NATION AS (IS) A BRAND. PART 1

In the next few weeks I will be posting excerpts from my study of the Nation Branding praxis and its role in driving competitive advantage in countries engaging in the global economy. Keep connected 😉

‘Liberty Leading the People, 1830 by Eugene Delacroix

INTRO

Throughout history nation has been discursively constructed and reproduced in many different ways. There is often a primordialist view in which, territory, language, political institutions, ethnie and a shared past are its most elemental components, yet, nation is a much more complex construct stretching beyond those boundaries. In the present period where nations come to interact at so many different levels – culturally, socially, politically and above all economically – a new politics of representation capable of equalizing the homogenizing forces of globalization and, at the same time, reinforce the individual character of countries is all the more important. Nation as a brand is one such form of reframing the constitutive elements of its identity, history and culture to compete for investments, markets, individuals, etc. Brazil has recently re-emerged as a country, fully engaging in the new global economy. As such it has come to compete vis–à-vis other nations and secure a prosperous future for itself. However, the ways in which countries compete with each other and how they present themselves in not without tensions, contradictions and conflict. That is why the country image, and nation branding by extent, need to be understood, problematized and their effects studied so that it is rendered a less elusive, ambiguous phenomenon.

“Nation… has always been invented, imagined and reproduced in everyday mediated discourses”

Roosval, Salovaara-Moring, Inka 2010: 10

Nation may be seen as a self-evident category and yet it can still be a complex and elusive object with ill-defined boundaries that not uncommonly we fail to grasp in its entirety. The concept of Nation is often bound to ideas related to a common territory, a central government, language, ethnicity, and so on. Seen as an intangible body, the Nation owes its form, its substance and, above all, its identity to the development of intricate symbolic structures created to work as components of the grand narratives that constitute its ontology. These narratives can occur in different temporalities and spatialities at once but when they cross lines they come to reaffirm the very preconditions of our existence, that is, of our collective predicament as allegedly cohesive societies. Furthermore, the identity of oneself is not only defined for what is automatically inherited after birth but it is gradually constructed by exogenous forces found, for example, in the figure of the ‘Other’ (country, people, culture, language, laws, etc.) and their particular narratives and origin.

The acknowledgement of the existence of different realities, temporalities and spatialities has caused both individual and collective subjects to engage in dialogs – and experience encounters of dialogic nature – being commerce and warfare, perhaps, two of the most evident throughout history (Appadurai, 1990). I believe that these two activities in all their multiplicity of forms have been continuously enhancing a sense of identity, commonality and solidarity, but on the flipside highlighting difference, increasing competition and dominance through power struggles.

That is still reflected in many aspects of contemporary life. For example, the organizing principle guiding the economies of an increasing number of countries around the world have been gradually leaning toward a neoliberal form of governance. As a result market forces have expanded their sphere of influence far beyond the economic arena to incorporate also the political and cultural fields and so it seems that to a great extent the nation becomes subjected to the rule of the market in one way or another. As such the nation undergoes a process of transformation where it is reframed to be more than just a social, political and cultural construct. It becomes a brand.

Although the notion of nation as a brand may seem to bastardize its very essence, to contaminate its institutions and their functions, it appears that in the context of a globalized world with integrated markets the opposite is true. It becomes a matter of legitimizing the mandate of the state and its survival in the face of social contracts increasingly bound to the idea of prosperity – often synonymous with wealth accumulation. Therefore, this text is dedicated to investigate some of the processes through which nations have their image rearticulated – and also reinforced, and reproduced (Roosval, Salovaara-Moring, Inka, 2010) – in order to maintain and/or develop a ‘competitive advantage’ (Porter, 1998) vis-à-vis other nations participating in the global economy. I will pay particular attention to Brazil – South America’s most influential country, politically and economically speaking.

Painting by Pedro América illustrating the Declaration of Independence of Brazil in 1822

Considering that, at least in theory, its national image generates a rather positive resonance in the media and international public opinion, Brazil seems to be relatively unsuccessful in converting these valuable intangible assets productively. In general, the country is still largely known for its wealth of natural resources, economic might resulting from commodity exports, cultural diversity, music, football and a celebrated lifestyle but at the same time it suffers from a series of diseconomies caused by corruption, crime and bureaucracy. Despite these and other problems it seems that its brand equity is resilient, still generating a lot of interest in the international community and attracting foreign investment but perhaps not as effectively as it could be. For that reason the nation needs to be explicated, according to Roosval et al., and its current role as a brand in the new global economy requires a detailed investigation.

To be continued…

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About Vilmar hybridthoughts
HybridThoughts is a blog set up by Vilmar Pellisson and it is dedicated to the open debate of global contemporary culture in its most diverse forms. It endeavors to capture intriguing examples that illustrate the complexities and dynamism of cultural production and how it can combine, interact, react and transform our perceptions of the world and the way we live in a process characterized by reflexivity and subjectivities.

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