themselves. I, for example, am an American, but I’m not only that. I identify myself with the film community and the online communities that I associate with as well. The point I was trying to get at was the underlying cause for people identifying themselves with nations and not something else, like their job or a guild or an online community for that matter. And the answer I came up with is I’m not really sure why we feel the need to identify so strongly with a nation.

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