Who are we and where are we Going: from Past Myths to Present Politics


Social groups, and the social identities which people develop as part of them, are often experienced as stable and continuous over time. Thus, countries experiencing rapid socio-political change often face the challenge of re-constructing the meaning of the social group to adapt to the demands of the present, while simultaneously making this re-construction appear as a natural progression of ‘our’ historical journey. In the present paper, I ask the question of how, in times of socio-political change, the past is used in the present, and the implications this has for how individuals represent their nation’s future. Drawing on Serbia and its political movement towards EU integration, the present article illustrates how developed and legitimized historical narratives, linked to the myth of origin of a nation, become utilized to frame present challenges. In doing so, it allows for uncertainties in the present to become anchored in established historical narratives, which in turn have consequences for which political actions are deemed acceptable and legitimate for the future.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Alonso, A. M. (1988). The effects of truth: Re-presentations of the past and the imagining of community. Journal of Historical Sociology, 1(1), 33–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Barbour, R. S., & Kitzinger, J. (1999). Developing focus group research. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. Bieber, F. (2002). Nationalist mobilization and stories of Serb suffering: The Kosovo myth from 600th anniversary to the present. Rethinking History, 6(1), 95–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Billig, M. (1995). Banal Nationalism. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. ĆirkoviĆ, S. (2004). The Serbs (the peoples of Europe). Malden: Blackwell Pub.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Holton, G. (1975). On the Role of Themata in Scientific Thought. Science, 188(4186), 328–334.

  8. Hopkins, N., & Dixon, J. (2006). Space, place and identity: Issues for political psychology. Political Psychology, 27(2), 173–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Howarth, C. (2006). A social representation is not a quiet thing: Exploring the critical potential of social representations theory. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45(1), 65–86.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Jetten, J., & Hutchison, P. (2011). When groups have a lot to lose: Historical continuity enhances resistance to a merger. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(1), 335–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Jovchelovitch, S. (2012). Narrative, memory and social representations: A conversation between history and social psychology. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 46(4), 440–456.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Ker-Lindsay, J. (2009). Kosovo: The path to contested statehood in the Balkans (library of European studies). London: I. B. Tauris.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Liu, L. (2004). Sensitising concept, themata and shareness: A dialogical perspective of social representations. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 34(3), 249–264.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Liu, J. H., & Hilton, D. J. (2005). How the past weighs on the present: Social representations of history and their role in identity politics. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 537–556.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Malinowski, B. (1926). Myth in primitive psychology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Markova, I. (2000). Amedee or how to get rid of it: Social representations from a dialogical perspective. Culture & Psychology, 6(4), 419–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Markova, I. (2003). Dialogicality and social representations: The dynamics of mind. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Moscovici, S. (2000). Social representations: Explorations in social psychology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Obradović, S., & Howarth, C. (2017). The power of politics: how political leaders in Serbia discursively manage identity continuity and political change to shape the future of a nation. European Journal of Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2277.

  20. Penic, S., Elcheroth, G., & Reicher, S. (2016). Can patriots be critical after a nationalist war? The struggle between recognition and marginalization of dissenting voices. Political Psychology, 37(4), 481–496.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Reicher, S. (2008). Making a past fit for the future: the political and ontological dimensions of historical continuity. In F. Sani (Ed.), Self continuity: individual and collective perspectives (pp. 145–158). New York: Psychology Press.

  22. Reicher, S., & Hopkins, N. (2001). Psychology and the end of history: A critique and a proposal for the psychology of social categorization. Political Psychology, 22(1), 383–407.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Sani, F., Bowe, M., Herrera, M., Manna, C., Cossa, T., Miao, X., & Zhou, Y. (2007). Perceived collective continuity: Seeing groups as entities that move through time. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37(6), 1118–1134.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Sindic, D., & Reicher, S. (2009). ‘Our way of life is worth defending’: Testing a model of attitudes towards superordinate group membership through a study of scots’ attitudes towards Britain. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39(1), 114–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Smith, A. D. (1995). Gastronomy or geology? The role of nationalism in the reconstruction of nations. Nations and Nationalism, 1(1), 3–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sandra Obradović.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Human Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Obradović, S. Who are we and where are we Going: from Past Myths to Present Politics. Integr. psych. behav. 53, 57–75 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12124-017-9410-x

Download citation


  • Perceived collective continuity
  • National identity
  • Historical representations
  • Myths