NASA is preparing to smash a space satellite into the moon later this week. So what? Idly perusing the article on this event, however, my ‘nationalism studies antennae’ were alerted to how the piece was written. Take, for instance, the opening lines:
‘As Britain tucks into its lunch on Friday, hundreds of scientists, engineers and astronomers on the other side of the planet will be nervously watching the skies’.
Word 2 clearly locates the target audience, but the interested, lunching Britons are placed within a wider context of ‘the planet’. The imagined community invoked by the reference to British lunches is somewhat displaced by the effortless invocation of planetray humanism and is further disrupted when I am told:
‘That flash of light won’t be visible to the naked eye, but for those west of the Mississippi and lucky enough to have a telescope of at least 10 inches …’
Now how far West of the Mississippi (which I am assumed to be familiar with) can one be? Tucking into my lunch on Friday I will undoubtedly be west of the river but will it be worth my while training a telescope on the moon? The article does not say. It does, however, lead me (in Edinburgh) to believe that I might catch a glimpse of all the extra-terrestial action in informing me that:
‘the mission reaches its climax at around 12.30pm UK time on Friday’.
The article is interesting for the various assumptions about location and identity it makes. Other unwitting inflections of a national mindset are seen in the casual reference to a similar Japanese attempt to crash into the moon as a ‘kamikaze mission’. There is also reference to pan-national identities and communities in the assertion that:
‘Finding water on the moon has long been a dream for “scientists” … as a way of shedding more light on our own planet’s background’.
Of course, the identity of the nation undertaking this mission is implicit for much of the piece and it is assumed that we know who and what NASA is. Towards the end of the piece, though, things become a bit clearer:
‘That is an important message for Nasa, at a time when America, and the world, is again scrutinising space exploration’.
Now this does not really help me know where I stand, but at least when I’m eating my lunch of Friday I can feel part of that residual group of people who are not America.
Now why have I gone off on orbit about this? Those of you who have read this far may be wondering about the relevance of this piece. it was, though, inspired by Jon Fox’s recent seminar on ‘everyday nationalisms’ in which he called for greater emphasis to be given to the taken-for-granted and almost unconscious articulations of national identity. This bottom-up approach to nationalism characterises much of the work of researchers here in Edinburgh. In Jon’s seminar there was some discussion of where one should go to look and listen out for un-selfconscious expressions of national identity. The choice of research location automatically has a bearing on what you (expect to) find. One location available to all, however, is the media. Much work has been done to analyse the subtle and often contradictory national positioning of various newspapers (see the work of Petersoo and Rosie et al). See what leaps out at you next time you read the papers.