National identity remains one of the most potent forces in global politics, yet surprisingly little is known about processes of national identity formation and change. This article argues that national identity preferences are susceptible to fluctuations in group status and distance but constrained by conflict experience and socialization. Integrating research on conflict socialization with social identity theory, we hypothesize that growing up during violent intergroup conflict socializes individuals into identities and attitudes which are durable to significant changes. Conversely, the identity preferences of those who grow up during relative peace are more malleable and likely to change due to significant events which affect perception of group identities. Exploiting the unique political context in Northern Ireland, where individuals can legally choose to identify as Irish, British, or both, we use a diff-in-diff approach to estimate national identity preferences of individuals before and after the EU referendum. The results show that 20% of Protestants who did not experience conflict shifted from British towards Irish identity after the referendum. However, for those who experienced violent intergroup conflict, there is a ‘durable distance’ between groups which constrains identity change irrespective of fluctuations in status. The results have important implications for our understanding of national identity, particularly in post-conflict societies.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.