Michael Billig on the Royal Family and Nationalism


“One of the values of the social sciences,” argues Michael Billig, “is to investigate what people take for granted and to bring it to the surface.” In this Social Science Bites podcast, Billig, a professor of social science at Loughborough University since 1985, discusses a particular strain of something taken for granted, what he terms “banal nationalism.” That refers to the idea that much of what we would consider markers of the nationalistic impulse pass without notice, the “unwaved flags” we’d only notice if they disappeared.

In his conversation with interviewer David Edmonds, Billig dives more deeply into one particular example of nationalism, the British royal family, and what the British themselves think about the royal family and the place of the royals in British ideology.

Drawing on what he learned while supervising the qualitative surveys of average British citizens that formed the basis of his 1992 book Talking of the Royal Family, he suggests that the British people, while much less deferential to the royals than outsiders might think, tend to accept that the RF is a good thing and therefore sympathize with them – as long as the public perceives the family as publicly suffering from their privilege.

As he tells Edmonds, it was while doing that project that he realized he in fact was writing about nationalism when he write that book, which started him down the road to his 1995 book for SAGE Publishing, Banal Nationalism. He’s written several books for SAGE, including 2008’s Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour and The Hidden Roots of Critical Psychology in 2009, which demonstrates his wide-ranging research interests, including  rock ‘n’ roll and rhetoric. He draws from his most recent book, Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences, to conclude the podcast.

While he’s critical when social scientists using jargon to muddy the picture around their scholarship, he defends the necessity of having social scientists – trained as a social psychologist he prefers to describe himself using the broader term by citing the ephemerality of the findings. “The idea that you may get eternal truths from social science is a bit of a mythology,” he insists, explaining that any finding is rooted in the time and place it was revealed. “This is why you always need social scientists,” to explain what’s happening today.

To download an MP3 of this podcast, right-click HERE and save.


Social Science Bites is made in association with SAGE Publishing. For a complete listing of past Social Science Bites podcasts, click HERE. You can follow Bites on Twitter @socialscibites and David Edmonds @DavidEdmonds100.

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Welcome to the blog for the Social Science Bites podcast: a series of interviews with leading social scientists. Each episode explores an aspect of our social world. You can access all audio and the transcripts from each interview here. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @socialscibites.

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Edward John Allen

The issue of the Monarchy’s role and people’s perception of it are of real importance (I say this as someone who believes that there is no real place for a Monarchy in a modern egalitarian society) so I got excited when I saw the show’s title, but it was really disappointing to learn that research was so old! Many things have shifted in society since then that make a “read thru” on this research hard to justify. Now, if you can find more contemporary takes on the issue, count me in!! thanks for your efforts, I enjoy the show (for… Read more »

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