conflict & communication online, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2003
ISSN 1618-0747




Andreas Mattenschlager & Hubert Riedle
Media construction of national identities in Germany and Switzerland, 1946-1995

In a joint research project of three universities the construction of national identities by mainstream print media was analyzed in historical perspective. The goal of the content-analytical approach was to find out how the media constructed a concept of nationality and to detect the historical changes which took place between 1945 and 1995. The article presents the results of the German and Swiss country studies.
In the German study the focus was on processes of change in the construction of national identities in interaction with the enormous political and societal changes that have taken place in Germany since the Second World War. In the years since the capitulation of National Socialist Germany (1945), during which Germany was divided into the FRG and the GDR (1949) until reunification (1990), several political and societal events occurred which allow us to infer great effects on national identities. On the basis of the reporting of historical aspects and of German-German relationships, in particular differences between reporting in the East (GDR and new German states, [neue Bundesländer], NBL) and West Germany (FRG and old states [Alte Bundesländer], ABL) are illuminated. It was found that the GDR press clearly tried to establish a new national (GDR) identity. Identity-forming themes were presented and used in a distorted form. The West German press, to the contrary, employed more subtle mechanisms and made (in contrast to the NS period - as did East German reporting as well) more references to a common German past.
The Swiss study made a quantitative content analysis of identity production by four newspapers in German-speaking Switzerland against the background of the relevant identity dimensions and a qualitative investigation of historical and social transformations throughout the study period. Some of the results confirmed previous expectations, for example, the continuing Western integration of "neutral" Switzerland. However, in the following contribution the less obvious aspects of identity modernization and growing European integration will be particularly emphasized. Whereas differences in coverage among the four papers studied were of comparatively minor importance, a continuous time-dependent change could be demonstrated, reflecting the modernization of national identities, particularly since the 1970s: Uncritical expressions of national pride declined, traditional institutions like the army lost some of their previous influence, and self-presentation as a "unique" nation became less common. This coincides clearly with the country's growing European integration.


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On the authors:
Andreas Mattenschlager, born 1968, Diploma in Psychology (University of Konstanz, 1997); 1997 - 2001 Mediator and psychological counselor with a private practice, since 2002 counselor at a counseling center for marriage, family and life problems in Ulm, Germany.
Address: Hoferinweg 45, D-89155 Erbach, Germany. e-mail:

Hubert Riedle, born 1969, Diploma in Psychology (University of Konstanz, 1997); 1997 - 2002 assistant researcher with a consulting company in Basel; since 2002 employment in the strategic planning department of a transport company in Bern, Switzerland. Focus: European transport policy; transport planning; infrastructure and communication consulting, empirical media analysis.
: Freiburgstrasse 54, CH-3008 Bern, Switzerland. e-mail: