Review Questions for Who Counts As An American? by Elizabeth Theiss-Morse (ETM)


1.       Ch 1: What is different about ETM’s perspective for studying American national identity (ANI) from earlier attempts to define and study it?  Is American national identity a belief in national principles, like the “American Creed?” Is it based on particular ethnic or cultural groups? Is it another term for patriotism? How does ETM conceptualize it?

2.       What are some of the basic processes of social identity theory (e.g., Marilyn Brewer, Henri Tajfel), such as ingroup bias and outgroup derogation and the minimal group paradigm, and why is the strength of identification so important, according to ETM? (Ch 2)

3.       What types of people fit the stereotype of the prototypical American identity, demographically and attitudinally, according to ETM?  In other words, what explains (predicts) commitment to American national identity?

4.       If America is a Christian nation, are citizens who aren’t Christians not Americans or just bad Americans?

5.       What are “hard” group boundaries and what types of people tend set them? (Ch 3).  What are the consequences of having a stronger commitment to ANI and setting hard group boundaries in terms of people’s willingness to help marginalized Americans through government programs versus helping through charities, voluntary associations and other forms of what ETM calls “individual-choice” help? (Ch 4)

6.       Briefly describe ETM’s dictator game experiment and its findings and what it says about the willingness of individuals with strong identities to help others. (Ch 4)

7.       How do strong identifiers respond to criticisms of the U.S., according to ETM), and how does this fit with social identity theory? In what ways is this response beneficial or harmful?  Use examples in your essay to illustrate your points. (Ch 5)

8.       Briefly describe the experiment used to study the ways that weak and strong identifiers respond to criticisms about the group and evaluate whether such responses tend to be beneficial or harmful, using examples. (Ch 5)

9.       Is national identity good or bad, overall?  Evaluate various strategies for promoting the positive over the negative consequences of national identities in terms of whether they can realistically serve to bring people together without tearing them apart. (Ch 6)