- The rise and decline of national habitus: Dutch cycling culture and the shaping of national similarity
- European Journal of Social Theory
- Volume | Issue number
- 16 | 1
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Why are things different on the other side of national borders and how can this be explained sociologically? Using as its point of departure Dutch cycling culture, a paradigmatic example of non-state-led national similarity, this article explores these questions. The first section introduces Norbert Elias’ concept of ‘national habitus’, using this notion to critique comparative sociology and argue for a more processual approach to national comparison. The second section discusses four processes that have contributed to increasing similarity within nations: growing interdependence within nations; increasing density of networks and institutions; vertical diffusion of styles and standards; and the development of national we-feelings. Together, these processes have contributed to the development of national habitus: increasing similarities within nations and increasing differences between people living in different countries. These processes reached their apex in the second half of the 20th century. The third section explores how these processes have diminished since the 1960s, leading to increasing variations within countries and growing similarities between comparable groups in different countries. Both the rise and decline of national habitus are illustrated by changes in Dutch cycling culture. Particularly important is the breakdown of trickle down as a result of the rise of the egalitarian informal ethos. This analysis poses new challenges for sociologists: first, concerning comparative research; second, concerning the diffusion of styles and standards; and, third, concerning the consequences of the decline of national habitus for social inequality, as evidenced by the growing rift between ‘locals’ and (bike-loving) ‘cosmopolitans’.
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