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“Civic” and “ethnic” nationalist discourses in Spanish parliamentary debates

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Parliamentary debates on the definition of the nation-state and national identities are a very revealing discursive domain of tracing the cues of the social construction of this category. Integrating social-psychological and discourse analyses, this article studies how Spanish nationalism interacts with the most influential regional (Catalonian and Basque) nationalisms in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, and in the regional Parliaments of Catalonia and the Basque Country.

The study is based on a two-dimensional framework, which characterises nationalist cultures in terms of their Institutional Status (“established” vs. “rising” nationalism), and in terms of the Basic Assumptions (“civic” vs. “ethnic” aspects in the social representation of the nation — Smith, 1986, 1991). According to the conceptual framework, each of these nationalisms represents a different combination of “established” (Spanish) or “rising” (Basque and Catalonian) Institutional Status as well as of “civic” (in Catalonia) or “ethnic” (Spanish and the Basque) Basic Assumptions (Grad, 1999). The study shows that, in these parliamentary contexts, the Institutional Status and the Basic Assumptions also configure distinct “discursive formations” — reflected in interactional dynamics between the different national projects and identities. These discourses belong to an “enunciative system” including systematic subject (the dominant national identity), and a system of reference (or referential) terms to denote national or supra-regional categories — Spain, Spanish State, Basque Country, Catalonia as well as associated fields (more ascriptive membership criteria, group boundaries, requirement of internal homogeneity, referent and extension of the “us”), and materiality (strategies of discursive polarisation, especially salient in the Basque Country. Finally, in parliaments where ethnic codes are confronted (Spanish and Basque) politeness is impaired, there is a higher degree of controversy, and the strategies of delegitimisation constitute strong face-threatening acts which endanger the “tacit contract” of the parliamentary interactions. In this regard, ethnic centralist and independentist political positions make harder the compatibility between national identities than civic regional-nationalist and federal proposals. Recent confrontations between Spanish and Basque national positions seem to confirm the patterns found in this analysis.
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Keywords: Parliamentary discourse; Spain; discursive formation; ethnic and civic nationalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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