The Visualizing the Nation project was a doctoral thesis conducted at the University of Edinburgh and completed in 2017. It explored how nations are visualized through nation branding and what that can tell us about the role of nations in current times. Contact me here to request a copy.
In many daily forms of media we see the nation being represented by or alongside images. These images of the nation inform the way we see both others and ourselves. This thesis attempts to understand the way the nation is visualized, a topic that has been largely overlooked by theorists of nationalism. The visualization of the nation is explored by researching two national tourism campaigns in Croatia. Croatia was chosen as a case study in which to examine the visualization of the nation due to its recent accession into the European Union alongside the country’s economic dependence on tourism and its current attempts at rebranding.
In order to achieve the aims of this research I ask two main research questions: 1. How is the nation visualized in Croatia through tourism advertising and by whom?, 2. How is this visualization received by members of the nation? These questions were answered by combining three methodological steps which consisted of a visual analysis of the images of the campaigns, interviewing those involved in creating the campaigns and other members of the design or tourism community, and finally photo elicitation interviews with members of the Croatian public.
This research found that Croatia is often peripheral within these tourism campaigns. The nation is represented passively with the main focus of the advertisements being the experience of tourism. Croatia is merely the backdrop that these tourism activities are being advertised through. This passive representation of Croatia is a consequence of an industry that is focused on increasing tourism numbers and that relies heavily on marketing data. The representation of Croatia is not the aim of these tourism campaigns. The passive image of the nation is additionally the consequence of Croatia’s uneasy relationship with presenting something as national. National pride is often equated with violent forms of nationalism and therefore visual representations of the nation are often eliminated from the positive marketing images of the tourism campaigns.
Both members of the nation and the industry downplay the importance of tourism advertising arguing that these images are solely for the tourist and therefore they are largely insignificant. However, I use du Gay’s (1997) concept of the ‘circuit of culture’ to argue that tourism advertising is not just influenced by national identity but rather it is also influencing national identity. These tourism campaigns contribute to the construction of national identity. Therefore, this passive image of the nation is not just for tourists, it is part of a circuit of identity construction that reaches far beyond the target audience.
Overall, these tourism images are simplistic and reductive imitations of the nation while national identity is complex, inconsistent, and often contradictory. Branding and design often aims to condense identity into easily recognizable and quickly communicated images making any attempt to brand the nation inherently lacking. While this reductive identity is useful when branding a company or product, when applied to the nation ethical questions emerge about who has the right to construct the nation’s image. I argue that this new phenomenon of commercialized branding that is now a responsibility of the nation is evidence of the changing role of the nation from a modern construction to a postmodern brander. This opens up questions about the democratic nature of these tourism images and consequences of nation branding efforts that continue to represent the nation in reductive and passive terms.