Explore Flags

Explore: Creating identity with a flag

In July 2011, a new ‘national identity’ was established when the Republic of South Sudan was officially recognised. The new state has a flag (and a national anthem). What part might a flag play in the construction of such a new national identity?

This exercise explores this process and related issues, and helps to extend — discussion of Ideologies and Discourses in Chapter 6 of MSB5 and of — pp 134–135 of the case study for the Representations chapter. In particular we question ways in which we are involved in the ‘banal nationalism’ of the everyday use of flags (p. 190) and how this relates to more high profile moments, such as globally covered Olympic Games (p. 153). Some argue that this relates to the processes of branding, so a look at — Ch.11 Debating Advertising, Branding and Celebrity might be useful.

Explore 1 Designing a flag

Look up ‘Vexillology’ and the suggested basic principles for flag design. Find the new flag for South Sudan. Does it follow the basic principles? How does it connect itself to similar designs and why are there such similarities between the flags of different African states?

One reason for these similarities is that many of them were created for newly independent countries at the time of decolonisation from European powers in the 1950s–1970s. But in much of the rest of the world flags were designed much earlier and have sometimes not been changed for hundreds of years.

Explore 2 The Canadian flag
In 1965 Canada became one of the few established nation states to completely change its flag. Why did it do this and why was the current design chosen?

(This image and discussion is worth exploring as part of your investigations:

Explore 3 Re-design your own country’s flag

Think about your own national flag. What is its meaning for you? Apply the basic flag design principles in an analysis. Do the original design ideas still hold true or has your country changed — has your ‘national identity’ (or ‘brand’ as some would say) changed? If you were asked to design a new national flag what different colours or design ideas would you have?


As soon as you begin the 3rd activity here you are likely to face some quite searching questions. Some flags have been experienced as symbols of imperialism, others refer back to a period when the ‘nation’ was constructed as having a single ethnicity and a single religion. Are there ways to adapt to something that represents the modern multi-ethnic and multi-faith state? Of course, the relationship that different groups have with (delete ‘our’) national flags can be very different. In the UK and the US the ‘Union Jack’ and the ‘Stars and Stripes’ are both widely used in public displays but attitudes towards them seem to be quite different.

Can we relate these differences to how the flags produce their meanings and emotional resonances?

Concise presentation of how Libya’s flags have changed. The one selected in 1977 is unique as the only flag comprising a single colour. What does the new government’s flag (2011) seem to embody
News report on the flying of ‘old’ Libyan flags. This ‘old’ flag is now likely to be reinstated.
Explanation of the flag of the Basque Country, the Ikurriña
A news story about someone's suggestion to change the Union Jack
See the cover of this edition of Paul Gilroy's There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack (1991)
Discussion about the commissioning and design of the first US flag in use by 1777.