Bannermen and Heralds: The Identity of Flags; the Ensigns of Identity

22 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2020

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Date Written: February 1, 2020


Though flags have been considered from any number of perspectives, it is useful to revisit the notions of flag, community and identity, in the shadow of globalization. Just as globalization has challenged until recently settled ideas of identity and its organization among states, religions, and affinity communities, so has globalization changed the spaces within which flags can be constructed and deployed in the service of each of these, in defining their boundaries and in marking the fields on which they battle. At the same time, the identity of flag and identity continues to serve as that great cauldron in which the abstract is incarnated, flesh is made spirit, and spirits are amalgamated into reconstituted creatures who now provide the great inhabitants of the ecology which globalization has produced. A flag, within these ideological walls of significance, can be said to constitute a proposition or judgment as its meaning, and refers to a state of affairs which has a situation of affairs as a reference base. At the same time, the flag continues to be of immense importance in the management of identity and the control of perception. Both serve the ends of those groups and institutions around which the emerging global order is being reformed. Section 1 considers the flag as a transition from the physical to the metaphysical, from an object, to an idea, to an identity, and to the aggregation constituted thereby, and then ultimately challenged and reconstituted. The flag, then, can be understood as swaddling cloth, shield, badge, and shroud. But this function of the flag as object, sign and conceptual universe of identity is usefully understood through a history of meaning. The flag is itself not merely an object that constitutes identity and serves as a vessel for the ideology through which identity is constituted (and eventually challenged and reconstituted), but is itself a container of a universe of self-reflexive meaning. To understand the concept of flag as a self-conception is a necessary first step to understand its outward manifestation in its constitution of identity and the reconstitution of the individual. With that as a basis, Section 3 can then better engage with the objectivity of the flag as in the world as meaning and as history. Here one can at last encounter the flag in its best-known space as symbol, but now from a richer foundation. Section 4 then moves the discussion back from the flag as object-sign to the text that is embedded necessarily in the signification of flag. Section 5 then concludes with a return to the object of this work — flags, color, identity — in the shadow of the flag as object, as sign, and as a constituting element of identity that in the process is itself constituted.

Keywords: globalization, flags, identity, nationalism, textual interpretation, symbolism, politics, revolutions

JEL Classification: F02, F23, K33, M30, M38

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá, Bannermen and Heralds: The Identity of Flags; the Ensigns of Identity (February 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

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