How do we perceive “national character"? What gives “nations”, as we see them, their individuality and identity? This fundamental question on the intersection of cultural history, social psychology, and the history of international relations, is addressed by the specialism known as Imagology.*

Imagology is a deconstruction of “national character”, analysing nationality, not as an anthropological reality but as a discursive and social construct – an ingrained set of commonplaces about how “nations” mutually perceive each other and themselves, and articulate their identity in the process. The static, essentialist notion of national character is thus repalced by the more fluid, dynamic and transactional one of ethnotype.

Imagologists analyse ethnotypes (national-characterological stereotypes of Self and Other) in the complementary perspectives of

  1. historical context (how do ethnotypes function in the sociopolitical force-field of the successive moments of their first formulation and their later recyclings?),
  2. thematic intertext (how do ethnotypes, as commonplaces, reproduce themselves in an intertextual tradition?) and
  3. textual rhetoric (how do national-psychological characterizations function in the text or discourse in which they feature?)

I came to imagology in the 1970s as a student at Hugo Dyserinck's department of Comparative Literature at the university of Aachen – one of the few high-profile places at the time where this specialism was being pursued. Imagology is now once again a thriving area of research. I maintain a website giving explanations and research tools, which you can reach by clicking here.

My publications in this field are listed under the relevant menu tab.

* The word is, to Anglophone ears, a little uncouth, I know... but it has come to us from German and French, and is well-established in Europe’s continental languages. And if English can handle “perpendicular”, “antediluvian” and “phenomenology”, surely there is no need to get into a flap about “imagology”. The first G as in “good”, the second G as in “huge”, the two together as the two Gs in “gorgeous".