Britishness in Trafalgar Square: Urban Place and the Construction of National Identity
By Shanti Sumartojo
Volume 9, Issue 3, pages 410-428
This article argues for the importance of urban public place in exploring how contemporary national identity is constructed. I take Trafalgar Square as my case study, exploring how Britishness was reinvented in two events that took place there in 2005: the celebrations for London’s successful Olympic host city bid and the commemorative vigil for the victims of the 7 July London bombings. I contend that during these events, Trafalgar Square contributed to the discourse of national identity in three distinct ways: firstly, as a podium for the promulgation of official messages about the two events; secondly, as a tableau that demonstrated the ‘diversity in unity’ that official messages emphasised; and finally as a physical frame that accessed a version of British history to contextualise the events. More generally, the use of the square helped illuminate some important tensions at the heart of contemporary national identity in Britain, such as the question of multiculturalism and the role of London in the national imagination.
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