By studying flags it is possible to study how a society includes and excludes people. A few weeks ago, the research program "Cultural Complexity in the New Norway" arranged a two days' conference on Flags and Identity with some leading flag experts from the UK, the USA and the Nordic countries. We even heard about flag burning. My summary has now been translated into English. It starts like this:
One of the fundamental insights of social science is “Nothing is just” (Dustin Wax): Football is not just a game; family isn't just the people one is related to; and a flag is not just a square of cloth on a metal pole. Flags mark group identity; flag are symbols, loaded with emotion. The police in Northern Ireland, for example, refrain from taking prohibited flags down from lamp posts: They know that this would lead to rioting, explained anthropologist, Neil Jarman. Flags symbolize the happy union of family and nation, said folklorist Anne Eriksen. Those who question this idyll, as Thomas Hylland Eriksen once did, will be forced to rethink: As a teenager, together with some friends, he waved a Swedish flag during Norway's 17th of May Independence Day parade. They were removed from the procession and sent home.