Symbologies, technologies, and identities: Critical junctures theory and the multi-layered nation-state

James H. Liu, Nora Fisher Onar, Mark Woodward

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Critical junctures theory draws from complexity theory/dynamical systems theory to investigate how ethnically, religiously and ideologically defined communities interact and coexist within and between states defined on the basis of Westphalian principles. States are theorized as dynamical political systems identified by three system parameters: (1) a symbology-systems of symbolic meaning attached to and promoted by the state, (2) an identity space-the groups and group identities that vie for legitimacy and control of state apparatuses, and (3) a set of technologies-the institutions and technological means used by the state to maintain and reproduce itself. The system is thought to be located in an international political geography that provides initial starting conditions and system constraints. The system parameters are viewed as a family of variables rather than a single measure, and their operation is contingent upon specific actualizing conditions consistent with the philosophy of critical realism: this allows for both quantitative hypothesis-testing research and qualitative-hermeneutical work under a unified theoretical framework. The theory is illustrated by a Special Issue that spans historical case studies of Singapore and Turkey, history textbook analyses of the European Union, interviewing the institutional role of history teachers in transmitting Estonian national identity, the transformative ideological work of biblical narratives in Israeli state-building, and several papers that illustrate how social psychological phenomena can be located within the historical trajectories of evolving states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-12
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
Issue numberPA
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014


  • Critical junctions theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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