‘Slaughterhouse cattle are treated better than this’: exploring the salience of everyday nationhood at British airports

Charles Leddy-Owen*, James Dennis, Nora Siklodi

*Corresponding author for this work

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Nationhood is fundamental to the contemporary global political order. However, remarkably little is known about its salience at the everyday level – that is, whether and how nationhood is produced, engaged with, enacted and ignored by ‘ordinary people’ undertaking routine activities. The extent to which nations are salient beyond the elite level is an important question in the context of disputes between liberal nationalist and cosmopolitan theorists who respectively valorise or critique nationally conceived polities and societies. This article presents an innovative methodology for investigating everyday nationhood at one of the nation’s key spatial edges – its international border. We created a social media dataset comprising of 1,083 ‘tweeted’ reflections made during UK airport border crossings, where nationhood might be expected to be particularly salient, especially during a sampling period that corresponded to frenzied political activity surrounding the post-referendum Brexit negotiations. At the same time, research suggests that the international airport represents an exceptionally cosmopolitan environment where national identities may be attenuated. With these tensions in mind, we constructed a coding framework to enable descriptive frequencies regarding nationhood’s occurrence and salience in the dataset, with the broad patterns that emerged analysed in more detail via qualitative analysis. Nationhood is found to be largely absent, at least in explicit terms – with the possible exception of a highly individualist, tacit manifestation of Britishness. The large majority of the tweets analysed focus on the contingencies of everyday life in ways that are remarkably individualist and consumer-oriented, cosmopolitan but ostensibly unpolitical. We conclude by arguing that these patterns suggest cause for concern for both liberal nationalists and progressive cosmopolitans regarding the apparently shallow salience of their ideals in the everyday realm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)544-567
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2022


  • Everyday nationhood
  • nationalism
  • national identity
  • airports
  • Brexit
  • borders
  • Twitter
  • EU
  • Britishness


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